Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
LOS ANGELES — Two years ago, they went to the NBA's Western Conference finals. Last year, they went two rounds.
The Jazz's downhill spiral continued in 2009, ending Monday night with a 107-96 loss to the West's top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center and a fast first-round exit.
Utah lasted only five games in the best-of-seven series, and at this rate — after the Lakers, who got 31 points Monday from star Kobe Bryant, knocked them out for a second straight postseason — all that's left for the Jazz next season is a return to the NBA draft lottery.
"It's tough," point guard Deron Williams said after scoring just 14 points and shooting only 4-for-12 from the field. "You know, we had a rough year because of injuries. So, there's no telling what type of year we could have had if we had everybody healthy.
"But, at the same time, we've got to figure some things out, internally, I think. You know — figure out ways to play harder, and bring a different effort every night. ... We're not getting that effort every night from everybody — and we've got to have that."
The Jazz ended their 48-34 regular season on the south side of slippery slope, losing seven of their last nine games — and going just 16-15 with almost everyone finally healthy down the stretch.
There was a victory in Game 3 of the series at home, but besides that the postseason was more down-the-drain wash.
"That's not very good," Williams said of the Jazz's disappointing finish.
They even sort of saw it coming, too, from coach Jerry Sloan's proclamation that things looked "bleak" even before the series started to apparent resignation after falling behind 3-1.
On the morning of Game 5, moreover, Williams was bemoaning the fact the Jazz never really came together.
"We're playing a little bit better (in the playoffs), but still not at the level that we'd hoped for," he said after the team's morning shootaround. "You know, we still haven't put together a complete game. Had a lot of inconsistencies.
"We're not playing like we have in the past, before this year," he added. "We're not clicking as well as we'd like."
Monday, save for a brief fourth-quarter comeback bid, was mostly clack.
The Jazz and Lakers were tied at 26 after one quarter, but by the break L.A. was coasting at 56-43.
Two-time NBA All-Star Carlos Boozer shot just 1-for-5 from the field and had only four points at halftime, and he wound up with only 10 points in 30 minutes.
Williams was 3-for-9 midway through, and Utah's bench wasn't any better — Paul Millsap and Kyle Korver both 0-for-3, and C.J. Miles 1-for-3.
Bryant and Lamar Odom, meanwhile, both had 16 at the half and by then the Lakers were well on their way to a 12th straight victory over Utah in L.A.
Even when things went right for the Jazz early on, they wound up all wrong.
Andrei Kirilenko rose to block a Bryant shot late in the half, but the ball pinballed back for a jumper from the paint that fell as the Lakers star landed on his tailside.
Bryant had another eight points during a third quarter in which L.A. extended its lead to as many as 22, and the Lakers went into the fourth up 19 at 82-63.
Utah did trim that advantage, during a reserve-driven rally prospective free-agent Boozer watched from the bench, to get within 95-89 when Korver hit a 3-pointer with just under four minutes to go.
"That's type of plays and type of effort you need if you're gonna win a series, especially against the Lakers," Williams said. "From everybody. And we didn't get that tonight."
The Jazz's ensuing four possessions after cutting it to six, though, ended — respectively — with a Brewer miss, a Williams miss and two Ronnie Price misses.
The second miss by No. 3 point Price infuriated Sloan, who with just more than a minute to go was ejected for complaining about what he felt was a foul on the former Utah Valley State star.
"I thought it was fair at best," Sloan said of the Jazz's effort, "until Ronnie Price went into the game.
"I was surprised that it took something like Ronnie Price's effort to bring us back to life," he added. "I've never seen a guy play that hard in my life in that situation. I mean, it shows you probably the mistakes I've made."
And with that, the Jazz head into an offseason in which as many as nine of their 15 players could wind up free agents.
"It will be interesting to see what happens," Williams said. "Changes are going to be made."
NOTES: Sloan fell to 94-98 all-time in the playoffs. ... Radio play-by-play announcer Hot Rod Hundley, who is retiring after 35 years as voice of the Jazz, called his last game for the Monday — No. 3,051, dating back to the franchise's inception in New Orleans. He missed just 14 games in three-and-a-half decades. ... The Jazz finished 15-29 in combined regular-season and playoff road games.
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