SALT LAKE CITY — Fittingly, the Utah Jazz’s home finale Monday night at EnergySolutions Arena was weird.
Bizarre. Wacky. Nutty.
It was also a loss.
Or was finishing on the lower end of the 119-104 final score against the Los Angeles Lakers actually a win?
It certainly wasn’t one of the moral victories they’ve picked up along the way this season. Maybe a loss/win? Or a lottery victory?
On a night the blood moon was on the world’s mind, maybe Jazz fans consider it one small step back for the 2013-14 regular season, but a giant leap for the 2014 draft.
Whatever you call it, weird should be in the description.
Although it actually greatly improved the Jazz’s chances of getting a higher pick come June, this particular setback was a gut-wrenching one for the participants.
“These guys have been through a lot this year with all the talk about where we are and what’s going on and what we’re trying to do and it wears on them,” a clearly distraught Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. “I thought tonight we gave into the talk a little bit.”
And they really caved in against the Lakers, who were playing without Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Pau Gasol and Chris Kaman, among others, because of various ailments.
Utah saw its 13-point lead in the first half get obliterated by a 19-2 run heading into the locker room. Then, after the teams entered the fourth quarter tied, the Jazz saw any hopes of beating the Lakers evaporate quicker than ice on Nick Young’s hot hand while falling behind by 20 points.
Young finished with a season-high 41 points to lead the charge for the Lakers, who actually hurt their own lottery odds with a win that snapped a seven-game losing streak.
“It’s tough, man. It’s tough, especially against the Lakers,” Jazz center Enes Kanter said after racking up his 24th double-double with 19 points and 12 rebounds. “It doesn’t matter if we don’t have a playoff (spot) in the West, it’s always nice to beat the Lakers. And it’s our last home game, so I wish we would have won.”
Likewise, Jazz fans who actually root for their team to win games — and especially against the dreaded Lakers — suffered a bitter defeat.
However, Jazz fans who are cheering for a boatload of pingpong balls for the NBA draft lottery — even if a loss to the dreaded Lakers helps accomplish that — couldn’t have been more content with the outcome.
The loss (lottery victory) dropped the Jazz to 24-57, ensuring that Utah finishes with the worst record in the Western Conference regardless of Wednesday’s season finale at Minnesota.
More important, the Jazz clinched at least the No. 5 spot for the May 20 draft lottery. Utah is currently in the fourth position, a half-game behind Orlando (23-58) and one full game ahead of Boston (25-56).
The Lakers, meanwhile, improved to 26-55 after outscoring the Jazz 33-18 in the fourth quarter. Los Angeles shot 54.9 percent, scored 29 points off of 18 Utah turnovers and got a huge lift from Young along with a combined 44 points from fill-in starters Jodie Meeks and Jordan Hill.
“You can’t afford to have that kind of effort,” Corbin said. “And they made us pay for it.”
It was almost as if the weight of the entire rough rebuilding season pushed down on the young Jazz shoulders in that fourth-quarter collapse, resulting in a sixth-consecutive defeat and the 21st loss in 24 outings.
While Gordon Hayward doesn’t know if he’ll return to Utah when he becomes a restricted free agent this offseason, the Jazz’s leading scorer said he hopes the team learns from situations like this in the future.
“I think (we need to learn) how to close out games, learning not to give up huge runs like we did tonight,” added Hayward, whose team began the fourth quarter by watching the Young-sparked Lakers score 11 straight. “Just the little things that help you win basketball games. I think that’s what a lot of us need to take, because we were in a lot of games and then we have a lapse and we’re down 10, 15 points.”
This particular late-game dismantling was hard for Corbin, a coach on the heat seat, to watch from the sideline.
“My message to all of them is you are your own brand and when you step out there on the floor you’ve got to make sure you perform a certain way and don’t ever concede to other people’s doubts about where you are, what you should be doing and you’ll be around a lot longer,” Corbin said. “I thought we gave into it a little bit tonight.”
In a weird way, as demoralizing as it was, the outcome was also the best comeback of the season for the Jazz.
NOTES: Starting for the third straight game, shooting guard Alec Burks led the Jazz in scoring with 22 points. Hayward added 21 points and six rebounds. ... Utah needs a win in Wednesday's season finale at Minnesota to avoid matching the 1979-80 team's Beehive State-worst record of 24-58. The inaugural 1974-75 squad had the fewest wins in franchise history with 23. ... The Jazz and Lakers finished their season series with a 2-2 split.
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