In the back and forth, the up and down, the left and right, the right and wrong, the push and pull, the yin and yang of the regular season — and there have been considerable amounts of all of that — the Utah Jazz, with 18 games to play, still seem to be in search of an identity. Something they can hang their hat on every night, whether winning five straight or losing a couple in a row. Whether the shots are falling or clanking off the iron. Whether somebody’s sitting on the bench with foul trouble or slowed by a gimpy ankle.
Here you go.
It’s simple, really. Difficult yes, but not particularly complicated or sophisticated.
Play your guts out.
Dive for loose balls, D up with fortitude, foul if you have to, set rugged screens, move with purpose, pass with intent, rebound like maniacs, run the floor, go to the rim strong — like your lives depend on it.
The Jazz’s season does.
Go to work. Every. Single. Night.
Keep in mind two of Quin Snyder’s favorite words: force and focus.
When the Jazz are great, they shoot the ball well enough from the perimeter to punish teams inside by lobbing passes into Rudy Gobert. And when they do that, shooting around or better than 50 percent, they tend to play better defense because they are energized.
That’s all good.
Except that on some nights, maybe too many nights, those shots aren’t dropping. Even a shooter the caliber of Bojan Bogdanovic has those outings where the attempts do not fly true. Donovan Mitchell suffers through those stretches, as do Joe Ingles, Mike Conley, Royce O’Neale, and Jordan Clarkson. See Monday’s home loss to Toronto for just the latest example of this.
Snyder might — and does — concern himself with the rudiments that lead up to those misses, the bad habits that creep in, the turnovers that interrupt the shooting rhythm, the ball stoppages that foil the blender, the awareness that isn’t as keen as it should be. And he can work with his players on avoiding the negative and maintaining the positive.
“You’re usually rewarded when you play the right way,” Snyder said.
The foundation beneath playing the right way is what everybody knows, what so many teams know, but fewer teams do — play hard.
Somewhere there is a space, between panicky anxiousness and effective urgency, between short circuits in the brain and absolute determination, between wanting to win so badly that its like gasping for air to breathe and fearing that winning might be elusive even when everything is offered up.
Mitchell said it this way: “We want to continue to be aggressive … we have to bring intensity.”
Then be it, bring it.
That’s something the Jazz can be and do every game, regardless of whether the shots are made or the calls are going their way or they are playing a dog team or an elite team. It’s a single thing they can control, and, as mentioned, it lays the groundwork for all those other, more intricate, more nuanced things Snyder is coaching, instructing his team to achieve.
“We have to keep the same energy,” Mitchell said, “the same focus.”
The same effort.
“We have to do it every night,” Gobert said. “Do it when things get tough. Every night is a different opportunity, a different challenge.”
What always should stay the same?
You know. The Jazz should, too.
Fans here have always valued — even more it has seemed than fans in other arenas, other places — collections of players that, win or lose, share and demonstrate single-mindedness, a group resolve, grit and tenacity that is evidenced by raw, hard-nosed hustle.
People in Utah pride themselves on that stuff, they see it in their own makeup, their own work, their own reflection.
If there is a 50-50 ball bouncing on the court, they respect an athlete who will go full-bore to gather it in. They respect rebounders boxing their man out. They respect the conviction it takes to chase down an opponent in transition, one who is looking for an easy score, to interfere with that attempt.
Those are things that transcend talent. They may not replace that talent, but they certainly enhance it. And they are contagious.
Said Snyder, in a slightly different context: “We want that to be who we are.”
If the Jazz need an identity, and they do, they could do worse than adopting that one, taking possession of it, making pluck and effort and resoluteness and toughness their own. That would amplify and make every other good thing — the more complex matters — they utilize and draw from within about a thousand times louder, a thousand times better.
That’s who they should want to be, come what may.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone. which is owned by the parent company that owns the Utah Jazz.