This is the time of year when the reality of life at the bottom of the NBA standings makes coming to the games seem like a major chore.
That’s why Jazz fans deserve credit for their attendance Monday night, when Gordon Hayward scored 32 points but the other players were mostly no-shows in a 114-94 loss to lowly Detroit at EnergySolutions Arena.
When the Jazz (23-48) have the fourth-worst record in the league, everything about the nightly production feels manufactured and overdone. The music’s too loud. The bold, giant screens merely magnify the team’s mistakes. Even the Kiss Cam seems silly. And the pregame intro video? Wow. Do we really need to keep seeing Andris Biedrins, Brandon Rush and John Lucas III with glowering, menacing looks?
This is a forgiving, appreciative sports market, but Utahns never should have to endure another season like this one. There’s a strategy in place to keep that from happening, starting with a high draft pick in June and the development of young players who have shown intermittent promise.
The Jazz have asked a lot of their fans this season, and they’ve stuck with the team to a remarkable degree. Even if the 2013-14 attendance will be the lowest in the 23 seasons of ESA’s existence, an average crowd of 18,000-plus is impressive to me.
The fans in the building obviously care about winning, even when the Jazz stand to gain from losing. They moan about missed shots, buzz when a 3-point attempt floats through the air and celebrate victories, although there’s no comparison to the atmosphere of the old days — like, six years ago.
Robert Olson remembers. The Farmington resident became a Jazz fan in the Deron Williams era, when the team went 37-4 at home in 2007-08 and ESA was “completely rocking,” he said.
It’s different now, on the court and in the stands, although Monday’s announced crowd (17,595) was decent, considering the opponent. And most of them were surprisingly tolerant of such a lousy effort, staying longer than they should have and hardly booing at all.
Detroit “outworked us,” said Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin, whose team lacked “a sense of purpose.”
Prior to Monday, I could pinpoint five home games with no redeeming value — losses to Denver in November, San Antonio in December, Minnesota in January and Toronto and Minnesota in February.
Those were balanced by some memorable games, including Diante Garrett’s debut in a victory over New Orleans, Derrick Favors’ winning dunk against the Los Angeles Lakers, Hayward’s 37 points in a defeat of Oklahoma City, the team’s poised effort in beating Miami and Trey Burke’s winning 3-pointer against Orlando last Saturday.
Those successes apparently were enough to keep people coming back.
“From all the comments I hear from people that are coming to the games, they enjoy watching the young guys get better,” Corbin had said earlier. “That’s great for our fans. They understand where we are. … We’re being evaluated, and our fans deserve to make sure they’re getting their money’s worth.”
They’re not deceived, though. Olson appreciates how the Jazz have given season-ticket holders additional benefits. “You can tell they are really trying to go the extra mile to make you feel valued — which is nice, because the team is terrible,” he said.
Walking around the upper concourse, Chad Robbins of Herriman stopped to explain why he brought his 7-year-old son, Blake, to ESA for a meaningless late-March game. “Free tickets,” Robbins said. “We used to come a little more, but not now. It’s not worth the money.”
And then I found another father and son who’d spent exactly $3.08 for two tickets via Stub Hub. They overpaid, based on the product that was served up Monday.
Jazz at home
With six home games remaining, the Jazz have a 15-20 record at EnergySolutions Arena. The worst home records in the franchise’s Utah era:
1979-80 • 17-24
1981-82 • 18-23
2004-05 • 18-23
1980-81 • 20-21