NBA • With players improvising instead of following plan, offense falls apart during skid.
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Philadelphia • The Jazz's Deron Williams and C.J. Miles said their team is a mass of mixed-up confusion. Coach Jerry Sloan believes that his players are feeling sorry for themselves and relying on excuses. And everyone from veterans Raja Bell and Ronnie Price to rookie Gordon Hayward alternated between absolute uncertainty and pinpoint accuracy when describing how a Utah squad normally associated with words such as "consistency" and "victory" is suddenly stuck in its worst slump in two years.
"We'll find out who we are," said Sloan, following the Jazz's 96-85 loss to Philadelphia on Saturday. "It takes a lot of toughness to fight through that; not feel like the world's against you. It's a basketball game, is all it is it's not a matter of life and death. So hopefully guys will realize how important it is to play, because it's a pretty good business to be in."
The business was bad last week.
A Jazz team coming off smooth, high-powered wins against New York and Cleveland departed Monday to the East Coast for a four-game road trip thinking 3-1 and hoping for 4-0. Utah accomplished neither, instead underperforming and flipping its ideals upside down in an 0-4 trip, returning to Salt Lake City with a string of listless outings that marked the team's worst effort of the season.
"At times it looked like we'd never played with each other," Miles said.
Not working together
How did Utah lose its way? And where do the up-and-down Jazz go from here?
Several players said the answers are directly connected.
Williams has been saying since training camp started that the Jazz are far from perfect. And he cautioned that a work-in-progress squad blending multiple new faces with an old-school system that relies on basketball fundamentals such as hard screens, precise passing and high-percentage shots would likely endure a series of highs and lows throughout the 2010-11 season.
The prophet was on point. And after Utah was easily erased by the 76ers, he described a "snowball effect" that highlighted the peaks and valleys he predicted nearly four months ago.
"It's frustrating. Because we can't figure out how to get it going," Williams said. "It looks bad out there. It looks bad; it feels bad. You just can't get going; you can't find ways to get going. There's no continuity. There's no chemistry. No spacing. There's no help on the defensive end. We're not trusting each other on either end."
Bell said the Jazz were close to bottoming out after the defeat to the 76ers. And the same issues that Williams discussed in early October have been underlined by Bell every time that Utah has struggled in recent weeks.
Like Sloan, Bell does not believe the Jazz have the firepower to compete one-on-one with the NBA's elite. Utah's starting five is also undersized in the paint, while the Jazz are far from being the most athletic team in the league and struggle to consistently knock down perimeter shots.
Thus, Utah must emphasize the E's execution, effort, enforcement and every player on the team's 13-man roster must be willing to sacrifice for the greater good if the Jazz as currently constructed are going to have a legitimate chance to beat the best in the league.
That did not happen against three of the NBA's worst teams Washington, New Jersey and Philadelphia and it was clearly absent from the opening tip against Boston, the second-best club in the game.
To Bell, Utah's woes stemmed from abandonment. Players did not man their positions as Sloan requires, and ultimately failed to perform in a manner that benefited the team.
"We all have to do our jobs, and do it even when it doesn't fancy [you]," Bell said. "When it's something that you don't necessarily want to do or love to do, it's still your job. And if you don't do it, then it makes somebody else's job really hard."
Bell acknowledged being frustrated. Primarily because the veteran believes that the Jazz are a much better team than they have been playing, and have yet to reach their potential more than midway through the season.
Meanwhile, Bell and Miles said that a players-only meeting might be required for the Jazz to start holding themselves accountable again. But Bell acknowledged that closed-door sessions are not the Sloan way.
"That's not really his style. He's not big on that," Bell said. "So you try to respect that and figure out how to make it work without stepping on toes."
Utah still has a way out, though. A veteran Jazz player stressed that the team's chemistry was still intact and its locker room was still strong, adding that there are several longtime members of the club who will not allow a simple slump to wreck an entire season. And while Earl Watson sees long-term potential in the four-game fall strength through adversity, Watson said Paul Millsap stood proud and tall after the rest of his teammates had left Utah's dressing room Saturday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
He said that the "whole world was surprised" by the Jazz's sudden spiral. But he also believes that everything from improved communication and teamwork to simply relaxing on the court and returning to Sloan's system can bring Utah back to base.
"There's not going to be a freak-out," Millsap said. "We're an old enough team to know what's going on. And I think the freaking out comes out when you don't know. And I think we understand what's going on. And I think we'll get over it pretty soon."
A magnetic resonance imaging test taken Sunday of Jazz center Fransicso Elson confirmed that he has tendinitis in his left quadriceps. Elson is day-to-day, and is a game-time decision for a road contest Tuesday versus the Los Angeles Lakers.
R The Jazz have lost four consecutive games for the first time since Jan. 21-27, 2009.
Several key Utah players have struggled from the field during the losing streak:
Player FG Pct
Raja Bell 6-20 30
Deron Williams 22-54 40.7
Paul Millsap 19-46 41.3
Northwest Division standings
Team Record GB
Okla. City 28-15 -
Utah 27-17 1 ½
Denver 25-18 3
Portland 25-20 4 ½
Minnesota 10-33 18
Jazz at Lakers
P Tuesday, 8:30 p.m.
TV • FSN Utah