Utah Jazz: Kobe Bryant, Lakers eliminate Jazz from playoff hunt
SALT LAKE CITY — As usual, the Los Angeles Lakers eliminated the Utah Jazz from the playoffs.
The two-time defending NBA champions just did it sooner than they have in the past.
Add a playoff appearance to the list of things the Jazz lost this season along with resigned coaches Jerry Sloan and Phil Johnson and traded star Deron Williams.
With L.A.'s come-from-behind 96-85 victory at EnergySolutions Arena — where it looked like a Lakers' jersey convention was being held — the Jazz's postseason hopes officially came to an end late Friday night.
With that development, the Jazz (36-40) became the first team in NBA history to start 15-5 and to have a near-midpoint record of 27-13 to not make the playoffs, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
"It's disappointing," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "We thought we would have a chance to fight our way back in it. We thought we'd get things figured out to get back into the race, but it just never turned.
"And," Corbin added, "we never got enough bodies on the court to get a good run going. It's unfortunate."
It will also be just the fourth time in 28 seasons that the Jazz will not be a playoff participant.
Though his team has lost seven games in a row, Corbin said his players will continue to give it their all in the final six games of the wild, wacky and disappointing 2010-11 campaign.
"Number-wise, I guess we can't get in now," Corbin said. "But we're going to still continue to play hard, try to win ballgames and develop the guys. We're still going to create who we are. We've got to continue to play right and try to see the number of wins that we can get."
For a while, it seemed like the Jazz might pull off a shocker during their ESPN-televised game Friday.
Despite having an undermanned, injury-plagued roster — that was missing five players because of various ailments and included a D-League call-up — the Jazz put on a show for the fans in the arena who were actually there to root on the home team.
Utah even took an early double-digit lead — going ahead by as many as 17 points — and went into the locker room with a somewhat stunning 50-42 lead.
"I thought we did a pretty good job in the first half of really executing what we talked about doing before the game," Corbin said.
It wasn't the Jazz's traditional starting lineup, but the tipoff crew of Earl Watson, C.J. Miles, Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson and Fesenko came out and took it to the Lakers early on.
Miles especially had his shot going early on. Even before his BBQ promo was shown on the video scoreboard in the first quarter, Miles had already done some cooking with 11 mostly spectacular points.
But the Lakers, who won a late game Thursday at home against Dallas, took advantage of the Jazz's foul problems. Both Jefferson and Millsap picked up their fourth fouls in the third quarter, leading to a season-ending 24-3 run by the Lakers.
Because of injuries and fouls, Utah started the fourth with three rookies — Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Jeremy Evans and newcomer Kyle Weaver, who made his Jazz debut three days after playing in the D-League.
"That's what we had," said Corbin, who helplessly watched the Lakers go on a 12-1 run to begin the fourth. "Guys got in foul trouble, so we had to try to buy some minutes there and it backfired on us. They made a good run on us. ... It was a tough situation."
Which aptly describes the entire second half of the season, which has seen the Jazz plummet toward their first losing year since 2004-05's 26-56 record and become a lottery team.
"It's rough, but at the same time it's motivation," said Jefferson, who ended with 17 points and 10 rebounds. "This thing is going to turn around for us, and I think everyone in this locker room knows that. It's motivation for everyone to go and work on their game this summer."
Miles finished with a game-high 24 points, but he's obviously disappointed in the consequences of the setback after the Jazz had made the playoffs four years in a row.
"It's tough. That's the goal," Miles said. "That's the first goal of the season is to make the playoffs. Then you start talking about how high you want the seed. ...
"It's been a tough up-and-down season, especially the second half," he added. "You play hard, we compete. That's all we can do every night is go out and compete."
As for the fact that the Lakers were the ones who again put the final nail in the Jazz's coffin?
"It's ironic," Miles said.
Several thousand purple-and-yellow clad fans at ESA thought it was great as well.
NOTES: The Jazz were without the injured Devin Harris (hamstring), Raja Bell (leg), Andrei Kirilenko (knee), Ronnie Price (leg) and Mehmet Okur (back). ... Weaver finished with two points on free throws in his Jazz debut. ... Utah held the Lakers to 47.9 percent shooting after allowing L.A. to shoot a season-opponent-high 62 percent in their last meeting in L.A.
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