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Jazz still looking for consistent will to win

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One problem for the Jazz is the team that whipped them Thursday night — the same team they play again this afternoon at the Delta Center — is awfully dang good.

At 32-10, the Sacramento Kings have the best record in the NBA — and every reason to believe they can keep up that pace in the season's second half.

But Utah's other problem digs even deeper than that.

The 22-21 Jazz, losers of four of their last five games, have some issues to hash out. Chief among them: finding a game-in, game-out will to win. Until they do, it really doesn't matter how good their opponent may be.

"There's no need talking to them," said Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, who after Utah's 113-80 loss at Sacramento on Thursday pulled the plug on Friday's morning practice, scheduled no shootaround or team meeting prior to today's 3:30 tip and generally suggested to his hurting crew that he'll see them come game-time.

"I'm not going to beg them to play," Sloan added. "If they don't want to play, I can't do anything about it. Never have."

That message, silent as it might have been, did hit home to some after the Jazz suffered their worst loss of the season.

"We have to want to play," shooting guard DeShawn Stevenson said. "If we don't want to play, you see what happens."

It isn't pretty.

And 33-point losses to anyone, even the Kings, aren't taken lightly by someone like Sloan, who seemed disgusted by what he witnessed at Arco Arena.

"A couple of times, what we did out there — we didn't even know where we were supposed to be," he said. "If you don't know where you're supposed to be on the floor, and what you're trying to do, then it's tough for me to get your attention.

"I can yell all I want — it doesn't do any good."

Then there is this matter of the Kings, who — behind the solid starting lineup of point guard Mike Bibby, swingmen Peja Stojakovic and Doug Christie, power forward Chris Webber and center Vlade Divac — have won 13 of their last 14.

Even before playing them for the first time this season, Sloan knew they'd be good.

"They can really pass the basketball, and they put a lot of pressure on you," he said before Thursday's game. "They can take you off the dribble at just about every position, and they can shoot the ball at just about every position. And when you have those things, it's very difficult to play against."

Thursday night, he found out just how difficult it can be — especially when his team had no answer for an early second-quarter run that pushed Sacramento's lead to 16.

"When you struggle a little bit," Sloan said, "they just keep coming at you.

"They have a very young, lively group of guys that is difficult to deal with," he added. "And I've got an older group."

One of those many elder statesmen in the Jazz line — four starters Thursday are members of the thirtysomething generation — is 36-year-old shooting guard John Starks, whose start against Sacramento was his first of the season.

The end result wasn't exactly what he, or Sloan, would have hoped.

"When you're playing against a ball club like that, it's important that you get back and get them in a half-court set," Starks said. "I didn't think we did a good job of doing that, and we let them get off to a pretty good start.

"We let their shooters get going. They started knocking down 3s, getting to the basket," he added. "We just didn't play aggressively enough. . . . You have to bump this team around, and you've got to be up into them physically, and I didn't think we did a good job of that."

Still, Starks feels today's rematch will be "a different ball game.

"The most important thing is to get back on defense, and make them play defense," he said. "Even though they have a solid ballclub on both ends of the court, I think that we can score on them. But it's important that we don't let them get into a freelance style of game like they did (Thursday)."


E-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com