OKLAHOMA CITY â€” Maybe the Utah Jazzs medical staff should simply put the hobbled and hampered teams entire 2010-11 season on the injury report.
Its limping and wounded enough to merit the designation.
Playing their umpteenth game at less than full strength because of health issues, the Jazzs season and playoff hopes became even more strained Wednesday night with a 106-94 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Theyre full speed and theyve got most of their guys, Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said of the Northwest Division-leading Thunder. Were fighting an uphill battle with injuries, but the effort, again, was there.
But for the third straight time on this winless road trip, a debilitating defeat was also there.
Adding to the misery, Utahs list of healthy players became even more depleted during this game, which put the Jazz four full games out of the eighth and final playoff spot behind Memphis with 10 to go.
Already without starting point guard Devin Harris (strained right hamstring) and backup big man Derrick Favors (sprained left ankle), small forward Andrei Kirilenko returned to Utahs M*A*S*H unit. Scoot over, Mehmet Okur.
You have company.
This is how bizarre Utahs ailing season has turned: Kirilenko, whos already dealt with back and ankle ailments, was sidelined after bruising something called a peroneal nerve â€” go ahead, Google it â€” in his left knee.
Even after Kirilenkos second-half absence, the Jazz managed to keep this one competitive through three quarters.
Utah even erased an early 10-point deficit to take a brief lead when birthday boy Gordon Hayward, a second-half starter for Kirilenko, fed Paul Millsap for a dunk and a 54-53 advantage.
It turned out to be a very brief lead for the Jazz.
Utah stayed with OKC for a few more minutes before Thunder stars Russell Westbrook (31 points) and Kevin Durant (29 points) reminded the Jazz of the divisions new pecking order and took over.
We fought hard, Corbin said. I think we gave ourselves a chance to have an opportunity to win the game at the end. It fell off a little bit and they made some runs.
The Thunder (46-24) outscored Utah 15-6 in the final few minutes of the third â€” to go up 78-69 after three quarters â€” and OKC didnt let up until it had built an insurmountable 18-point lead.
Frustrations boiled over for the Jazz, which was clearly evident when Millsap hucked the ball at the backboard after being called for traveling midway through the fourth quarter.
Millsap was fortunate a timeout had been called, or he mightve ended up getting a technical (hed received a delay of game warning earlier).
The Jazz had just seen a 63-all tie toward the end of the third quarter turn into a 16-point Thunder lead midway through the fourth.
When it seems like nothings going your way, you have a tendency to get frustrated out there, Millsap said.
When you see them pulling away and theres really nothing you can do about it, youre going to get frustrated about it.
And thats precisely what happened when he punished the backboard. Its possible the referees simply cut him and the Jazz some slack by not Ting him up.
Oklahoma City didnt act merciful â€” something that made for a somber locker room in the aftermath of Utah falling to 36-36 on the season.
That, by the way, is the first time the Jazz have been at .500 since being 3-3 on Nov. 6.
A lot has happened since then, of course. Utah has lost coaches Jerry Sloan and Phil Johnson, Deron Williams and 23 of its last 32 games.
Through everything weve been through this year, still, weve got to just get out there and win games. Were not doing that, Millsap said. Im not a loser. This organization is not losers. Somehow weve got to figure out a way to win games.
Center Al Jefferson, playing with an injured right pinkie finger, led the Jazz with 32 points and 12 rebounds, but the Jazz simply didnt have enough firepower to counter the explosive Thunder.
Millsap added 18 points, C.J. Miles had 11 and temporary starting point guard Earl Watson chipped in 10. But Watson only had one assist, as did backup Ronnie Price in the Jazzs low 16-dish performance (which was, remarkably, one more than OKC had).
Tonight didnt turn out the way we wanted it to, Jefferson said. We made some mistakes and they took advantage of them. We could point fingers at a lot of things, but at the end of the day we just have to keep moving.
New Orleans, which is five games ahead of Utah, visits EnergySolutions Arena tonight in the Jazzs fourth game in five nights. The status of Utahs three injured players â€” not counting sidelined Mehmet Okur (back/Achilles tendon) â€” is uncertain heading into this showdown with Chris Paul & Co.
Were not going to lay down and die. Were still alive for the playoffs, Millsap added. Were going to try to find a way to get back in there.