Monson: Jazz still have an awful lot to prove
At last, the Jazz played on Wednesday night a game of real significance, a game by which they could measure the true grade and actual degree of their recent ascension.
That's what happens when the Lakers come to town, even if that, too, is compromised by the absence of Kobe Bryant, due to his ongoing ankle injury.
Still, playing the Lakers without Bryant is better than most of what the Jazz had accomplished in their hot streak, a span during which they had won 13 of 14 games. There were, indeed, some nice victories mixed in, but beating New Jersey, Sacramento, Milwaukee, the Nuggets without Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony, Portland without its big men and Brandon Roy, and the Clips, doesn't inspire a whole lot of legitimate chatter about a bona fide move toward greatness.
Taking out the Lakers, on top of all the other wins, might.
It didn't happen. In their last game before the All-Star break, the Jazz got rolled Wednesday night, 96-81, ending their nine-game win streak, and punching them in the gut, en route.
Looking for convincing evidence for themselves that they are, in fact, a force to be taken seriously in the West, the Jazz face-planted big-time against the Kobe-less Lakers.
They shot 44 percent from the field. They made just 52 percent of their free throws. They hit two threes in 13 attempts. They got killed inside by Lamar Odom, who scored 25 points, and Pau Gasol, who got 22. Gasol also had 19 rebounds, and Lamar 11.
And they got beat at EnergySolutions for the first time since early January.
"It was a very disappointing loss," said Jerry Sloan. "I thought we'd have a lot more energy playing against these guys. They came out and got after us. ... They just kept taking it to us."
He added: "It's hard for me to understand. ... You've got to fight back."
There was little fight in the Jazz on this night.
And, so, there is a lot more for them to prove.
"A little adversity can make you better," Sloan said, "if you take it the right way."
For now, the Jazz will take it on vacation, where what the Lakers did to them can either be forgotten or rattle around in their brains and push them toward something more than a nice run in February.
"We had a great streak," said Deron Williams, who endured the final moments of the loss on the bench with an expression on his face that fell somewhere between disappointment and disgust. "We played soft tonight."
That was true.
But the truth is a little more devastating than just that. It goes like this: The Jazz are nowhere near as good as the Lakers, and those who had hoped for a different reality weren't left with any proof.
The Jazz have, as Williams said it, played great of late. They've shared the ball, played together, and won unselfishly.
It's been impressive, and a gas to watch.
On Wednesday night, though, against an authentic measure, they just looked gassed.
"Where our energy was is beyond me," Sloan said. "We played last night and got home in plenty of time to get eight hours sleep."
They needed more.
"I've got to get some rest," confessed Andrei Kirilenko.
He wasn't alone.
Carlos Boozer hit just 4 of 13 shots. Mehmet Okur was 3-for-10. Ronnie Brewer made 1 of 4. Williams was 3-for-9, although he finished just one rebound shy of a triple-double.
That stat line properly meant nothing to Williams, who growled: "It looked like [the Lakers] wanted the game more."
It was a bitter admission from the leader of a team that has showed promise, but needs to find more substance.
"We'll see who we are," Sloan said.
Even the Jazz aren't sure.