That’s the best word — at least the best word that’s fit to print here — to describe the effort the Jazz put up against the hapless Detroit Pistons on Monday night. And it’s a word that’s been the best word too often during a Jazz skid in which they’ve stumbled to a 4-15 record in recent weeks.
The Pistons arrived at EnergySolutions Arena for the fourth and final game of their road trip, having lost 13 straight roadies and five straight games overall. And the Jazz, coming off a home game played Saturday night followed by a day of rest, made a bad team look like title contenders. Detroit hit better than 55 percent of its shots, taking advantage of slow defensive rotations and a general sort of malaise. The Jazz shot just 41 percent. The Pistons killed the Jazz on the boards, outrebounding them by 20.
An unfit word for print would work better.
For the Jazz, the whole thing should have been embarrassing. Ultimately, it’s good, on account of draft positioning, for the franchise and the team to lose games this season. But not like that. Not by utter regression. Not by getting kicked around on its home floor, in front of its home fans, by an opponent that couldn’t win the Peruvian League. It’s one thing to get beat by the San Antonio Spurs, it’s another to get throttled by outfits like the Pistons.
It’s happened far too often. And it’s beneath the tradition of the Utah Jazz. Isn’t it?
Somebody must be held accountable for that.
Ty Corbin must be held accountable for that.
It’s a coach’s burden, fair or unfair.
It’s the players who have to get their butts up and down the court, who have to get to the proper defensive positions early, who have to read and recognize what’s happening and react with the kind of mental and physical commitment that keeps them from getting blown off the floor. Those players were abysmal in the first half on Monday night, as they frequently have been in recent games, and Corbin ripped into them in the locker room at the half, using what was for him unusually aggressive language to emphasize his points.
It didn’t faze the team.
Just like it hasn’t fazed the players for more than a month now.
They made no lasting move to close the gap in the second half against the Pistons, finishing those last two quarters behind by the same 20-point margin that had overwhelmed them in the first two quarters.
The coach was swearing at the wind.
Corbin is a smart, dignified man whose been given a tough task, replacing a coaching legend with an unready group of players. But mentoring that group requires more than brains and explanations. It requires charisma and savvy and strength and timing. It requires touch. It’s like cutting a melon into two halves, separating those halves, and then slapping them back together in perfect alignment. The Jazz this season have been dissected and put back together all right, but distinctly off-kilter. Those halves represent 1) giving the players the information they need to best put them in a position to succeed, and 2) motivating them to utilize that information to the best of their abilities.
Corbin is failing at one or both, the team’s positive performances standing as an indictment against the much more frequent negative ones. As a result, the Jazz are out of whack. They were never going to be great this year, but they are not what they could be. They are farther out of balance than they should be, now a clumsy, lopsided orb tumbling toward season’s end, seemingly needing new hands to form those pieces back together.
After Monday night’s showing, the Jazz locker room was solemn and dark, frustrated and confused. A crisis of confidence was thick as a brick. Modest solutions to numerous problems were apparent, but no one knew exactly how to implement them.
They had been given lip service before, but nobody appeared to be about that action, boss.
“We came out right from the beginning like we were running in mud,” Corbin said. “We’ve got to play with a lot more energy than we played with tonight. … They got paint touches, they got 3-point shots, they got drives to the basket, they got too much of what they wanted. … They outworked us.”
A damning confession, indeed.
Corbin correctly added: “If you’re leaving your best effort out there and a team beats you, you can deal with that, but we could’ve been a little better tonight.”
A lot better, on a lot of nights.
“We were a step slow,” Marvin Williams said. “We’ve just got to compete. This time of year, guys are tired, guys are hurt, guys are beat up, but you have to go out and compete the best you can.”
Richard Jefferson said the losing “sucks,” and he listed a few reasons the Jazz are struggling, including a lack of game experience and basketball maturity, but he concluded: “We’re professionals. We have to find a way to play hard every night. … It doesn’t matter if you’re 10 games over .500 or 20 games below. You show up, you work hard every day and do consistently what you know you have to do.”
Gordon Hayward said the Jazz “aren’t executing our game plan defensively.”
And Trey Burke put it like this: “You come out and lose by 20 to the Pistons, it’s tough. … You don’t want to [let] the losses drive you crazy.”
Jefferson said Corbin and his coaches are not giving up, they are “coming in here fired up, ready to go.”
But sometimes, it just doesn’t work.
Sometimes, the message, along with the game, is lost. Sometimes, for whatever reason, the physical and the psychological don’t mesh. Sometimes, the melon doesn’t get put back in proper alignment. If the embryonic Jazz are lacking ripened talent, OK. If they are getting straight up beat, OK. If they are lacking effort and energy, that’s not OK. It’s a players’ problem, but it’s more than that. It’s a coaching problem, a problem that must be solved.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.