If that long-ago sports writer, Charles (his friends called him Chuck) Dickens, happened to be the beat writer for the Utah Jazz, he would definitely call the 2010-11 campaign "A Tale of Two Seasons."

Buoyed by a brilliant 15-5 start which included an impressive four-game road sweep of Miami, Orlando, Atlanta — all headed for the Eastern Conference playoffs — and Charlotte, hopes were running mighty high.

It looked like it would be business as usual — another solid winning season — for the guys from Salt Lake City. Certainly another NBA playoff berth was just a formality, wasn't it?

After all, through the first 40 games of the season, the Jazz were 27-13 and appeared well on their way to a possible top-four finish in the Western Conference. A division championship and a deep postseason run were definitely not out of the question.

Ah, yes, those were what Mr. Dickens would certainly call the best of times.

Then, a not-so-funny thing happened to the Jazz on their way to a successful season — injuries started taking their toll, there was a stunning coaching change, followed by a shocking trade — and what was once such a promising Jazz season started to unravel.

Over their last 36 games, the Jazz have come apart at the seams, going a dreadful 9-27. Yes, just 9 wins in their last 36 games, a woeful .250 winning percentage that rivals the lousiest teams in the league.

In fact, over that 36-game span, only four other teams in the entire NBA — Toronto, Washington, Cleveland and Minnesota, who've each gone 7-29 — have been worse than Utah.

That means that, in the second half of the season, the Jazz have sucked even more than perennial losers like the L.A. Clippers and the Sacramento Kings, for badness sake!

Lottery teams Golden State, New Jersey and Detroit have all been better that Utah over the last 40 games. Indeed, it almost feels like the Jazz have become the Clippers, Kings, Wizards or Nets themselves over that span. They lost twice to the Wizards, twice to the Warriors, once each to the Pistons and Timberwolves, and got blown out in what was a must-win game against Memphis.

Sadly, these are definitely the worst of times.

The Jazz have transformed that solid 27-13 midseason slate into a frustrating 36-40 record, staggering to the finish line of what has become a forgettable season.

But with all that's gone wrong, and the way they ruined those high hopes with such a terrible tailspin, it might take years of therapy to forget this one.

With six games to go in the regular season, they've already been eliminated from the playoff chase, sitting 11th in the Western Conference standings. They've lost seven straight games and, with the way things are going, might not win another game this season.

Jerry Sloan abruptly quit as their coach — heck, maybe he saw this train wreck coming — and they traded away their best player, Deron Williams. But the downward spiral had already started before Sloan or D-Will left the building.

There have been recent nights when Devin Harris, Raja Bell, Andrei Kirilenko and Mehmet Okur — what would constitute four-fifths of a decent lineup on the floor — have all been out with injuries. The team's health and lack of depth have become a constant concern.

With the glorious way it began and the dreadful way it's finishing, this season is far more difficult to stomach than Utah's 26-win season of 2004-05, because that team didn't tantalize or tease fans with its strong start like this year's team did. Back then, we figured from the get-go they probably weren't going to be very good, and sure enough, they lived down to our expectations.

Now, questions abound about the future of this franchise because, unless they can somehow catch lightening in a bottle again like they did by drafting John Stockton and Karl Malone, things look pretty bleak these days, and down the road, too.

For Jazz fans and this proud franchise, it's the worst of times indeed.

EMAIL: rhollis@desnews.com