Utah Jazz going backward as season draws to a close
NBA • Team’s recent play resembles early season struggles, and is worse in some ways.
Published: March 19, 2014 08:41AM
Updated: March 18, 2014 11:48PM
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Milwaukee Bucks' Brandon Knight, left, steals the ball intended for Utah Jazz Gordon Hayward during the first half of an NBA basketball game Monday, March 3, 2014, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Tom Lynn)

Houston • As he finished dressing at his locker Monday night, Marvin Williams paused for a moment and let out a deep sigh. The veteran forward has remained positive during a difficult season, but after a 38-point blowout loss to the Rockets, Williams spoke quietly.

“It’s frustrating, man,” he said. “You see yourselves get better as a team. You see yourselves make strides. Then I feel like the last few games, we’re almost back to where we started.”

The last two weeks have indeed felt eerily familiar.

A Jazz team that started the season with one victory in its first 11 games has logged just a single win in its last 11.

And, at times, things have felt as though they’ve gotten worse.

In November, with Williams and rookie point guard Trey Burke still working their way back from injuries, the average margin of defeat for those first 10 losses was 14.3 points.

Over the last 10 — with the Jazz healthy — it’s been 15.9.

Utah has seen its offensive production drop from a season-best 105.8 points per 100 possessions in January to 100.6 this month. Defensively, the Jazz are allowing 115.5 points per 100 possessions in March — third worst in the league — and almost seven points worse than they allowed back in November.

This time last year, the Jazz were fighting for their playoff lives, grasping for an eight seed in the West that wouldn’t elude them until the last day of the season.

This time around, Utah will play out the final month having been the second team in the NBA to be mathematically eliminated from the postseason.

“It’s very, very different,” guard Alec Burks said of the contrast. “Games last year counted — counted a lot. We had a lot more veterans in there that took leadership roles. But right now we’re just learning, just learning through everything. We’re gonna get better.”

It’s an unenviably position, but one players say they are trying to push through.

“We all have a job to do,” Williams said. “The job is to go out there and win as many games as you can. I don’t care if you’re in first place in the West or last place in the West. Your job is to go out there and win as many games as you possibly can. I think we all just have to try to remember that.”

Jazz coach Ty Corbin has preached the importance of focus down the stretch. He’s tried to motivate his team with the chance to play spoilers to others’ seasons.

“We don’t want to fall in love with losing,” he said. “You have to fight with everything you have.”

But with a month left in a season that will end in the lottery, finding fight can be difficult.

“It’s definitely easier said than done,” Burke said of providing playoff-caliber focus to a meaningless stretch run. “But at the same time, we have to move forward. We understand we’ve got [14] games left. We have to play those [14] games hard, just like we are in the playoff picture. We’re going to get better if we do that. I think we will.”

afalk@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribjazz

Jazz at Memphis

P At FedEx Forum, Memphis

Tipoff • Wednesday, 6 p.m.

TV • ROOT Sports

Radio • 1280 AM, 97.5 FM

Records • 22-46; Grizzlies 39-27

About the Jazz • Losers of 10 out of their last 11 games and are coming off a season-worst 38-point loss in Houston. … Have lost three of their last four meetings with Memphis. … Rookie point guard Trey Burke is averaging 16.8 points and 4.8 assists over his last five games.

About the Grizzlies • Beat the Jazz 104-94 on Dec. 23 despite missing center Marc Gasol. … Point guard Mike Conley is averaging a career-best 17.1 points per game, tops for the team. … Guard Nick Calathes unseated Burke, winner of two straight Rookie of the Month awards, by taking the honors for February.