Ravell Call, Deseret News
Would the real Utah Jazz team please stand up? Are they those guys who shook off a slow start this season and turned a lot of people's heads when they won nine of 11 games during one particularly impressive stretch that put them five games over .500? Heck, for a brief moment, they were the second-best team, at least record-wise, in the Western Conference. And Jazz fans were proudly pounding their chests.
Or are they the group of guys who lost 10 of their last 13 games before All-Star Weekend, stumbling into the break with three straight losses? By losing eight of their last 10 games, they're now 15-17 overall, DFL (dead freaking last) in the Northwest Division and 11th in the West. Their road record of 3-11 is fifth-worst in the league, and only Detroit (3-14), Washington (3-13), Charlotte (2-16) — among the bottom-feeders in the Eastern Conference — and Sacramento (4-17) have had more trouble winning away from home than Utah.
Keep in mind that not much was expected of this Jazz team this season. With a very youthful lineup minus any real superstars, they were expected to struggle.
But that strong start raised everybody's expectations, probably to unrealistic levels.
An inability to finish strongly in games, resulting in frustrating home-court losses to the L.A. Lakers, Dallas, Toronto, the L.A. Clippers and San Antonio, has been a problem.
An inexplicable loss on the road at New Orleans, and a devastating defeat at Minnesota, where they squandered a 16-point lead in the fourth quarter of their final game before the break, were extremely hard to swallow.
Their recent tailspin has some people shaking their heads, including Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin and his players.
So where do you go from here? Will there be lineup changes? Could a major trade be in the works? And, hey, what have you done for me lately? There are more questions surrounding this franchise than you'll find on a nightly showing of "Jeopardy."
Hopefully, though, Corbin won't phrase his answers in the form of a question. We've got enough of those already.
"We're just fighting our way through it," the Jazz coach said of the adversity his team has faced, "trying to get better, and you've got to enjoy the journey."
However, their recent journey to Minnesota was, shall we say, less than enjoyable. In a game they coulda, woulda and probably shoulda won, the Jazz blew a double-digit lead and dropped a 100-98 heartbreaker to the Timberwolves on Luke Ridnour's buzzer-beating floater in the lane.
"It's real painful now and it should hurt," Corbin said after that frustrating defeat. "The guys are really disappointed and they should be, because we should've won this game."
Jazz fans, no doubt, feel exactly the same way.
"Coming out of the All-Star break, one of the things we talked about is, we've got to learn our lessons," Corbin said. "We've got to feel this hurt."
And, oh, they were.
In Utah's locker room after that game, spirits were as low as they've been all season after a loss. Second-year swingman Gordon Hayward was hanging his head, looking like a kid whose puppy had just been run over by a pickup truck. Paul Millsap's answers to media questions were barely audible.
"That's well-needed," an exasperated Millsap said of what could be a timely All-Star break, speaking in almost a whisper. "Just to get away right now, to forget about this first half of the season. Just try to start anew, something new when we get back."
Something new like, perhaps, a lineup change? After all, Corbin inserted veteran small forward Josh Howard into the starting five when veteran shooting guard Raja Bell's strained adductor muscle flared up again. And Howard responded with a solid 19-point, 6-rebound performance against the T-wolves.
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