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Utah Jazz vow to keep fighting

Published: Sunday, April 3 2011 12:54 a.m. MDT

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The slumping Utah Jazz won't be going to the playoffs this postseason.

They've lost seven straight games, and they're heading into a matchup with the Kings that on paper appears to be their last legitimate shot of winning in their final six contests of the 2010-11 season.

For Al Jefferson, this is a familiar predicament. In some ways. In other ways, it isn't.

Big Al's teams in Boston and Minnesota missed the playoffs the past five years, so he's used to watching contenders duke it out on TV in late April, May and June.

But as disappointed as he is that the Jazz won't be among that group battling for a championship, he's hopeful that Utah's postseason absence is a short one.

That hope makes the Jazz's predicament feel unlike his previous teams' plights.

"This situation here is a lot different than the last three, four years," Jefferson said. "We're on the outside looking in right now, but we're still fighting for something. We're fighting to get this team back on the right track for next season."

Jefferson said that prior to the Jazz's loss to the Lakers on Friday night, and his team went out and showed that fight early on against the two-time defending NBA champions before foul problems, a lack of depth and Kobe Bryant's crew did Utah in.

Utah hasn't had much luck lately, but its players haven't stopped trying — something Jefferson preaches and appreciates.

And he believes that's the attitude the short-handed Jazz — who traveled to Sacramento without injured Andrei Kirilenko (knee), Raja Bell (foot), Ronnie Price (leg) and Mehmet Okur (back) — will take into the final six games beginning this afternoon against the Kings.

"The situation I was in, it was like, 'Let's hurry and get these days over and just move on,'" Jefferson said. "Here it's kind of like everybody is still fighting for something, still fighting to rebuild, fighting just to finish the season off on a good note.

"And," he added, "that's a good thing because it's so easy right now to kind of like just throw your hands up in the air and give up. But I don't see that with this team. Everybody's still coming out to fight hard and try to win games."

The team remains frustrated that it can't manage to put more notches in the W column, though.

Utah has fallen four games below .500 at 36-40 and is in danger of putting together a rare losing season for this proud franchise that has had so many years with 50-plus wins.

Fill-in starting point guard Earl Watson thought the second half of Friday's loss was reflective of the season. Utah had an eight-point lead, but he thought the team stopped executing both offensively and defensively as the Lakers turned the game into a rout. L.A. did most of its damage after Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson left late in the third with their fourth fouls.

That led to injury-plagued Utah starting three rookies and a D-League call-up to begin the fourth quarter, which L.A. capitalized on with a game-clinching 12-1 run.

"We can't keep making excuses. I think we make more excuses than any team," Watson said. "We need to stop making excuses and find ways to win games. Effort, energy, focus and unselfishness is the way. You have to focus on winning games, and until that point, we are going to have highs and lows."

Unfortunately for now, the Jazz are experiencing many more lows than highs. Utah has lost 27 of its last 36 games and gone 5-17 since Tyrone Corbin took over for coach Jerry Sloan. In doing so, the Jazz will be the first team in NBA history to not make the playoffs after starting 15-5 and having a mid-season record of 27-13.

"It's disappointing in a way," Jefferson said. "I'm not making excuses, but everything that went on and for us to still come together and still fight says a lot about this team, (how) guys were brought up and how they love this game of basketball.

Added Jefferson: "It's a little disappointing that ... we will be on the outside watching the playoffs, but at the same time we've got a lot of upside and a lot of hope for this following season."

Jefferson said they have a lot of motivation to work hard this offseason, too.

"I know for a fact it's what got me going, because I know one thing about the Utah Jazz — they don't stay down for long," Jefferson said. "Them guys, (general manager) Kevin (O'Connor), they're going to do their job to make sure this team gets back into the playoff mode. That's why I'm not in panic mode because I've been watching this team for so many years and they not the type of team that's going to be on the outside looking in too much longer. That's what's keeping me going, and I'm pretty sure everybody feels that way."

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