LOS ANGELES The day started with just five games separating the NBA Western Conference's top team, New Orleans, from ninth-place Golden State.
The Northwest Division-leading Jazz sat among those bunched between, three games behind the Hornets but just two up on the Warriors.
Never, coach Jerry Sloan said, could he remember a top-to-bottom conference race so close so late in the season. That in mind, Sloan warned of the implications, especially when facing a Pacific Division cellar-dwelling Los Angeles Clippers club.
"I hope they understand the significance of each game," he said of his Jazz, winners of 13 of their previous 14 games. "If they look at the standings, they'd have to be able to understand things can slip away real fast if you get too carried away with yourself."
Perhaps the Jazz should have glanced a while longer.
Because Utah rolled over Friday in what could ultimately prove to be a costly one, falling 114-104 to the 19-33 Clippers at Staples Center.
"I didn't think we had a full focus to try to play against this team," Sloan said after the Jazz, whose three-game win streak ended, dropped to 35-20. "It looked like we were waiting to go out there and turn it on, and you've got to have that attitude when the game started.
"We didn't have it when the game started that kind of mentality," he added after seeing Clippers forward Al Thornton score a game-high 27 points in 29 off-the-bench minutes. "Because you could see their momentum picking up and growing as time went on. They were whacking us around, and we were crying a little bit too much."
Jazz All-Star power forward Carlos Boozer picked up his second technical foul of the season apparently for screaming "And 1" after a second-quarter basket by point guard Deron Williams.
Backup power forward Paul Millsap also was tagged with a tech, his first this season, for reacting to an offensive foul in the third quarter.
Sloan was later called for a technical as well, his third of the season.
"We didn't do a very good job trying to guard them," Sloan said. "They were a lot more alive; they wanted to win more than we did.
"It's not a surprise," he added. "It's just (that) sometimes you get out and you think, 'Well, we can turn it on and turn it off.'"
Both Boozer and Williams pointed to defensive lapses as the Jazz's chief demise.
"We didn't play good enough defense," said Boozer, who recorded a 22-point, 10-rebound double-double.
"Our defense was horrible," added Williams, whose double-double featured a game-high 10 assists and team-high 26 points. "We didn't help each other out."
The Clippers took the lead for good midway through the second quarter and went into halftime up 55-49.
Their pullaway came in the third quarter, when an 11-0 run spurred by back-to-back 3-pointers from Corey Maggette and Tim Thomas sent L.A. from a five-point lead to a 16-point spread at 70-54.
During the decisive spurt, Boozer missed a field-goal attempt, guard Ronnie Brewer missed a jumper, Brewer missed inside and was blocked on the same possession, Williams was called for a charge, and center Mehmet Okur and guard Ronnie Price both missed 3-point attempts.
"I didn't think he was getting things done like he was supposed to," Sloan said of Brewer, who shot just 4-of-12.
The Clippers went into the fourth quarter with a 20-point advantage, and by the time Thornton drove for a layup early in the final period, their lead was up to 24 at 99-75.
Down 109-90 with four minutes and 21 seconds remaining, Sloan emptied the end of his bench obviously mindful of tonight's game against Atlanta at EnergySolutions Arena, where the Jazz have won 13 straight.
"It's not the end of the world," Sloan said.
But it sure doesn't help the Jazz's universe.
"It hurts, especially because (division rival) Denver lost," Williams said. "We had a chance to pick up a game. We've been waiting for Denver to lose, because they've been pretty hot, and they finally do, and we don't make the most of it."NOTES: Would-be Clippers starting point Sam Cassell sat out with a sprained wrist, so Brevin Knight started instead. ... The Clippers' absentees also included out-all-season Elton Brand (torn Achilles tendon) and Shaun Livingston (dislocated knee). ... The Jazz's three techs combined equaled one-fourth of their total for the season coming into the game. ... Boozer opened the game going 5-of-5 from the field. ... In the stands during the first half, seated just behind the Jazz bench: ex-Jazz guard Derek Fisher, now with the Los Angeles Lakers.
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