SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Jazz knew the first part of the NBA season was going to be difficult.
By losing three consecutive contests and falling in seven of their past nine games, the Jazz ensured that the 2012 portion of the 2012-13 season lived up to its brutal billing.
Not only has Utah had to deal with a travel-heavy schedule — 19 of 32 games have been on the road so far — but the team is also missing starting point guard Mo Williams because of a thumb injury.
The Jazz have also struggled while being prone to poor shooting, untimely turnovers and overall inconsistent offensive execution — and that's not to even get into their various defensive issues.
"It's a long season," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "We're not playing our best basketball the last few games."
Things have gone downhill quickly since the Jazz reeled off four straight wins between Dec. 5-12, including rare back-to-back victories over the Lakers (117-110 in L.A.) and the Spurs (99-96 in Utah).
Utah's ongoing funk started with a lackluster loss in Phoenix on Dec. 14, and aside from close-call wins at Brooklyn and Orlando, it hasn't gotten much better.
The slide from three games above .500 (13-10) to a 15-17 record has included three straight home losses, a 10-point quarter at ESA vs. Memphis, a 20-point thumping in Indiana, a 37-point half against Golden State and consecutive losses to the Clippers.
That's led to the Jazz locker room being anything but a party atmosphere after games lately.
On top of that, some players are irritated with their roles — from DeMarre Carroll being conflicted with his on-again-off-again opportunities to Paul Millsap being frustrated that he didn't play in the fourth quarter of a close game Sunday at Staples Center.
Corbin is concerned with his team's downward trend in the standings, but he firmly believes the Jazz will "continue to work" to rectify their situation. He even sees signs of progress in their struggles.
"These are proud guys. They're going to work hard. They have great character. They're going to continue to work," Corbin said. "Even though we're struggling, we're going to work our way through it. I don't have any doubt that we'll continue to work and get better, and that's the thing that will carry us."
The Jazz coach said his team needs to be "a little smarter," especially when it comes to crunch-time play. Defensive breakdowns, missed assignments and bad offensive decisions have haunted the Jazz in recent weeks, nullifying the effort the team claims it's been putting forth.
"We're playing hard. ... We can't make the mistakes we're making down the stretch some. But the effort has been for the most part consistent," Corbin said. "We're getting better. We're a little undermanned with a couple of guys being out, but we just have to keep playing hard and it will work itself out."
As always, execution leads to results, good or bad.
"Although you're playing hard, you kill yourself if you turn the ball over or you don't get to your spots early or you get the shot clock down late and you take a forced shot," Corbin said. "We have to get better in those areas."
Corbin added that he knows one thing is certain: "This group of guys is not going to quit."
The team is trying to remain together in the turbulent times, too.
"Being in a losing slump, you can't hold your head down now," Jazz big man Derrick Favors said. "You've just got to continue to work, continue to play hard. We'll get better."
NOTES: Corbin celebrated his 50th birthday on Monday. ... The Jazz will practice this afternoon (a couple hours later than usual) after having New Year's Eve off. ... Utah hosts former Jazz player Andrei Kirilenko and the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday. The Jazz then play at Phoenix and Denver on Friday and Saturday, beginning a stretch with five of six games on the road.
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