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All must step up to fix Utah Jazz's woes

Published: Sunday, Jan. 23 2011 11:16 p.m. MST

Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan has had plenty to hang his head about during the Jazz’s four-game losing streak. (Associated Press) Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan has had plenty to hang his head about during the Jazz’s four-game losing streak. (Associated Press)

SALT LAKE CITY — At the beginning of his postgame interview Friday night in Boston, Deron Williams admitted he felt like he was at a loss of words following the Utah Jazz's third defeat in a row.

When reporters didn't stop asking questions and Williams found words to describe his devastation, the Jazz team captain revealed the awkward dilemma he's facing.

Though as competitive and forthright as they come, Williams doesn't feel like he should try to fire up his team with a rip session or by throwing trash cans (or 100 MPH basketballs) around the locker room.

"If I do that then I'm the bad guy, I'm the villain," Williams said. "So, I'm going to keep my mouth shut."

And that statement, mind you, came two nights after the All-Star said he wouldn't knock on Jerry Sloan's door and make suggestions about the struggling lineup.

"Just leave it up to him," Williams said.

This All-Star doesn't like what the Jazz are cooking (now serving: a four-game losing streak with side orders of season-worst play and sluggishness), but he doesn't want to stir the pot, either.

Talk about a conflicting conundrum — and a lot of pressure on the guy everybody's looking to for answers. And D-Will feels it.

"I'm struggling," he said, "to find what to do, what my role is."

Make no mistake. There's no doubt how his teammates, who are also struggling and searching, view his role. As Carlos Boozer occasionally called the two of them, Williams is the alpha dog. He's the man. The leader of this Jazz band.

But teammates don't intend to leave all the burden of resolving obviously deep issues and inefficiencies on his shoulders.

"D-Will's our leader," Jazz center Al Jefferson said, "and we've got a lot of vets on this team. We've been talking amongst each other. We've just got to stay together. Things are going to happen. We can't expect to come out and win every game we play in. We've just got to stay together and try to fix the problem."

Notice how many times Big Al used the pronoun "we" in that quote?

That could be considered a good sign the Jazz realize that it will take a team-wide, renewed effort and revitalized energy to fight out of this funk during which Utah has lost six of nine games.

The good news for Williams, then, is that it's not a "me" thing. It's a "we" thing.

Or is that the bad news?

Starting guard Raja Bell, another leader because of his veteran status and demeanor, also believes one man shouldn't take it on his own to right this sinking ship.

"I think the best way to lead is to go out there and try to lead by example," Bell said. "I think we should all try to be leaders and we should all go out there and do the right thing play after play after play."

That includes doing all of the nitty gritty things the Jazz simply haven't been doing during this losing streak — which has seen them plummet to the sixth spot from third in the Western Conference — or while habitually falling behind early on.

Here's how Bell explained his doing-the-right-thing edict:

"If that means you're supposed to screen, then you screen — and you screen to the best of your ability. If that means you're supposed to pass the ball, you pass the ball — and you do it without reluctancy. If it means you're supposed to shoot, then you shoot.

"But," he continued, "if you're going to go out there and not lead by example, then you can say whatever you want and people won't follow you. So you have to go out there and lead by example."

Or, as Williams succinctly put it when asked if the Jazz are hitting a panic button: "Nah... we've just got to play better."

Sloan believes players should worry about the me part first — at least before pointing fingers.

"I think No. 1, you've got to do your job first," the Jazz coach said. "With any team that I've seen, the players that are called team leaders they do their job, and sometimes it's not there as hard as you try. They're allowed to have a bad game once in a while as much as anybody else. The best thing to do about it is go put it out there on the floor the next time you have a chance."

Williams certainly did that, following his five-point, foul-plagued outing on Friday with a 20-point, 14-assist game Saturday. Both performances — one horrible, the other pretty good at times — came in losses.

Go figure.

The Jazz have long employed an unspoken Las Vegas-like policy of "What happens in the locker room, stays in the locker room," but Bell admitted there have been a few fiery speeches by players this season.

Unfortunately, the fly on the wall did not have a digital recorder handy.

One such pep talk came from Bell at halftime in Miami, and teammates said that helped inspire them to rally out of a 22-point hole and beat the Heat in overtime.

"I think it's time and place," Bell said, following the Boston blowout. "The way we feel right now, we're pretty down. Guys, I don't know if it would be the best time for that. That's just my personal opinion."

Emotional speeches — by players or coaches — can work on occasion, Bell admitted.

"We've had some times this year when people have stepped up and puffed out their chest and beat it and yelled and screamed, and we've responded" he said. "(When) you have a team that's down the way we are right now, I don't know if that's the best solution."

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