Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
He's been harping on it throughout October.
But Jazz coach Jerry Sloan knows the subject often goes in one ear and out the other, typically without taking time out to bump the brain.
"Nobody wants to hear about defense," Sloan said, "but you need it to win."
The Jazz struggled last season because of their dearth of it, and it could be a death sentence for this season — which gets under way for Utah with a visit to defending Northwest Division champ Denver on Wednesday night — if it doesn't drastically improve.
"Every day in practice we work on it," shooting guard Ronnie Brewer said. "We're never content with where we're at.
"I don't think any team plays perfect defense, but as long as you get better and keep on working at it, I think in the long run … we will win games because of defense.
"I don't think we're there yet," he added, "but in spurts I think we look really good. … I think in the preseason this year we took more charges than we did all last year, so that says a lot that guys are willing to help and give up their body for the team. With guys doing that, I think we'll be a good team."
It's all much easier said, though, than done.
And it's been that way, Sloan suggested, from Day 1.
"I've never heard anybody in my life say they told their kid to go out in the backyard and work on their defense with a new ball," he said.
"They tell them to go shoot it, and that's what everybody does."
That includes the 2008-09 Jazz, and this season's version as well.
"We are an offensive-thinking team," Sloan said. "All of our players are offensive thinkers.
"To get (committed defense) out each individual," he added, "sometimes is difficult to do."
To alter the mind-set, Sloan has drilled the Jazz with Defense 101 since training camp got under way one month ago.
"It's getting a lot better," power forward Paul Millsap said. "You can tell that guys are out there trying to get stops. Especially in the preseason, everybody's giving their all on the defensive end — and hopefully it will carry over to the regular season."
But it certainly wasn't there last season, with breakdowns attributed to combination of components.
Hustling back to break up fast breaks. Being in the right spot on the floor. Stopping the ball.
Helping. Communicating. Rotating.
Simply staying committed.
Which matters most — and which was accomplished least — can be debated until the kid with the ball gets called home.
It all plays a part, as does heart.
"I'm not sure if any of it is 'selfish' — or is it just miscommunication? Most of the time we're not communicating on defense," Millsap said. "One guy (goes) to help, another guy (doesn't) help the helper — that's a lot where it's at. It's not due to selfishness, or anything of that nature."
Or is it?
"I guess (we) just didn't have a will to do it. That's everybody down the line," Millsap said. "Some of it could be (that). You know, who knows? I mean, you never know what anybody's thinking."
"Whatever it is," Brewer added, "we've to put that behind us and move on and try to get better for this year. What happened last year last happened last year. This is a new season."
Yet there is the potential for it to be fraught with all the same problems.
It's for that reason Sloan is willing to dangle minutes on the floor like a carrot, if need be.
"If some guys start jacking shots up and not playing any defense, that's another thing we'll take, hopefully, a better look at," Sloan said.
What flusters Sloan most, understand, is that he feels his players are able.
Just not always willing.
And that bad attitude comes with a price.
"If you're selfish on the defensive end," Sloan said, "both (offense and defense) are gonna struggle.
"Everybody is capable of defending. It's just getting it out of them," he added. "You get in a comfort zone, you know? I'm probably to blame for most of that. But we'll work on it and see if we can do a better job."
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