SALT LAKE CITY — While slumped in his locker Thursday night, Paul Millsap softly said the Utah Jazz's latest loss was a hard pill to swallow.
The hardest part, no doubt, is that an overtime loss to New Orleans — made possible by Emeka Okafor's crazy playground shot at the regulation buzzer — hasn't been the only nasty tasting pill the Jazz have had to send down their hatch lately.
If it hasn't been one thing to go haywire for the Jazz lately, it's been a dozen others.
"It seems," Millsap lamented, "like there's nothing that's going right for us."
But plenty that's gone — and continues to go — wrong for this shell-shocked squad.
Unexpected coach resignations by Jerry Sloan and Phil Johnson.
A shocking trade that left the team without its clear — even if occasionally flawed — leader in Deron Williams.
Major defensive struggles.
Did we mention injuries — from Mehmet Okur's struggles with his back and Achilles heel, to multiple ailments, aches and pains for the rest of the squad in devastating numbers.
Lots and lots of losses for a proud franchise that is on the verge of its first losing season since the 26-56 2004-05 campaign and faces a Mount Everest-like hike to get back into the playoff race.
The success enjoyed by recent Jazz players — from Wesley Matthews in Portland to the Bulls' three ex-Utah amigos — is considered another bitter pill for many fans who've seen Utah lose four in a row and win just nine of its last 33 games.
The combination of all of the above — and other things that have gone awry — has left a loyal fanbase frustrated with its players, team management or at least the predicament that the team is in.
The future is in question, too.
Jazz CEO Greg Miller felt the negative heat from peeved fans so much that he tweeted out this message after Thursday's heartbreaking setback:
"Your frustration is understandable. I share it," wrote @GreginUtah. "But your negativity does nothing to improve things. Would you say those things face to face?"
Miller, who usually shares personal experiences or positive thoughts from his Twitter account, didn't specify what complaints or comments compelled him to write that.
But upset members of Jazz Nation are venting in all forums possible: sports radio, newspaper websites, message boards, Twitter, Facebook, emails, at water coolers, by not buying tickets, you name it.
Fans who've cheered on their playoff teams in 24 of the past 27 postseasons are simply struggling to come to grips with the team's sudden lack of success.
Who knows if the tension will mount more now that Jimmermania has left the Beehive State without a success story in hoops to root on.
Don't forget, the Jazz still have two games against the Lakers, one at San Antonio and a fifth-game-in-seven-nights showdown with Dallas tonight.
If there's a bright spot, the Jazz are on the path to obtain two lottery picks at this June's draft. They will get New Jersey's lottery selection and will get to keep their own high first-round pick if they don't make the playoffs. (As part of the Al Jefferson trade, Minnesota would get the protected pick if the Jazz made the playoffs.)
But even though only nine games remain and Utah is four games behind eighth-place Memphis for the last playoff spot, the Jazz still aren't openly admitting defeat. Even Okur said he won't return to Turkey until the season is over — hopefully, he added, after the second or third round of the playoffs.
And even if — or, more likely, when — that postseason door closes in the next two-plus weeks, the team says it will do all it can to finish the season strong.
Basketball gods, be willing.
"We have a group of guys that have pride in what we do," Jazz swingman C.J. Miles said. "We're all going to play hard no matter what."
Jefferson pointed to Utah's effort Thursday night in the OT loss to the Hornets as a testament that no white towels will be tossed from the Jazz corner.
"We played our heart out, and it proved that we not going to give up this season," he said. "We going to fight till the end."
Then again, veteran point guard Earl Watson wants more than just fight and effort from the team.
Like grumbling fans, he wants positive results.
"Effort, professionalism, playing hard should always be there. It should be common," Watson said. "So, I don't take any special pride in saying that we played with effort."
Rather, Watson said his goal remains "to win every game, to win."
That's the mindset he hopes his team has in the final nine games, beginning tonight against one of the toughest teams in the league.
"You play every game, you play the right way," Watson said. "You represent something that's bigger than yourself, and you know you appreciate that. You never take it for granted and you just go out and give it your all."
Coach Tyrone Corbin, who inherited a strange mix of a midseason mess and a talented team, believes his players are headed in the right direction in the sense they haven't stopped trying. He is impressed the team's "character."
"They've fought back from a lot of stuff," Corbin said. "To come back after losing three games on the road — and this being the fourth game in five nights — to have this kind of effort back on the home floor is encouraging.
"They did a good job," he added. "They did everything to give themselves a chance to win. They just didn't get the break at the end."
Tough breaks and break-ups seem to be this season's theme.
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