LOS ANGELES — In March, the Utah Jazz played 19 games, which is an insane amount of basketball even for professional players in tip-top shape.
Making Saturday's game against the Los Angeles Clippers worse, it was the Jazz's seventh contest in 10 days in six different cities across the country, including stops in Boston, Salt Lake City and Tinsel Town the past four nights.
Because of that brutal schedule — not to mention a quadruple-overtime game to begin the week Sunday in Atlanta — Jazz regulars were flat-out tired Saturday.
Nobody could blame them.
But it showed.
The Jazz were so groggy early on in an eventual 105-96 loss to the Clippers, it looked like somebody stuck them with a fork full of sleeping pills.
"We've been on a tough run here," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "You go out East for three games. You come home for a game. You have the four-overtime game. Guys are tired, I understand that."
And, yes, Corbin had an expected "but" to continue his thought in the aftermath of a game his team lost after being outscored 38-12 in the first quarter.
"But," Corbin added, "we have to be more diligent about our defensive assignments, especially on the road."
And especially times two when the opponent has a pair of superstars like Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, who combined for 50 points to help their team improve to 31-21.
L.A. shot 54.2 percent for the game and hit 10 of 21 3-pointers.
Meanwhile, a Jazz team that was the hottest squad in the NBA while winning six straight just a week ago has suddenly slipped into hard times. The Jazz fell behind by 18 points, rallied and then fell again down the stretch, stumbling to 27-26 after losing their third straight game.
Paul Millsap said fatigue didn't factor into this loss, although that seemed to contradict the way the Jazz sluggishly trudged through this one early on (and late, for that matter).
"That's no excuse for it," Millsap said.
Al Jefferson led Utah with 26 points and Millsap added 18 points with nine rebounds, but the Jazz couldn't get closer than four even after a spirited comeback in the middle of the game.
Corbin admitted before tipoff that his players were feeling the effects of the longest game in franchise history — Sunday's 139-133 4OT loss to the Hawks — six days after it happened.
"I think it's taking its toll now," Corbin said a night after the Jazz dragged their way through a devastating 104-103 home loss to 18-win Sacramento.
It didn't help that Utah had a game the night after that Atlanta marathon in New Jersey and two more games in the next four days. That heavy schedule, of course, became a necessity due to the compressed nature of this compressed irregular season.
Gordon Hayward gave Utah a 4-2 lead with a fast-break bucket after making a steal. He was fouled and missed the free throw, which might have been a sign of things to come.
Griffin made a hook shot and then Randy Foye drilled a 3-pointer to give the Clippers the lead for good at 7-4.
Foye also set a tempting trend, which his teammates more than eagerly copycatted.
Forget Lob City. (OK, put it on hold, at least.) The Clippers were Long Ball City in the first half. While building a 19-point lead, L.A.'s most exciting team hit nine 3-pointers, including two apiece from Foye, Paul, Caron Butler and Nick Young.
The Jazz trimmed the Clippers' lead to a dozen by halftime, and Utah kept that momentum going in the third quarter.
The team that looked like it was sleepwalking through the first quarter rallied to within four points thanks to a strong second-half start by Jefferson and Millsap.
The Jazz scored the first eight points of the third and Millsap made it 61-57 with a putback score midway through the quarter.
Then Long Ball City struck again.
Foye snapped the nets from deep after Millsap's basket, and that seemed to also snap the home team out of its funk.
Despite Chris Paul leaving with a bruised right elbow, the Clippers went on a 14-4 run to seize momentum for good. And, yes, that spurt included a Lob City special from Foye to Griffin.
"It's tough, because you can't get down like that to a good team," Millsap said. "We can always fight back, we can try to keep ourselves in the game no matter what, but we've got to control the first quarter."
And do a better job from the perimeter, where L.A. hit 10 of 21 shots.
"It was tough to come back from," Jazz point guard Devin Harris said. "They got into a rhythm early. We used a lot of energy coming back but obviously we didn't get enough stops. Our defense wasn't good enough to win the game."
The Jazz practice in L.A. on Sunday before flying to Portland, where they face the Trail Blazers. Now having lost four of five games, Utah is in desperate need of a victory before the postseason that seemed almost inevitable a week ago becomes an unattainable dream.
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