SALT LAKE CITY — Whether it's attitude, chemistry or the change in the Zodiac signs, the Jazz have been as moody as teenager girls this year. Some nights they are cold and disinterested (see games against Golden State, Los Angeles and Boston), others they are restless and angry (Houston), and sometimes they're confident and self-assured (Denver).
Most nights they're like they were on Saturday: into it, but not. And terribly fragile.
On one hand, maybe they need to be told things will all work out. On the other hand, they probably need someone to say "Snap out of it!" Take Saturday's game against Oklahoma City, for example. Big match-up between division contenders. The Jazz were on fire, making their first 11 shots. That hasn't happened since 1998. They built their lead to 13.
Then came the second quarter and nobody guarded the paint. Or the perimeter. They couldn't even guard their thoughts. Next thing they knew, they were trailing by 11 early in the second half.
They shot spectacularly but stopped no one.
At game's end, Oklahoma City was pulling away in a 121-105 win.
"I thought we were trying as hard as we could," coach Jerry Sloan said. "I really did."
For how long?
Undergirding it all is the emotion, which is both the backbone and the breakdown of Sloan's team. Andrei Kirilenko once wept in front of the media over playing time. Deron Williams is curt, offish and occasionally charming. On his bad days he says the Jazz fit together better last year. Other times he says the chemistry is great. And when things are really hurting, he hints — as he did last year — about leaving as a free agent.
Al Jefferson is emotion personified. You see it in the way he bunches his face when he commits a foul and the way he beams when he dunks. You see it in Raja Bell's perpetual on-court scowl, and in the way C.J. Miles hangs his head after a missed shot.
One thing is clear about this year's team, though: emotion is a two-sided deal. The Jazz need Williams acting chippy, though not discontented. They need Jefferson happy but not giddy. They need Kirilenko — who was out with an injury — playing with abandon but not abandoning the plan.
Add that to Paul Millsap's quiet, slow burn and they have a good thing going.
Only some of that happened on Saturday, and only at the start.
"We came out with tremendous desire, and I think we lost some energy," Sloan said.
This is a team that needs emotion, but not an emotional meltdown.
So far the fire in the right amount has happened only a handful of times this season. It happened all of Friday's game against Denver and for the first 10 minutes on Saturday. The rest of the time the Jazz looked defeated. The problem is that all players know it's an 82 games a season and they figure 1/82nd of anything isn't that big, so they relax. But 7/82nds or 11/82nds is a big deal. Three weeks ago the Jazz seemed ready to usurp the No. 2 spot in the West; now they're hoping for sixth.
Thus the Jazz took on division leader Oklahoma City in a game likely to have playoff ramifications. They sparkled for a few minutes but then checked out. It's not like they can't beat the Thunder. They beat them by 21 in October. In the end, they had only a nifty start to show for their work. They started off great, which hasn't been the case most of the year, but their consistency failed — which was oh-so-typical and oh-so-teenagerish.
They suffered their eighth loss in 11 games, a team that can thrill on its good days and kill with its inattentiveness.
And all anyone can do is offer their best advice and hope the Jazz navigate the waters safely until they've all grown up.
ONLINE POLL QUESTIONS:
1.Should the Jazz make a major trade before the deadline this month? (Y/N)
2.If so, who should they trade?
A. Andrei Kirilenko
B. C.J. Miles
C. Al Jefferson
D. None of the above