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Riverwalk • If you're monitoring this Jazz season, you've noticed a subtle but significant change in coach Tyrone Corbin. Earlier in the year as recently as early March when he sat Derrick Favors on a career night Corbin was hesitant to fully explain decisions. An obvious reason is that it's difficult to praise one player without criticizing another. Why didn't he put Favors back in that night in Milwaukee? If the reason was that he didn't think Favors would give the team more than Enes Kanter, having a fine night himself, how might he say that without saying something that would imply he doesn't think highly enough of Favors?
In the last couple of weeks, Corbin seems to have given up on being so protective of his players. Last night was a prime example. When he suggested that the group that closed the game made some mistakes, he was quick to say "it wasn't as many times as the group before." In a loss in Oklahoma City 8 nights ago, Corbin said of his second unit, "At least they played hard." That was a clear criticism of the starting group, which, on that night, didn't really play hard at all.
Corbin won't go so far as to call out players by name, at least he hasn't yet, but comments like these are already more damning than anything he would have said three weeks ago.
Which brings us all to Thursday's practice at AT&T Center. It was just Corbin and me following a 90-minute practice on the Spurs' home court. Media is not allowed to watch practice, but when I arrived, Randy Foye was going hard on one end of the floor, while Jeremy Evans and Alec Burks exchanged aerial highlights on the other. I wrote about the struggling Foye's diligence for tomorrow's dead-tree Tribune.
The third-year Jazz coach pursed his lips and waited five seconds to answer. "As good as it can be."
It was a surprising response from the generally optimistic Corbin, who has often credited his team for coming in the day after big losses and turning up the intensity. What was today's practice missing?
"We're losing," he said. "The mood's a little concerning, down, which it should be. We're not playing our best basketball. The guys are focused, they are focused on trying to figure it out."
Entering Friday's game against the Spurs, the Jazz will be just 1 1/2 games out of eighth in the Western Conference. It's mathetically plausible that they could reach the playoffs with 14 games remaining. But if the mood around the Jazz is already so somber, it could be a long limp to the finish line.
Told that Corbin said Thursday's was a rough practice and that spirits were low, Paul Millsap didn't respond. Asked if that was a fair characterization, the free agent-to-be said, "I guess it's fair. I don't know. Look at it as another practice."
Millsap went on to say that he was frustrated by his lack of playing time in Wednesday's loss in Houston, saying he will have "to live with" a fourth-quarter benching in the loss. It was a bad night for Millsap to play in front of a Houston crowd. According to one outlet there, the Rockets are high on signing him in the offseason.
"I didn't know that," he told Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle. "My main thing is to win games. I don't get caught up into all that. ... You have to play where you are. That's how I look at it."