In May, the Utah Jazz were playing for a chance to go to the NBA Finals. In November, they got off to a red-hot 12-5 start. Thus far in December, they have underachieved as much as any team in the league.
The Jazz have gone just 2-8 this month and sit at ninth in the Western Conference with a 14-13 record. On one hand, those numbers may appear more concerning than perhaps they actually are. Though it won 51 games, last year's team was also an inconsistent bunch, and this Jazz squad is still young and developing. This last month has included their toughest stretch of the schedule to date, with visits to San Antonio, Dallas and Phoenix and two games against the league's hottest team, the Portland Trail Blazers. This team is extremely well-coached and seemingly should be able to work its way out of trouble relatively quickly.
Except that there isn't necessarily a single sign that points in that direction right now. While many of the losses in this run might be understandable, and the Kings and Hawks are both very competitive home teams, the expectations for this Utah team make the completeness of this streak of bad play unacceptable. This team supposedly established itself as a Western power for years to come last spring, and really good teams have to win both the games they are supposed to win and steal a few as well. Though the Kings and Hawks are better than they once were, if the Jazz are to be elite, they must win those games. They must at the very least split the home-and-home with Portland. And they absolutely cannot go in and lose to a Charlotte team that can't beat anyone as of late, which is exactly what happened on Wednesday night.
Worse still, the schedule isn't getting easier. Of the six games remaining in December, only the game in Miami should be a 'gimme' victory, although at this point, that is no certainty either. The other five matchups? At Orlando, home to Dallas, on the road against the Lakers, home to Boston and home to Portland. In the competitive Western Conference, this team may not be able to afford a 1-5 stretch going into the new year. Elite teams don't go through a month-long stretch of tough schedule. There aren't enough other elite teams out there for an entire month to be that tough for a team of that upper echelon.
With Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams both playing very well and the Jazz still losing on a nightly basis, it is clear that as of right now, this Utah team is not elite. If they aren't careful in the two weeks to come, they could lose the opportunity to gain that label altogether this season.
Steve's daily posts can be found on the CelticsBlog NBA page. Check back daily for quality content.