LOS ANGELES — Crisp.
It's one of the finer qualities of a good apple.
It's how military personnel and maids are taught to make beds. It can be a tasty dessert, too.
As far as the Utah Jazz are concerned, it's also a five-letter, double-bonus Scrabble adjective that eludes their play when things start to unravel on the court.
Veteran guard Raja Bell used the word Monday night while describing how the Utah Jazz failed to play in their home loss to Portland.
"I think we were just out of sync and a bit sluggish," Bell said. "We came out and didn't seem to be moving around crisp."
Twelve hours later — as the Jazz prepared for tonight's road game against the Los Angeles Clippers — Deron Williams talked about crispness being the main thing the team often lacks when it starts slowly or when it goes into one of those funks where players appear to be wearing concrete-filled basketball shoes.
The Jazz have a system that requires and thrives off of precision and tightness in execution, and that just didn't happen for much of the second half in the 96-91 defeat to the Trail Blazers.
It's also been missing in many of the team's lackluster starts, which put the Jazz in position so often for their trademark comebacks.
"I think we're just not executing the way we should offensively. Our defense isn't as crisp as it should be," Williams said. "I think that's a good word for what's happening on both ends of the floor is we're not crisp in what we do."
A quick click on the thesaurus link provides more depth to crisp's meaning: sharp and concise; quick and precise.
Though Utah is 21-10 and leads the Northwest Division, those descriptions tend to be exactly opposite of what the Jazz are in losses.
Ball distribution is one aspect of the crisp game the Jazz need to work on more consistently achieving. Williams was disgusted that Utah only had 17 assists Monday night.
That's almost seven assists below the Jazz's average of 23.7 dishes per contest, which ranks fifth-highest in the NBA.
"I've stressed it all year when we don't make extra passes we're not as good a team," Williams said. "And I didn't think we did that (Monday)."
Neither did Sloan. And to get back on the winning track that team play and ball movement needs to happen tonight against the dangerous Clippers, who've held double-digit leads in both losses to Utah this season.
"When you get the ball and start holding the ball and look for yourself, it's very difficult to have any kind of execution," Sloan said. "And we had those things happen to us on a number of occasions (Monday)."
Playing crisply, however, wasn't the only thing missing from the Jazz's play in their sixth home loss this season. Energy, again, was nowhere to be found for chunks of the game — an ongoing problem as the team struggles to play consistent, focused basketball.
"It's got to be contagious," Williams said of playing with more consistency.
"I think if you prepare yourself properly, you should be able to have the energy," Sloan pointed out at practice. "I think preparation is the most important thing you can have, learning how to prepare yourself to play so you have energy."
That, Sloan added, even includes how players take care of their bodies through the way they eat and sleep.
But he's not going to follow them around and do bed or refrigerator checks.
"All I know is when we start the game we sometimes have a tough time getting ourselves going," Sloan said. "I don't go around asking guys what's going on with them. That's part of your responsibility as a professional player. You're getting paid to perform at a high level.7 comments on this story
"I can't run for them," he added. "I can't do that stuff. That's their responsibility. That's the pride you have in yourself to do it everyday."
Williams said the Jazz's lapses mystify the team as much as anybody else. That mentality, he said, needs an adjustment in order for them to reach their potential and to play crisp basketball.
"We just need to go out and take control of the game early," Williams said.
"But," he added, "if it was that simple we would have an answer for it already. We wouldn't be talking about it 30 games into the season."