Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Three in a row.
Whether they look forward or in their rear-view mirror, that's what the Utah Jazz can see right now.
Three in a row.
For the first time this season, they've lost three straight games. And, beginning Sunday night, they face a scheduling rarity brought about by last year's lengthy NBA lockout — back-to-back-to-back games.
Yes, three games in three nights in three different cities, beginning with tonight's game against the Memphis Grizzlies. That'll be followed by a game on Monday in New Orleans against the Hornets and then a third straight game on Tuesday at Oklahoma City against the Thunder, who shot down the Jazz 101-87 late Friday night at EnergySolutions Arena.
"We have to be smart about making sure we do everything to try and keep the guys as fresh as we can," Utah coach Tyrone Corbin said. "We're approaching each game with a plan to, first of all, have a chance to win the game but also preserve as much energy as we can for the following night and then to get to the third night, which is going to be the toughest one of all in Oklahoma City."
They always say that bad things come in threes and, both behind them and ahead of them, it's tough times these days for this Utah team.
Since a win over Portland on Jan. 30 raised their record to 12-7, the Jazz have lost five of their last six games. In falling to 13-12 overall, it's conceivable they could return home from this difficult road trip with a losing record for the first time in more than five weeks.
Defense — or, rather, a lack of the same — has definitely been the culprit in Utah's recent tailspin, and particularly the way opposing teams' guards have been lighting up the Jazz over the past few games.
It started on Feb. 1 against the L.A. Clippers, when Chris Paul poured in 34 points as the Clippers came away with a highly rare road win in Salt Lake City, 107-105. The next night, Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry combined for 62 points as Golden State steamed past Utah 119-101.
A victory over the L.A. Lakers momentarily stopped the bleeding, but then the Jazz traveled back East and allowed the NBA's newest phenomenon, Jeremy Lin, to light 'em up for 28 points — 13 in the fourth quarter — as the short-handed N.Y. Knicks knocked off the Jazz 99-88. And the next night another point guard, Indiana's Darren Collison, had his way with the Jazz in pacing the Pacers to a 104-99 win.
Then came Friday's late-night loss to the Thunder, who got 28 points from point guard Russell Westbrook, and there certainly seems to be a recurring theme that's causing the Jazz fits.
"We've got to get back to the basics," said Corbin. "We've got to get back to work and we can't feel sorry for ourselves. We've got to make sure we continue to understand the things that we're slipping at.
"Our defensive efforts have been pretty consistent, but we have a little lull on both ends and it happens at the same time. Defensively we have a little lull and offensively we have a little lull, and as a result we don't score and the team gets a run against us. We'll make sure we continue to talk about the things that we need to get better at on both ends of the floor.
"We're letting the guards break us down a little bit too much," Corbin said. "They're getting in the paint and scoring at the basket or they're collapsing our defense and being able to swing it out to their shooters on the perimeter. So we've got to do a little better job, first of all, of staying between our man and the basket and not letting the guy break us down, where we have to put two guys on the ball and then they kick it out and they've got our guys in a scramble mode too soon. We've got to make sure we clean that up."
It all starts with Sunday night's game at Memphis, which dropped a 94-85 decision to the Jazz five weeks ago at EnergySolutions Arena.
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