DALLAS — No Jerry Sloan. No Phil Johnson. No Deron Williams.
No problem for the Utah Jazz?
Ten hours after bidding an unexpected farewell to their leader and the franchise's feature player thanks to a titanic trade that caught everyone this side of general manager Kevin O'Connor off guard, the undermanned Jazz received no sympathy from a hungry Dallas squad.
Though the Jazz held tough into the third quarter despite all odds and the wild events of the day — not to mention the bizarreness of the past two weeks — the Mavericks officially welcomed Utah into the post-Williams era with a Texas-sized beatdown and a 118-99 blowout Wednesday night.
"The effort was pretty decent three-quarters of the game," said Jazz coach Ty Corbin, whose team was tied 63-all after halftime before things unraveled. "And (Dallas) had a spurt there in the third quarter. They came out and made some shots against us and (it) seemed like we felt sorry for ourselves and dropped our head a little bit and our energy level went down."
Corbin wanted nothing to do with built-in excuses, but they were available in abundance at American Airlines Arena for the Jazz.
This, after all, is a Utah team that lost its Hall of Fame coach and his faithful sidekick just two weeks ago in a stunning resignation.
Plus, the Jazz have yet to suit up more than 10 healthy players for Corbin since he became head coach on Feb. 11.
And Williams' shocking trade to New Jersey on Wednesday was the cherry pit on top for the Jazz, who have now lost five straight and 14 of 18 games during a baffling midseason freefall.
"I'm not accepting (excuses)," Corbin said. "I don't want the guys accepting it. ... There are no excuses because guys are out of the lineup. We've got five guys on the floor. They (the Mavs) play with five, and those out there on the floor have got to play the whole time they're out there."
Center Al Jefferson had a blazing start and played, ironically enough, one of his best games in a Jazz uniform en route to 30 points and eight rebounds. Paul Millsap (18 points, nine boards), Andrei Kirilenko (17 points) and C.J. Miles (16 points) added some firepower, but the Jazz defense was no match when it mattered against the high-powered Mavericks.
Seven Dallas players scored in double figures, led by Dirk Nowitzki's 23 points, as the Mavericks (41-16) won for the 14th time in 15 games.
The Jazz (31-27) might have needed more than just their former star player to stay within double digits in this one.
The team that is fighting for its playoff life hopes that doesn't continue to be the case when reinforcements arrive in veteran point guard Devin Harris and promising rookie big man Derrick Favors. They're expected to join the team later today in Indiana and should be ready to play vs. the Pacers on Friday, pending their physical examinations.
Help can't come soon enough for this team that just lost its go-to guy, its captain and his 20-plus points and 10 assists a night.
"We're going to miss Deron and he was a great teammate, a great friend for a lot of guys on the team, and he's a friend of mine also," Corbin said. "I enjoyed working with him in the past few years, but we have a game. So we have to put that all to the side and come out and play.
"Nobody else is going to feel sorry for us, so no need for us to feel sorry for ourselves."
Veteran Earl Watson, who filled in for Williams on Wednesday as the starting point guard, said the Jazz — who haven't won in 17 days, since eking out a 107-104 win at Sacramento on Feb. 7 — need to put the difficult circumstances in the rear-view mirror.
"We're definitely past that. Now it's time for a sense of urgency. It's time to play with a mission," said Watson after his outing that included seven points, five assists and four turnovers. "The quicker we can get settled and get our rhythm, the quicker we can start pulling together as much as possible to head towards the playoffs."
Like Corbin said earlier in the day, Watson believes the Jazz just might come out of this rough stretch even stronger.
"It's been an interesting two or three weeks," Watson said. "It's definitely going to create mental toughness and make us a better team."
Added Corbin: "I don't want guys going out there thinking this is a chance for me to be the guy. This is a chance for us to be the team."
Wednesday's loss — Utah's third defeat in as many tries against Dallas this season — dropped the Jazz into the ninth spot and out of the playoff picture in the Western Conference for the first time this season. But that's not to say the restructured team has given up postseason hope.
"We're going to keep the faith, stay positive and continue trying to fight," Millsap said. "We're just going to try to control what we can control, and that's going out there playing hard every game."
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