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SALT LAKE CITY — The Jazz battled down to the last second coming up inches short of pushing the top NBA team in the league to overtime on Sunday. On Monday, they played the worst team in the league, and the game was out of hand when the third quarter ended.
In just over 24 hours, the Jazz went from a team with promise to a team searching for their identity — again. After two straight wins at home, where they looked good and won big, they hit the road starting last week and the results have been losses, but all different.
Against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Jazz gave up the first triple-double to Kyrie Irving. The star point guard for the Cavs controlled the game, and the Jazz fell apart in the second half. The Cavs outscored the Jazz 60-38 in the second half of the 99-79 loss.
Gordon Hayward scored 18 points to lead the Jazz, but only two other players scored in double figures. Hayward also led the team in points, rebounds and assists in that game. Trey Burke scored four points and dished out three assists. Enes Kanter and Alec Burks joined to score 19 points, 8 and 11 respectively.
It looked like the Jazz were headed for a long six-game road trip, but then everything seemed like it was going to change as they traveled to the best team in the league.
Derrick Favors showed off his skills on both ends and got defensive stalwart Roy Hibbert in foul trouble early. He started fast and ended up with a double-double, scoring 17 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. The Jazz jumped out early, mostly on the back of Favors, then fall behind and kept answering the bell.
The Pacers grabbed the final lead with 4:30 left in the third, but never truly pulled away from the Jazz. This was behind a brilliant half from Hayward. He scored 16 points in the second half, often guarded by All-Star Paul George. Hayward ended with 21 points.
The Jazz fought to the last second when Hayward's clean 3-point shot clanged off the back of the rim. Burke scored 16 points, tied for his second-highest scoring game since the middle of January. Kanter and Burks combined for 23 points, 12 and 11, to lead the bench.
It was a loss, but considering the circumstances of the opponent and the road environment, this was one of the three best games the Jazz have played this season. The Pacers have lost three games at home and outscored opponents by 13.5 points over the course of the season.
The best defensive team holds opponents to 86.5 points per game and only allows 39.9 percent field goal shooting. The Jazz scored 91 and shot 46 percent in a very slow-paced game. While there are no moral victories, this was as close as any will be.
This was a game, along with the victories over the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder, that showed what the Jazz can do when they play to their potential.
Then the Jazz traveled to the worst team in the league — the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks have 11 wins and are clearly the frontrunner for the worst record in the league. It seemed like an easy win for a team that was as hot as the Jazz, then the inconsistency took over.
The Jazz battled through the first half, ending it down 55-48. Then the Bucks outscored the Jazz 59-40 in the second half. In this game, the Jazz gave up 31 points to Ersan Ilyasova, who shot 13-14 from the field in just 30 minutes.
Favors had the worst game of his season, maybe career, as he scored two points and grabbed five rebounds. He has been the most consistent player on defense and while rarely spectacular, he is normally solid on offense. He ended the game with no blocks or steal, only the sixth time this season that has happened.
Hayward scored 20 points while Burke scored 7. The bench combo of Burks and Kanter scored 39, with Kanter scoring a career-high 27.
Like so much of this season, this small stretch of games shows the brilliance next to the grime this team has.
For example, Hayward has averaged 19 points while shooting 48 percent over the last four games. In his previous four, he scored 9.75 per game, shooting 32.5 percent. In a loss against the Minnesota Timberwolves, he scored five points with no rebounds or assists. Two games later in the Jazz's victory over the Phoenix Suns, Hayward scored 17 points with 10 rebounds and nine assists.
Since the start of February, Burke averaged 11.1 points per game. However in that time, he has scored in single digits six times in 14 games. He has scored within three points of his average, 8-14, six times.
Burke has generally rebounded from his bad games with good games, but recently he's also followed up great games with mediocrity or worse. Same with the Jazz. Since February, the Jazz have, in order, lost four straight, won three, lost three, won two and now are in a three-game losing skid. Wins include playoff teams, such as the Heat and Suns, while they have lost to the Bucks and Cavs who won't make the playoffs in the East.
This season was always going to be rough, but the inconsistency has been baffling. The examples above are a small sample of the ups and downs shown this season. Breakdowns of Richard Jefferson and Marvin William's shooting could be dissected, but are easily apparent.
If there is cause for Tyrone Corbin to worry about the future of his job, this could be it. Corbin hasn't been perfect, but he also hasn't been able to get a consistent effort each game. Part of this is on the players, but what goes on inside the locker room is unknown.
The Jazz normally win close while they lose big. They win by an average of 9.4 points while they lose by 14. Flashes of brilliance followed by darkness, depending on the game.
This season the only constant has been the inconsistency.