SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Not long ago, Deron Williams admitted if things didn't change for the better, the Utah Jazz just might have to accept being a .500 team.
Of course, considering their recent success — or lack of it on a consistent basis — that fate actually sounds fairly enticing.
Over the past 12 games, the Jazz have won just three times.
That's not quite Cleveland atrocious.
But it's not quite Los Angeles Clippers or New Jersey Nets good, either.
Both of those perennial NBA cellar-dwellers have better records in the past 10 games than the Jazz, having each gone 5-5 compared to Utah's meager 3-7 mark.
That .300 winning percentage, by the way, puts Utah on par with tonight's opponents, the 12-35 Sacramento Kings, during the same stretch.
Only the Cavaliers, who are redefining the definition of a losing streak with 24 straight setbacks, the Toronto Raptors, Minnesota Timberwolves and Washington Wizards (all 1-9) have fallen short on the scoreboard more times the past few weeks than the Jazz.
If that continues — and the Jazz don't find consistency on offense and more determination on defense — Williams' fear could become a realistic resignation.
"I don't think we've really hit our stride yet," Jazz backup point guard Earl Watson said. "Everyone's still waiting for us to hit our stride. So, there comes a time where we have to hit it sooner or later, and the time is soon."
Having nearly approached the two-thirds mark of the season — only 30 games of the 82-game 2010-11 year remain — the time for improvement is certainly sooner than later.
The Jazz have only gone 9-13 since their pre-Christmas trip. If that pace continues, they will finish the season with a 42-40 record.
In the East, that would likely easily get them into the playoffs. Maybe even with a No. 6 seed.
Not out West. Not even close.
Currently, even eight games above .500 at 30-22, the Jazz are in the seventh spot — a half-game behind Denver (30-21) but only 2-1/2 ahead of No. 8 Portland (27-24).
The Jazz are just three games in front of ninth-place Memphis (27-25) for the postseason bridesmaid spot — and the Grizzlies have won eight of 10.
That's why the Jazz need many more performances like Friday night's 113-106 win at Denver — a victory made possible by high levels of effort, energy and execution.
"We need it every day," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "We're in a situation now where every day we've got to lay it out there, and if we do that, then it will work out.
"But," he added, "if we don't, then you have a long summer."
The Jazz have struggled at times throughout the season to incorporate new parts — especially as Al Jefferson learns a different system that is completely different than he's accustomed to — but Williams believes the winning solution can be simplified.
"When we have success," Williams said recently, "our energy's up. ... I think it's a conscious effort from everybody. Coach is stressing it a lot in practice and shootarounds — just getting our energy level up."
But before he returned to the court on Friday — after missing four games with a sprained tendon in his right wrist — the Jazz's team captain admitted vast improvement needed to be made aside from just an energy boost.
"We're still struggling. We haven't beat a good team in awhile," he said. "We have a long ways to go. We've just got to get better, play better basketball. We have a lot of injuries right now, which is not helping."
The Jazz came out that night after he said that and took down their Northwest Division rivals at the Pepsi Center, but those themes still ring true on the heels of a 121-106 loss in which Utah fell apart against Oklahoma City after a hot start Saturday.
Williams also said before the weekend's split that he believes the Jazz still have the tools to make something special happen this season and in the playoffs.
"Hopefully. That's the way you want to think," he said. "We generally don't make too many major moves in-season. If it's like it has been in the past, this is our team. We have to realize that and we have to play hard. We have to find a way to get it going."
Added Williams: "I think at times this year, we've played great basketball. We know it's in there somewhere. We've just got to find it and get it back."37 comments on this story
And keep it.
Or that extra long summer awaits.