Struggling Jazz Search for Confidence
"It's been giving me trouble (and) it's going to keep giving me trouble," the Utah point guard said with a smirk, responding even though the ice and bandage that was wrapped around his shooting hand had said enough already. "I had the same injury last year ... and it took a month and a half. It's my shooting hand. I do everything with it. It's going to bother me. I just have to learn to deal with it."
It's been that kind of season for the Jazz, whose past and present will collide Wednesday night when Carlos Boozer returns to EnergySolutions Arena with his new Chicago team for the first time.
Williams is the latest poster boy for pain, having missed four games recently with the wrist injury only to hastily return when the losses kept coming without him. Mehmet Okur remains a medical mystery in his own right, having recovered from offseason Achilles surgery only to sit out with a strained lower back that has his return unknown.
The egos certainly took a beating during their recent slide, too, with the team that looked bigger and better after adding forward Al Jefferson in the summer dropping seven straight and nine of their last 13 after beating Sacramento Monday night. From a 27-13 start to sixth in the Western Conference at 31-23, with no shortage of damage done to their postseason plans in the process.
"Everybody knows the situation we're in," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "We've kind of stubbed our toe here and there."
And almost everywhere, really.
Losses at New Jersey, Washington and Philadelphia were so bad they changed the perception game for the time being, eliminating any need for projections about whether the Jazz could exact revenge on a Lakers team that ousted them from the playoffs in the last two seasons.
But in case anyone needed proof that the notion was absurd, there was the 120-91 drubbing courtesy of the two-time defending champions to reference. Yet while the talent is there for a turnaround, veteran guard Raja Bell said the Jazz will need to decide sooner rather than later what they intend to do with it.
"I think we're still trying to find ourselves right now, man," he told FanHouse. "I think we jumped out, had a nice start to the season, maybe lulled us into a false sense of who we were. Then we hit some rough times, and right now we're just kind of up and down.
"We're in a period where we need to decide whether we're a good team, an average team or what it's going to be. I think we're doing fine now. We're slugging it out. We've lost some, we've won some, but there's a fight about us that's a good sign."
The schedule, if little else, is on their side at the moment. Five of their six games after facing the Bulls are against teams with losing records, the lone exception being a Feb. 23 game against Dallas.
"The last couple weeks is the past," Jefferson said. "We've just got to forget about that. We went through our rough time just getting through that. ... We need to get our confidence up the way it was at the beginning of the season."
Williams, who noted that his outside shot has been suffering because of his wrist (he's 2-of-16 from three-point range since returning), is equally aware of the confidence crisis.
"We've got to get a lot more confidence, to be a little tougher, be willing to get stops, sacrifice our bodies, help each other out, not be selfish," Williams said. "Those are the things we need to do to win."
Even Sloan doesn't know what to expect -- for himself or his team. While the coach who is in his 23rd season in Utah acknowledged Monday that he had signed a one-year extension for the 2011-12 season, he clarified later in the day that it doesn't mean he'll be back.
"That has nothing to do with anything," he said of the agreement. "When the season is over, I always tell (Jazz ownership) that I'll give them two weeks and I'll make up my mind (about his future). It's not a big deal. I don't worry about that. I might not be alive in two weeks."
He's hoping, of course, that the same can't be said for his team.