Frank Gunn, AP
SALT LAKE CITY — For decades, Utah Jazz fans have been lauded — and loathed — for being among the loudest, rowdiest and most supportive spectators in the NBA.
Ear-piercing crowds, creative signs, flying rubber chickens and high-volume supporters gave the Jazz an extra edge, intimidating and annoying visitors. Before joining the Jazz, forward Mike Harris even admitted he hated playing in EnergySolutions Arena.
As it returns from a 0-4 road trip Monday night, the home team desperately could use a boost from its fans.
The Jazz certainly need something to spark them.
“It’s big for anybody, but it’s bigger for a young team,” Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said about getting a lift from the home crowd. “I don’t think it’s going to be the fix-all for us. We have to come out and play, and play with energy.”
In this season, more gut-wrenching than rebuilding in nature so far, the Jazz have only gotten energetic efforts in spurts. Rare emotional charges haven’t been sustained long enough to push Utah to a win.
Right now, the Jazz are the worst scoring team in the NBA (87.7 ppg), the worst shooting team in the NBA (40.1 FG percent, 23.6 3 PT percent), and are off to the worst start (0-7) since the franchise stumbled out of the New Orleans gates with 11 consecutive losses.
Worst of all? As this season has progressed — certainly not in all aspects of that word’s meaning — the Jazz’s spirited play has regressed.
A three-point loss to Kevin Durant and Oklahoma City in the season-opener seemed like a moral victory after a gutsy showing by the Jazz kids. Utah then nearly pulled off a road win in Phoenix.
The demoralizing turning point of this season’s historically bad start came at home a week ago Saturday when a 19-point first-half lead over the Rockets devolved into a soul-zapping 11-point loss.
Players obviously didn’t pack any confidence in their bags for the trip to Brooklyn, Boston, Chicago and Toronto. The Jazz trailed by at least 20 points in all four blowouts. Utah shot 29 percent in one loss, scored eight points in an entire quarter in a different defeat, trailed by 38 in another. The shorthanded squad — in bodies, experience and offensive firepower — only took a lead in one game.
The trip’s highlight?
That it’s over.
Well, there was that impressive Jamaal Tinsley no-look pass when he threw the ball backwards over his head to Gordon Hayward for a fast-break bucket at Air Canada Centre.
And Hayward’s offensive game picked up a notch all week.
And rookie center Rudy Gobert continues to improve on the glass.
And, well, this might be a good time to mention that another struggling team, 1-4 Denver, is the Jazz’s opponent in what could be Utah’s best chance to get one of those wins the other 29 NBA teams have all picked up this season.
“Playing in front of our fans is always good. They give us a lot of energy. We’re going to need them for sure,” Hayward said. “We struggled on this road trip and kind of struggled on the season. Hopefully, we can turn it around.”
The Jazz are really hoping Monday’s medical news is good. Rookie Trey Burke, the ninth overall pick who’s yet to see his first NBA action, will be re-evaluated to determine how much more he can do as he continues to rehab his broken right index finger.
Point guard play has been among the Jazz’s glaring weaknesses — of many — so far this season.
Though Corbin wants all of his players back and healthy — from Burke to Jeremy Evans, Andris Biedrins and Brandon Rush — the Jazz coach is trying to teach his players that they need to do this for themselves. They have to dig deep, retain information the coaching staff has gone over and over, rise to the new playing opportunities and fight their way through this funk.
Corbin has been telling players that this slump is like life — they’ve just got to work out of the bad spot. Utah has home games against Denver, New Orleans and San Antonio to do that.
“That’s my message to them, ‘Look, you can’t keep looking around. Nobody else is going to show up. This is it,'" Corbin said. “We’ve got to do it with this group. We’ve got a couple of guys out, but we’ve got to play with more energy.”
Learning to fight — and sustain that drive — might be the biggest thing the young Jazz has to learn this season.
“This is the NBA. Everybody goes through it. You can’t get around it,” Corbin said. “They’re not going to wait for you to get healthy. They’re not going to wait for you to play better. You have to go out and make it happen.”
To that point, Corbin doesn’t want his team to think things are going to change just because they’re playing in front of their own fans. That was another message he delivered in a locker room full of frazzled Jazz employees.
“Just because we’re going home it’s not going to just get better. We’ve got to make it get better. We’ve got to come back and play and fight and compete,” Corbin said. “If we lose games playing and fighting and competing, we can deal with that. We don’t want to come in and just show up and think it’s going to happen. We’ve got to make it happen.”
Hayward, in his new leadership role, said the team might have to have yet another players-only meeting to work things out. He sees it as his job to make sure his teammates don’t get too down on themselves.
“We’ve got to pick ourselves up and move on,” he said. “We’ve got to do something because they (coaches) can only do so much for us. We’re the guys out there on the court.”
Veteran John Lucas III also indicated another heart-to-heart — lay it all out on the line discussion — might be in order for the players.
“We’ve got to figure out who we are. That’s our thing. We’ve got to figure out who we are,” Lucas said. “From myself to everybody else, we’ve got to look at ourselves in the mirror because this ain’t cool. I know we’re seven games in, but still.
“I don’t want anyone to get used to this. I don’t care what’s being said in the media about us, but we’ve got to hold ourselves accountable for what we’re doing out there.”
Giving fans who help pay for the players' high salaries something to cheer for would be an added bonus.
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