The Utah Jazz are a team without an identity (for now)

Since coming back from the All-Star break, the Utah Jazz have struggled to maintain the defensive identify for which they’ve been known in recent years. With a mere 23 games remaining in the regular season, now’s the time to get back to it.

For the past week, every piece of Utah Jazz-driven content I’ve consumed on Twitter, in online publications or out in some remote corner of the blogosphere has been filled with the inevitable “doom and gloom” of what lies ahead as the team prepares to wrap up the NBA’s regular season.

I’m a sports writer; I’m certainly guilty of having played my part.

Still, does any of the following sound familiar to you, by chance?

As fans, however, without fly-like access to a Utah Jazz locker room behind closed doors, most tabloid-worthy theories as to the team’s recent struggles both begin and end with speculation.

What we can be certain of, though, is what’s visible to the naked eye out on the hardwood …

Perhaps the most crystal-clear observation of all?

For one reason or another, this Jazz team has lost its defensive identity.

On Friday night, the Jazz snapped a four-game losing streak at home against the Washington Wizards with a much-needed 129-119 victory. The Jazz’s ball movement, three-point shooting (very nice, Tony Bradley) and overall morale appeared much improved, but giving up 119 points to a Wizards team that’s unlikely to make the playoffs isn’t really anything to write home about.

Still, there were shades of hope, though — especially from Mr. Gobert.

No, Rudy might not’ve put up many points come the final whistle, but he did manage to get back to what Jazz fans have come to love him for nabbing a solid nine rebounds, four blocks and even three individual steals.

One game won’t change much; there’s a great deal of work to be done, defensively.

The Jazz have a rich history of defensive dominance in the NBA. In 2017, the team finished the regular season with the third-best defense in the league. In 2018, the Jazz were the Association’s top-ranked defensive team. And last year, in 2019, the Utah Jazz fell one spot to occupy the No. 2 slot.

The 2019-2020 regular season has brought with it its fair share of growing (or declining) pains, as four months of regular-season play saw the Jazz drop from the No. 1 defense in October with a defensive rating of 93.1 to the current No. 27 defense in the league with an abysmal defensive rating of 116.7 as we approach the end of February — that’s not a title-contending defense.

In fact, it’s the worst defensive rating the Jazz have had since the 2013-2014 season

You know, back when the franchise (thanks, Tyrone Corbin) amassed a grand total of 25 wins.

Courtesy of ESPN’s Tim MacMahon, immediately following the Jazz’s 114-103 loss to Jayson Tatum and the Boston Celtics on February 26, said Gobert of his side’s defensive culture:

“I feel like it’s not in our DNA yet to be dogs defensively as a team. It’s in the program’s DNA, but we don’t come out every night thinking, ‘I’m going to be physical; I’m going to make things hard for the other guy.’ We need that dog mentality.”

Believe it or not, it was only a month or so ago that us Jazz fans took passionately to Twitter to jump down the throats of opposing NBA communities to broadcast the legitimacy of the Utah Jazz’s title odds. And what about the incessant (and kind of annoying) cries for “more national media recognition” that were a mainstay of the greater #TakeNote experience?

Those were good times.

And of course, my personal favorite: taking secret pleasure in Gobert’s dominance of the paint with his infamous come-from-behind blocks — even when they weren’t all that “legal.”

Remember those days?

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You should, because on January 14, the Jazz racked up their 10th-consecutive win — it’s only been about six weeks. Not long ago, the Jazz clearly had their “dog mentality” on defense …

With a streak-shattering victory to their name, now’s the time to take it back for good.

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