BOSTON — The Utah Jazz have found out the hard-to-swallow answer to the question: What could possibly be worse than an unexpected loss to the woeful Washington Wizards?
Yep, the answer can be borrowed from that old salsa commercial: New Jersey!?!
The longer what's-worse answer: Heading into a showdown against the beast of the East on the heels of back-to-back losses to the Wiz and the New Jersey Nets.
But that's the situation Utah is in after limping out of Jersey and into Bean Town for tonight's game against the Celtics, who were supposed to be the Jazz's biggest threat on their four-game East Coast trip.
Maybe a challenge against an elite team is just what the ailing Jazz need, right?
After all, playing teams that now have a combined 23 wins didn't go so well this week for this struggling squad from Salt Lake, which would probably get multiple offers to be other programs' homecoming opponent if it were a football team.
Jerry Sloan, who's sticking with the same starters despite the team's recent struggles, only hopes facing the 32-9 Celtics will help his free-falling team catch itself.
"Every game's important. You would hope that you would play well and play hard against every team that you play against every night," the Jazz coach said. "I think it's human nature to play hard against the better teams."
That would be a welcome change of pace considering the inconsistent efforts the Jazz have put out recently — and not just in their third and strangest two-game skid of the season.
"Our biggest concern," Sloan said, "is get back and get some confidence."
That, and consistency. The Hall of Fame coach said his players go too hard at times and not hard enough at other times.
Team captain Deron Williams said he's tired of talking about the same things — bad first and third quarters, miscommunication and lack of execution, poor defense, lousy rebounding, you name it — over and over and over again.
"I don't even want to say it anymore then, there's no point," Williams said after the stunning 103-95 loss in New Jersey. "We can keep talking about it all we want, but until we go change it ..."
A dejected Williams offered a laundry list of soiled things the Jazz need to throw in the washer, so to speak.
"We just have to get back to playing Jazz basketball. It's something we get away from at times," Williams said. "We have a way that we play. We have a structured offense that relies on moving hard on offense, cutting hard, setting good screens, and we haven't been doing those things."
Williams quickly moved on to the problems on the other side of the court, where the Jazz have struggled even more than on offense lately.
Utah's last four opponents, who also included a decimated Cleveland club and also New York, have shot a combined 50.5 percent against the generous Jazz.
Going back a bit further, their last 10 opponents have averaged 104.3 points, too.
"Defensively, we rely on helping each other out, rotating, talking," Sloan said. "We haven't been doing those things. So, until we start doing them, we're going to keep losing."
It's no wonder, then, why the Jazz have played .500 ball over their last 12 games.
"I haven't heard a lot of talk about our defense," Sloan said. "To me, that's the most glaring thing, probably, that's happening. ... We've struggled."
Added Williams about the defense: "We're not in sync. ... We're just not on the same page."
The Jazz were, however, reading from the same script when it came to that unity concept.
"We've got to come together," said Jazz center Al Jefferson, who appeared to take this loss harder than any of the previous 14 he'd experienced in Utah. "Going through this little (tough) time period we're going through, we've really got to stick together and really find a way to fight through it, whatever it is."
Or accept the reality that differs from their seemingly sound hopes that they could be a playoff contender.
That's what really seemed to be eating at Williams following the defeat to the Nets, who had lost six straight before the Jazz came to town.
"It's been all season, so (I'm) not really surprised," Williams said, referring to the Jazz's inconsistent showing. "I was surprised, I guess, at the beginning of the season, a couple of months ago, a month ago.
"Now it's past the halfway point. So we've got to realize this is who we're going to be, and if that's the case, we're a .500 team."
They're also staring at their first three-game losing streak of the season at Boston tonight.
"The good teams, they will embarrass you more than some of the teams that maybe aren't quite as good," Sloan said. "They don't always beat you, they destroy you. That's why hopefully everybody gets ready to play and competes like the devil against them."
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