SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Jazz fans probably shouldn't schedule any manicures over the course of the next week.
Warn and protect your fingernails.
The Jazz are doing this earn-a-playoff-berth thing the hard way.
With a chance to take a big step toward clinching the Western Conference's final postseason spot, the Jazz instead stumbled back in the standings after getting pushed down in a 90-80 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday night.
"Tough loss. This is a tough loss tonight," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "We were disappointed on our home floor. But we lost to a good team."
As a result, the Jazz now find themselves on the outside looking in. The Lakers (41-37) moved a half-game ahead of Utah (41-38), knocking off New Orleans late Tuesday night.
"It's always tough when you get a loss, but we played well enough to win tonight," Jefferson said. "I think we still fought to the end against a great team, but now we have three games left so we'll go take care of business."
Utah has a couple of days off before entering its home stretch, which includes a home-and-away set with Minnesota this weekend and a season-ending matchup in Memphis next Wednesday.
Problem is, even if they win all three games, they might not get in if the Lakers finish by beating Portland, Golden State, San Antonio and Houston.
"We've got to put this one behind us and move on to the next one," Jazz swingman Gordon Hayward said.
On Tuesday, the Thunder gave the Jazz their first loss in three games with a fairly simple formula.
And, more importantly on this night, the Thunder added in some suffocating defense, including five blocks by Serge Ibaka and three steals apiece for Durant and Westbrook.
The Jazz shot just 39.2 percent from the field, only scored more than 19 points in one quarter (a 26-point third) and made 17 turnovers.
"I think the turnovers were big," said Corbin, lamenting the fact OKC scored 16 points on Utah's miscues. "The pace of the game was slow. It was a grind-out type of game, so you can't afford to miss opportunities there."
It's hard to swallow losses at home during a playoff race, too.
Though they have a 29-11 record on Larry H. Miller Court, this is the second week in a row the Jazz have struggled at home against a superior Western Conference playoff team. Last Wednesday, Denver hammered Utah 113-96 to snap the Jazz's five-game winning streak.
"You've got to give credit to (the Thunder). They did everything they needed to win the game," Jazz small forward DeMarre Carroll said. "We've still got a few games to worry about. We've just got to get ready for Minnesota. The Lakers have (four) games and we have three games, so we'll keep fighting until the end."
That's exactly what the Jazz did Tuesday.
Utah had a 4-2 lead but trailed for the majority of the evening, falling behind by as many as 14 points and not making a legitimate push until the final three minutes.
It turned out to be too little, too late, but it was something.
Westbrook gave the Thunder a 12-point lead with a 3-pointer with 4:30 remaining.
Following the shot, the All-Star point guard motioned like he was blowing imaginary smoke off of his finger pistol. He then acted like he was holstering the gun, and it seemed like the Thunder might have been putting the Jazz away early, too.
But Mo Williams drained a 3 to begin Utah's late surge in the final 2:20.
Paul Millsap cut OKC's lead down to 84-80 with a dunk with 23.4 seconds remaining, giving the Jazz a glimmer of hope.
That was quickly blown out, too.
Durant hit two free throws, and then Westbrook holstered Utah's remaining chances. First, the quick guard stepped in and alertly stole Millsap's sloppy inbounds pass to Williams. Then, Westbrook raced the other way for a two-handed slam.
"It's frustrating, for sure," Jazz swingman Gordon Hayward said. "I think (Oklahoma City) is a good team, obviously, with their record and their players, and I thought that we did a good job in the second half of fighting and battling with them.
"We just need to do a better job of doing that straight from the get-go."
Williams led the Jazz with 19 points and six assists; Hayward scored 17; and Jefferson totaled 15 points and 11 rebounds.
Utah, however, didn't get its usual bench boost.
Backup big man Derrick Favors scored eight points with eight rebounds and five blocks, but Carroll was the only other reserve to score and he had just three points.
The Jazz played without three usual contributing substitutes. Center Enes Kanter is in Chicago for today's season-ending shoulder surgery. Small forward Marvin Williams was sent home from the arena before tipoff with stomach flu. And guard Alec Burks is still recuperating from a sprained ankle.
Against a team like the Thunder, the Jazz needed every possible player to contribute at a high level. And that simply didn't happen, especially offensively.
"We had great intensity. We came out with the mindset of getting stops every time down the court, and we did," OKC coach Scott Brooks said. "We did a great job."22 comments on this story
The Lakers thank them for that.
Jazz fans' fingernails, on the other hand, just took them off their Christmas card list.