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Associated Press
Utah Jazz guard Deron Williams, left, guards Washington Wizards guard John Wall in the second half of an NBA basketball game in Washington Monday, Jan. 17, 2011. The Wizards won 108-101.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — It sounded like a verbal bombshell out of Deron Williams' mouth.

But a day later, D-Will clarified what he meant when the All-Star point guard claimed Utah Jazz players "don't know the plays" following the team's road-trip-opening loss to the Washington Wizards on Monday afternoon.

"We're just not always in the right spots," Williams said Tuesday before Jazz practice at the New Jersey Nets' training facility. "We know the plays. We go over them 10 times a day. We just don't execute them right."

And therein lies the problem.

It begs another question, though. Which is worse: not knowing or not doing?

And, if a follow-up might be allowed, why do the same-old problems of slow starts and execution lapses — against good, bad and mediocre talent — continue to plague the Jazz halfway through the 82-game-long season?

"I don't know what it is," Williams said. "If I had an answer, it wouldn't be happening."

Coach Jerry Sloan said he loses sleep from weaknesses and woes on both ends of the court.

Defensively, he is bothered by the Jazz's lack of physicality and feistiness, which, for one specific thing, becomes evident when the oft-outrebounded squad doesn't box out well enough.

"I've always been concerned about our defense," Sloan said, "because I think sometimes we aren't as tough as we should be."

Offensively, the coach knows his players can score and pass, but the Hall of Famer wants players to know how to react when an opponent shuts down the first option, and even the second.

Perhaps part of the blame, he suggested, rests on his shoulders, too.

"Maybe," he said, "I don't change enough. … I think I'm fairly critical of myself, but I have to look at the big picture."

That explains why he has yet to pull the trigger on a starting lineup change for reasons other than injuries or illnesses.

That's why he doesn't put his players through long practices to revisit everything they've gone over since preseason or punish them with excessive running drills.

And it's also why he believes the team should focus on New Jersey tonight instead of moaning and groaning about Monday's matinee mayhem.

He told reporters that he reminds his players of his well-used mantra of not playing "backwards."

"You always try to take a look at how they're going to come back, how they're going to prepare for the next game," Sloan said. "Hopefully, they get it out of their system and go on, come back and play."

The encouraging part?

At the season's midway point, the Jazz woke up Tuesday in Newark (that's definitely not the good news part) tied for the third-best record in the Western Conference and deadlocked with Oklahoma City atop the Northwest Division at 27-14.

Fans might have twitching fingers on the panic button, but the Jazz continue to have their eyes on a high playoff seed and long postseason run.

"We're still in a good position. It's not the end of the world by any means," Williams said. "But if we want to be an elite team, which I think we do, and we want to try to win a championship, you know, we can't keep losing games like this. We can't keep getting down in first quarters, third quarters."

The Jazz, after all, have only held a lead nine times going into the second quarter so far this season. They did trail New Jersey by one before beating the Nets 98-88 at home two months ago.

And Encouraging Part II?

Team chemistry remains strong, according to Williams.

"We like each other. … There's nothing going on in the locker room or anything," he said. "It's just when we get on the court everything's not coming together."

Center Al Jefferson echoed Williams' day-after thoughts on players knowing the X's and O's.

But he listed on-court communication as being an issue at times. He believes that was at the bottom of the problem Williams referred to after the 108-101 surprising setback to the Wizards.

And shoddy execution results when three or four guys run the play correctly, while one or two players act flummoxed on the floor because they either don't hear the call or make mistakes.

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"It's still no excuses and it's still frustrating, especially to (D-Will), to have everybody but one guy not knowing the plays, not knowing what we're running," Jefferson said. "(It's) more of a communication problem, I think. I think for the most part everybody knows the plays."

It would really make Williams a happy camper — and would likely result in even more wins and fewer necessary comebacks for Utah — if the team, starters specifically, just ran them consistently and correctly, set screens, made extra passes, all of that Jazz stuff.

Will that happen?

Who knows.

But is it a correctable problem for this team, which has yet to show it can right this wrong?

"I hope so," Williams said. "Yeah, I hope so."

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