No place like home to get the Utah Jazz season on the right track
SALT LAKE CITY — EnergySolutions Arena may have never looked or sounded as good as it will Friday night for the Utah Jazz.
If a team was ever in need of a home-crowd boost, it's this ragtag collection that has suffered back-to-back beatdowns.
Their aim was so off in Los Angeles, they might not have been able to point in the direction of a B-list actor at Staples Center.
Their ability to stop someone was so poor in Denver, Tim Tebow might have been able to throw for 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns on them if they wore pads.
If that sounds overly harsh, give another glance at the final scores: Lakers 96, Jazz 71 and Nuggets 117, Utah 100.
Utah players don't just need to find an elusive identity, consistency, properly functioning combinations, defensive rotations, team chemistry and a commitment to put forth enough effort to win.
Their juiceless battery could use a jumpstart from a crowd that's done that so many times over the past three decades.
"We're still trying to figure it out. Hopefully in the next few days we'll figure it out, especially with our young group," Jazz sixth man Paul Millsap said after Wednesday's game. "I think home court advantage will help us, give us a little energy, let us get out and run a bit."
Heck, maybe even win a game — or at least have a chance to win one.
In reality, there's only so much of an edge 19,911 fans can give a team. There is a reason why one group pays to get in, while the other much smaller (in numbers) and more talented group gets paid to be there.
Ultimately, it's up to Jazz players and coaches to get their acts together and play up to their potential.
"We'll see what type of team we are the next couple of games," second-year Jazz small forward Gordon Hayward said.
Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin took extra time after Wednesday's loss to emphasize to his entire team — players, staff and himself — that everybody is responsible to do his part.
"They have to step up and do it. We have to as a coaching staff and myself. We have to lead them through it," Corbin said. "It's a young bunch of guys for the most part. We've got to grow together."
The second-year coach believes that will happen, that player development and victories can happen simultaneously.
"I'm not quitting on the guys, and I don't think they'll quit on me. But we've got to get things figured out," Corbin said. "We've got to learn to trust each other as players on the floor and just go out and compete together as a group of guys and not as individuals, two or three guys going hard. We've got to have everybody competing on the floor."
It's rare for Jazz teams to lose their first two games, but it has happened before — yes, even under Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan. Previous Utah squads have even bounced back just fine (for a while) from slow starts.
It happened way back in, well, last October. The Jazz allowed 110 points to Denver and Phoenix in routs before piling up wins in 15 of their next 18 games.
The Stockton-to-Malone swan song season (2002-03) also got off to a rocky 0-2 start, but that team eventually made the playoffs.
Conversely, the worst season in modern Jazz history got off to a 6-1 start before injuries to Andrei Kirilenko and Carlos Boozer doomed Utah in the 26-56 campaign of 2004-05.
This Jazz team is obviously different than all of those, but it's difficult-to-impossible to accurately project how a team will end up being based solely on two games. The Jazz could be lottery-bound again, but they're holding out hope defensive problems can be fixed and a successful season can be had.
"Absolutely, absolutely," Millsap said.
The weirdness of this season puts the odds against the Jazz.
With four potentially key players 21 or under, summer league could've boosted the development of the talented youngsters. And now they're trying to mesh them with veterans, some of whom are trying to find or rediscover their roles.
Playing two likely playoff-bound teams on the road after a short training camp didn't help their cause.
"It's not like we didn't know what we were facing," Corbin said. "It's going to be tough putting together a group of guys that's trying to go out and compete at this level against some teams that have been together for a while. You're going to have some growing pains."
What Corbin really wants is effort, not excuses.
No place like home for that to begin.
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