Keith Johnson, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — No high postseason seed. No homecourt advantage for the first round of the playoffs. No third Northwest Division championship in four seasons.
Certainly not for the Jazz after what happened Wednesday, when everything that could have gone wrong for Utah did on its final night of the 2009-10 NBA regular season.
With starting power forward Carlos Boozer (strained oblique muscle) and starting small forward Andrei Kirilenko (calf strain) both watching, the Jazz fell 100-86 to Phoenix in an ESPN-televised loss at EnergySolutions Arena.
That sent Utah plummeting from the No. 3 seed to the No. 5 seed in the Western Conference and — back to where the season began, more than five-and-a-half months ago — a first-round series with the fourth-seeded and Northwest-champion Denver Nuggets.
"Yeah, it's a disappointment," said coach Jerry Sloan, who called the Jazz "franticky all night long."
"But what are we gonna do? You take 20 and 10 off of our starting (lineup). That makes us a little more competitive," he added with reference to Boozer's roughly team-high scoring (actually 19.5 points and 11.2 rebounds averages). "But that's part of life. You live with it."
And perhaps die sooner in the postseason because of it.
The best-of-seven Nuggets-Jazz series — on the same side of the playoff bracket that leads to a second-round meeting with the winner of a 1-8 series between Oklahoma City and the Los Angeles Lakers, who've eliminated Utah each of the past two postseasons — opens Saturday night in Denver.
The Nuggets, like the Jazz, finished 53-29 — but Denver gets the division title and a higher seed because it won the season series between the two teams.
Wednesday's blowout loss ended a 10-game win streak at home for the Jazz, who did finish with a winning record for the 23rd time in 24 seasons.
Things started going anything but the Jazz's way even before they began play in Wednesday's late-starting game, one in which late franchise owner Larry H. Miller was honored at halftime and the court at EnergySolutions was named in his memory.
Dallas beat San Antonio at home earlier in the evening, denying Utah a shot at the No. 2 seed in the West behind the defending NBA-champion Lakers — which the Jazz had going into the night.
A Utah win against Phoenix would have kept the Jazz in the No. 3 seed spot and into a 3-6 series, with homecourt advantage, against Portland.
Instead, the Jazz head to Denver to face a Nuggets team that's beaten them three times — including once in Utah's season-opener at Denver, way back on Oct. 28, and once with Nugget stars Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups both sitting out — in four '09-10 meetings.
It's all because of what happened Wednesday, when Phoenix — taking advantage of a Jazz lineup depleted by the absence of Boozer, who was hurt Tuesday at Golden State — pulled away with a 24-5 run en route to a 59-42 halftime lead.
By the end of the third quarter, the Suns were up 81-60 — and, behind Amar'e Stoudemire's team-high 20 points — well on their way to a 3-6 first-round series with Portland.
"It was a rough game for us," point guard Deron Williams said. "We ran into a hot Phoenix team (that's won 14-of-16 games).
"You know, it looked like they were on a mission. They came in here and outplayed us. It's as simple as that."
The Jazz got a game-high 24 points from Williams, who shot just 5-of-17, and a 21-point and 11-rebound double-double from center Mehmet Okur. But Boozer backup Paul Millsap produced just seven points and seven boards, and Utah got only 13 points from its bench.
"You have to give them credit," Sloan said of the 54-28 Suns. "They did a terrific job defensively — made it very, very difficult for us to get any shots. They scattered us out, so I'm not really sure what we were trying to do offensively a couple of times because their defense is so good and we've had a terrible time trying to get anything going."
Did they ever.
"You never want to end the season like that, especially with a loss going into the playoffs," Millsap said. "But we're a veteran team, and we know how to check this game off and move on to the next one."
NOTES: The Jazz finished the regular season 8-5 on major national cable TV, including 5-0 on TNT and 3-5 on ESPN. ... After going just 3-18 last season, the Jazz also finished this season 10-9 in the second game of back-to-back sets. ... Ex-Jazz big man Jarron Collins started and finished with two points and one rebound in 13 minutes for the Suns.
Jazz vs. Nuggets
Game 1: Saturday at Denver, 8:30 p.m., ESPN
Game 2: Monday at Denver, 8:30 p.m., TNT
Game 3: Friday at Utah, 8:30 p.m., ESPN2
Game 4: April 25 at Utah, 7:30 p.m., TNT
Game 5: April 28 at Denver, if necessary
Game 6: April 30 at Utah, if necessary
Game 7: May 2 at Denver, if necessary
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