SALT LAKE CITY — If anyone knows what's ailing the Utah Jazz, they'd like to be informed.
They know what's going wrong on the court: rough starts, porous defense, shockingly bad turnovers. They even know the reason behind most of the struggles: a lack of focus.
What they don't know, however, is why that focus has waned.
Over the last few games, the team that laid waste to pretty much every team in the NBA has suddenly looked like a shell of itself. The 20-point wins have now turned into frustrating losses and the Jazz are suddenly trying to find themselves again.
Utah is 2-4 in its last six games and have been one of the worst defensive teams in the league over that span. The team that has been in the top 5 in defense for practically the entire season didn't suddenly forget how to stop people, so what's changed?
"Obviously it sounds silly but if we knew it, we'd obviously kind of knock it out and get rid of it straightaway," said Joe Ingles, who had a career-high 34 points in Utah's latest loss on Thursday.
That loss may be the worst of the recent stretch and quite possibly the worst of the season. The Jazz let Russell Westbrook get in the lane at will and didn't offer much resistance anywhere else. Washington also scored over 30 points in each quarter. Utah trailed by 11 after the first quarter and never could climb out of the hole.
"I think we've gotten accustomed to waiting and then saying, 'Oh, we'll come back,' and I think we just got to find ways to go out there and whatever it is — I don't have the magic saying right now," Donovan Mitchell said. "Whatever it is, we got to go out there and do it to start."
Rudy Gobert, who had 10 points and 13 rebounds, went back to the perceived slights the Jazz have faced this season. Shaq said Mitchell wasn't a superstar, Gobert and Mitchell were the last two taken in the All-Star draft, and the Jazz have seen all the doubters on social media.
It's fun to talk about all of that when you're sitting atop of the league standings and winning each game in dominant fashion. When things flip, though, all those doubts suddenly have a bit more merit.
"I think we have to understand that we haven't accomplished (anything)," Gobert said. "We get upset when people laugh at us on TV and disrespect us. And there is disrespect out there but it's on us to have respect for ourselves and understand that we're the challengers, we are not the champions. We were not a team that can just cruise and then turn it on when it's playoff time."
The Jazz stormed the league playing at an extremely high level. The rotations were automatic and the reads were second nature. Quin Snyder critiqued his team for not rotating to stop Westbrook's drives after Thursday's game; that highlighted a mistake that didn't happen during Utah's long winning streaks, but one that has become normal over the last six contests. Utah hasn't forgotten its defensive schemes, it just isn't executing them.
"We need to play like we want to win a championship, like we want to not get knocked out in the first round like we have been," Ingles said. "I mean, I don't know the exact reason. But we need to come out aggressive on both ends. When we do, we're a really, really (expletive) good team. And when we don't, I mean it's shown over the last (few games)."
Utah doesn't need to return to the drawing board, it just needs to play with the urgency it showed earlier in the season. But the Jazz knew that after the loss to the New Orleans Pelicans before the All-Star break or after the closer-than-it-should-have-been win over the shorthanded Houston Rockets, too. Will the loss to the lowly Washington Wizards serve as the much-needed wakeup call?
"We just need to try to find a way to have it every night and to have that edge, that chip on our shoulder," Gobert said. "I know we have it but it sometimes disappears and then comes back. So it's really on us to be hungry every night. We haven't accomplished anything yet. And I think we know it, everybody knows it. It's almost like it's a new season that starts now."
And if the Jazz don't figure things out, that new season might not be very fun.
"We know with our record and the way we've been playing people are going to give us their best shot night in and night out, and we haven't been ready for it," Ingles said. "So if we continue to not be, it's going to be a miserable second half of the year."