SALT LAKE CITY — Try blaming THAT loss on the turmoil the Jazz have undergone this year.
The Jazz got beat 96-85 by the Los Angeles Lakers Friday night at EnergySolutions Arena, which was no surprise on a couple of levels. First, they had already lost their previous six games and and 16 of 21 since Jerry Sloan left in February. So it's not like the latest result was a huge change in direction.
Plus there's that other little detail: The Jazz could never beat the Lakers anyway — at least not since you-know-who retired into pick-and-roll eternity. They have now lost 12 of the last 16 regular season games to the Lakers and 10 of the last 11 playoff games.
To the Jazz's dismay, losing to the Lakers is not news.
For all their troubles, the Jazz didn't just show up to collect their checks. They went on the ground for the ball and battled for rebounds, so much so that they were out-rebounding the Lakers 28-18 at the half.
In one of the game's biggest ovations, Kyrylo Fesenko — big, easy Fes — put Kobe Bryant on the ground with a foul at the rim. The crowd loved it. Never mind Fesenko picked up a flagrant foul on the play. Somewhere Jerry Sloan and John Stockton were smiling. Actually, it wasn't just "somewhere" for Stockton. He was about 10 rows up, across the court from the Lakers' bench. When introduced at the end of the third quarter, Stockton got a standing ovation, too.
While coach Ty Corbin started out his career as a head coach by mostly staying detached, on Friday he was as animated as he's been. Meanwhile, the Lakers began the game in gone-surfin' mode.
The Jazz, on the other hand, played the first half with as much intensity as they've shown since the big breakup. Had the Jazz mailed this game in, they couldn't have been blamed. Hardly anyone was there to answer roll call. They had five players out with injuries (Mehmet Okur, Andrei Kirilenko, Raja Bell, Devin Harris, Ronnie Price). There were more people in suits than there will be at LDS General Conference.
But after building the lead to 17, they couldn't hold the Lakers back. L.A. cut the lead to six at the break and went ahead for good late in the third quarter. And while it wasn't a complete effort for the Jazz, it did show a glimpse of what the Jazz could be. They looked a lot like a team that wants to win, even when there isn't much reason. But by the time Steve Blake made the go-ahead basket on a breakaway, the Jazz were cooked. This story has happened before. A lot. The Jazz hang tough, give it a fight, but don't have a realistic way to contain the livin' large Lakers.
With just six games left in the regular season, you have to ask: Should the Jazz tank the rest of the season in hopes of getting a better shot at a high draft pick?
Answer: No. Tanking games to get better picks is a lot like removing an organ in hopes of getting transplant surgery.
It's curious how quickly the Jazz ended up in this predicament. When they traded Deron Williams for Derrick Favors and Harris, everyone knew there would be a drop-off. But almost nobody predicted a 50-car pileup. They were supposed to coast into the playoffs as a fair-to-middlin' team, not be watching from afar. But trouble happens. Some players just didn't perform up to expectations. Plus, there were too many injuries to enumerate. Let's just say there were enough mangled bodies to staff a Tarantino film.
Young players, new players and injury all added up to a pretty uneven product.
Enter the Lakers, who have now won 16 of their last 17 games.
Still, while the second half of the Jazz season (and Friday's second half) was a disaster, fans should take the latest loss for what it's worth: not much. It's a game the Jazz would have lost with or without Williams and Carlos Boozer and Sloan.
Life changes. But some things stay the same.