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Randy Hollis: Utah Jazz: Lineup may be tweaked after break

Published: Friday, July 3 2015 6:34 a.m. MDT

Tyrone Corbin said Josh Howard has played well and could be starting for the struggling Jazz after the All-Star break. (Ravell Call, Deseret News) Tyrone Corbin said Josh Howard has played well and could be starting for the struggling Jazz after the All-Star break. (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.

Utah Jazz forward Josh Howard (8) Utah Jazz guard Devin Harris (5) and Utah Jazz guard Gordon Hayward (20) walk back onto the court after a timeout as the Utah Jazz and the San Antonio Spurs play Monday, Feb. 20, 2012 at Energy Solutions arena in Salt Lake City. Spurs won 106-102 (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) Utah Jazz forward Josh Howard (8) Utah Jazz guard Devin Harris (5) and Utah Jazz guard Gordon Hayward (20) walk back onto the court after a timeout as the Utah Jazz and the San Antonio Spurs play Monday, Feb. 20, 2012 at Energy Solutions arena in Salt Lake City. Spurs won 106-102 (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

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."

Utah Jazz head coach Tyrone Corbin doesn't like the referee's call as the Utah Jazz and the Minnesota Timberwolves play Saturday, Jan. 21, 2012 in Energy Solutions arena in Salt Lake City. Jazz won 108-98. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) Utah Jazz head coach Tyrone Corbin doesn't like the referee's call as the Utah Jazz and the Minnesota Timberwolves play Saturday, Jan. 21, 2012 in Energy Solutions arena in Salt Lake City. Jazz won 108-98. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

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.

Utah Jazz head coach Tyrone Corbin and Utah Jazz guard Devin Harris (5) have a discussion as the Utah Jazz and the San Antonio Spurs play Monday, Feb. 20, 2012 at Energy Solutions arena in Salt Lake City. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) Utah Jazz head coach Tyrone Corbin and Utah Jazz guard Devin Harris (5) have a discussion as the Utah Jazz and the San Antonio Spurs play Monday, Feb. 20, 2012 at Energy Solutions arena in Salt Lake City. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

"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.

Utah Jazz head coach Tyrone Corbin cheers on the team during NBA action in Salt Lake City  Friday, Feb. 10, 2012.  (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Utah Jazz head coach Tyrone Corbin cheers on the team during NBA action in Salt Lake City Friday, Feb. 10, 2012. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

Although Bell has shaken off a slow start and has played well lately, the Jazz coach said he's considering keeping Howard in the starting lineup after the All-Star break.

"Man, he's done a great job," Corbin said. "It looked like he might be better starting for us than coming off the bench. So we'll look at that and evaluate it and see what gives us a good chance."

Howard, who has scored in double digits in back-to-back games since starting in Bell's place, wasn't too eager to discuss a possible shakeup in the Jazz playing rotation.

"I ain't got no comment (about that)," he said sheepishly. "I just come in and play night in and night out. It's up to the coach to make those decisions. That's all I can say.

"I'm just going out there and enjoying the game. I've always been one of those players that just loves the game. So just getting out there, doing whatever I can do to help my team win. Ultimately, that's my goal night-in and night-out.

"I'm here at his disposal," said Howard, a former All-Star who signed a one-year deal with the team in December. "Whatever he wants me to do, I'm going out there to do it."

And then, of course, there's always the possibility of a trade.

The Jazz are well-stocked with good, young players like Millsap, Al Jefferson, Derrick Favors and rookie Enes Kanter at the center and power forward positions, and Hayward, C.J. Miles and rookie Alec Burks would appear to be the future of the franchise at the shooting guard/small forward spots.

But point guard, long a Jazz strength with Hall of Famer John Stockton and possible future Hall of Famer Deron Williams a pretty tough one-two act to follow, is an area of the greatest concern. Devin Harris has had his moments as a starter, and Earl Watson has often been terrific as a backup.

Corbin wouldn't comment on what other possible lineup changes might be in store for this ballclub, which now finds itself several games out of the playoff picture.

"This is who were are, we are who we are until we're not," the Jazz coach insisted. "This group of guys has done a great job of just continuing to work hard to try and get better as a group.

"We're trying to get better at the things we need to get better at, and we're working hard on our perimeter shooting and staying in front of guys and working on our pick-and-roll defense. So the guys have been working extremely hard to get better.

"This is who we are until we're not together any more," he said.

But who are they exactly? A feisty young team that might fool the experts and finish above .500? Or a struggling squad that still doesn't know how to finish games and hasn't yet learned how to win, especially on the road? Yes, indeed, will the real Utah Jazz team please stand up? Now, having taken a deep breath to regroup, reflect and collect their thoughts in this condensed and confounded NBA schedule, they'll soon have an opportunity to show everyone — including themselves — exactly who they are in the weeks ahead.

Email: rhollis@desnews.com

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