OKLAHOMA CITY — They spent the previous night in a supposedly haunted hotel. Among the game's three referees was one many with the Jazz felt cost them a game last time they were here.
And, piling on, they were missing three injured rotation regulars, including two starters.
Utah seemed doomed, even before play got underway.
More than medical matters or officiating or even ghosts, though, it was lights-out shooting by Oklahoma City that did in the Jazz during a 119-111 loss Sunday night at the Ford Center.
The Thunder — who got 35 points from All-Star Kevin Durant, 30 from point guard Russell Westbrook and double-digit scoring from its other three starters — shot 60.3 percent from the field, a Jazz opponent high this season.
"We shot (50.6) percent. I don't have trouble with shooting 50 percent," said Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, whose club — which plays host to Washington tonight — finished a four-game trip 2-2. "But I have a problem when the other team shoots 60 and you don't have any stops in there.
"We couldn't keep people in front of us, keep them off the top of the basket. They set a little screen, we didn't get enough help to try to stop the penetration."
So it wasn't the health situation, even with starting center Mehmet Okur (back), starting small forward Andrei Kirilenko (calf) and backup point guard Ronnie Price (wrist) all out.
It wasn't the referees, even though one was rookie Kane Fitzgerald — who ticked off the Jazz tremendously with a controversial late-game phantom foul call on Paul Millsap when they lost here on New Year's Eve — and one, veteran Joe DeRosa, tagged Sloan with his third technical foul this season.
And it certainly wasn't the lodging, even though the Jazz stayed at the recently renovated 100-year-old Skirvin Hotel where — as legend has it — the ghosts of a suicidal maid nicknamed "Effie" and her baby purportedly haunt the place.
Effie and the child, fathered by oilman and hotel builder W.B. Skirvin according to local lore and the Web site legendsofamerica.com, plunged to their deaths in the Prohibition era because the maid was driven crazy by being locked in a top-floor room before the birth and after.
Their voices supposedly can still be heard in the hotel, where one Jazz player turned up his TV full-blast and opened his bible by his bed just to ward off any unwelcome sounds.
Not everyone was so concerned, as backup center Kyrylo Fesenko cracked, "For me, I cannot be afraid of ghosts because I was abducted by aliens."
What the 41-24 Thunder did to the Jazz on Sunday, though, wasn't the thing of mere mortals.
In winning its fifth straight and eighth in nine outings, and for the third time in three games against Utah this season, Oklahoma City claimed head-to-head tie-breaker rights against the 42-24 Jazz.
The Thunder moved to within a half game of the fourth-place Jazz in the NBA's Western Conference standings, and — in a possible preview of a 4-5 first-round playoff matchup — handed Utah a second straight loss for the first time since early January.
And they did it in style, hitting 14-for-17 — 82.4 percent, the third-best Jazz opponent shooting period in more than four years — during a third quarter in which Utah could cut a halftime lead of 10 to no fewer than five.
"It was a big game for us in which they played better than us, you know?" said point guard Deron Williams, whose 27-point, 14-assist double-double did Utah no good on a night it also got a team-high and career-high 29 points from rookie Wesley Matthews. "They played better than us offensively, defensively.
"Our defense hasn't been where we want it to be this whole trip," Williams added, "and it just continued (Sunday). We just couldn't get stops. We couldn't stop them, whether it was Russell (Westbrook) or Durant or one of them making a play."
Oklahoma City went into the fourth quarter up 11 at 90-79, and the Jazz — especially not after Williams' already injured left shoulder went numb on him late in the third — couldn't get any closer than within six the rest of the way.
Westbrook had 10 points in the fourth quarter, and Durant eight, including 4-of-4 free-throw shooting in the final 25.1 seconds.
"We couldn't contain (Westbrook) off the pick-and-rolls," Williams said. "He shot the ball well from mid-range, and that made him more deadly."
Maybe even more than Effie.
Still, starting power forward Carlos Boozer — who had 18 points and 11 rebounds for his 44th double-double this season — saw something worthwhile in the loss.
"We are banged up a little bit at this point in the season," Boozer said after the Jazz finished their 11th road game among 15 outings since the mid-February NBA All-Star Game break.67 comments on this story
"It was a physical game," added Boozer, who also was hit with a technical, for an air-punch thrown out of a frustration following a fourth-quarter no-call. "That's the how the playoffs (are), and the refs called it as such.
It was good preparation for that time of the year."
Perhaps even for a return trip to the Skirvin in April.