This is an archived article that was published on in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

East Rutherford, N.J. • A sleepy-eyed Deron Williams offered a wake-up call.

It was not the first time this season that the Jazz guard respectfully but pointedly has challenged himself and his teammates. But it definitely was the most direct.

Less than 24 hours removed from a surprising but somewhat predictable road defeat to the 12-win Washington Wizards, Williams said Tuesday that a Utah team at the midpoint of its campaign ultimately has two paths that it can follow for the remainder of the season.

One is straight ahead. It is a road often traveled by the Jazz, filled with promising wins and disappointing losses, highlighted by big-time potential but hollowed out by inconsistency. It is a safe, trusted lane. But the route will likely end at the same place that Utah has eventually arrived during recent seasons: a first- or second-round playoff exit.

The other path is more challenging. It only moves upward. And it requires improved execution, teamwork, communication and an overall commitment to the Jazz way of life.

Big words. Big thoughts. But Williams ended last season openly stating that Utah has to do something different if it wants to be more than just an early round punching bag for a top-seeded team. And the only way that this season's improved but unpredictable Jazz can accomplish the goal is by playing up to the aspirations of team leaders such as Paul Millsap and Williams, as well as coach Jerry Sloan.

"We're still in a good position. It's not the end of the world by any means. But if we want to be an elite team — which I think we do — and we want to try to win a championship, we can't keep losing games like this," said Williams, prior to practice at the New Jersey Nets' workout facility.

What will it take for Utah to become elite?

"When we start winning consistently," said Williams, who added that the Jazz have in many ways been facing the same roadblock for the "last five years."

Still, he remains optimistic. Williams hopes that Utah's negative traits are fixable, and he believes that the Jazz have proven that they can be a formidable opponent when they maximize their potential, excel on both ends of the court, and do not let their offensive success dictate their defensive effort.

The opposite occurred versus Washington. Utah was outscored 21-6 in the fast break and outrebounded 44-33. The backward statistics offset a strong shooting night for the Jazz, who hit 51.9 percent (14 of 27) of their attempts behind the 3-point line, but allowed the Wizards to connect on 53.5 percent (38 of 71) of their shots from the floor.

The discrepancies versus a lackluster opponent — and yet another slow start by Utah — left Millsap focused and tight-lipped Tuesday.

"We can't keep making excuses," Millsap said. "We've just got to get out there and do it. I wouldn't say it's one particular thing. We [did not run] the offense; we didn't get no stops. So it's all together."

A Jazz team that ranks 11th out of 30 teams in the league in average scoring (101) recorded just 39 points during the first half against a Washington squad that ranks 21st in points allowed (102.4). Two consecutive directionless quarters left a mark on Williams, who asserted after the defeat that the Jazz "don't know the plays."

He and Millsap corrected the statement Tuesday.

They said that Utah is perfectly familiar with the sets the team has run for years. But obstacles appear when the Jazz ignore Sloan's system and settle for less.

However, Utah's coach had no interest in looking backward. The self-critical Sloan acknowledged that he might not "change enough." But he also understands that there is a larger, more important picture at stake. His team has another game to play tonight, and the NBA season is a long, rollercoaster-like journey. The only way to move forward — and discover the high road — is by improving on the court.

"It's like if you shoot the ball out here on the floor and you say, 'Oh, I missed it,' And then 10 minutes later you say, 'Oh, I missed that shot,' " Sloan said. "Well, 10 minutes later you'll probably miss half a dozen more."

bsmith@sltrib.comTwitter: @tribjazz —

Jazz at Nets

P At Prudential Center, Newark, N.J.

Tipoff • 5 p.m.

TV • FSN Utah

Radio • 1320 AM, 1600 AM, 98.7 FM

Records • Jazz 27-14, Nets 10-31

Last meeting • Jazz, 116-83 (Jan. 23)

About the Jazz • Utah is 3-3 in its past six games. … The Jazz are tied with Oklahoma City for first place in the Northwest Division, while both teams are tied for third in the Western Conference. … All 13 Utah players practiced Tuesday.

About the Nets • New Jersey has lost six consecutive games and 11 of 12. … Point guard Devin Harris, whose name has often been mentioned in Carmelo Anthony-related trade rumors, is averaging 16.1 points, 7.1 assists and 2.5 rebounds. … The Nets rank 29th out of 30 teams in scoring (92.4) and assists (18.9).