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Kragthorpe: Jazz come close to Spurs, but that's all

Published February 20, 2012 11:51 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Holding a three-point lead and playing for the last shot of the third quarter, the Jazz somehow allowed San Antonio to tie them at the buzzer.

That's tough to take.

Actually, that's tough to do.

And that's where the Jazz are right now.

They played just well enough to walk off the EnergySolutions Arena floor in frustration Monday night after a 106-102 defeat.

Having feuded this month, Jazz CEO Greg Miller and franchise legend Karl Malone may have solved some issues in a postgame meeting. Otherwise, this was just another of those wasted nights in Jazzland.

This game could have changed the way everybody views the Jazz (15-16), with the NBA's All-Star break approaching. In the end, the loss only furthered the unavoidable impression that this shortened season will seem to drag in April, when the Jazz are playing for draft position and development.

Judging by Monday's evidence, not much separates the Jazz from a Spurs team with an 11-game winning streak and the NBA's fourth-best record (23-9).

That's both encouraging and disheartening.

The difference? "Experience … veteran leadership," said coach Tyrone Corbin.

Add "coaching" to that gap, with this qualification: In the aspect of coaching that's evaluated by effort, Corbin excelled in this game. The Jazz battled for 48 minutes against a rested, high-level opponent, and in many ways deserved to win.

Yet in critical moments, the Jazz too often just don't look like they know what they're doing, and that's also a reflection on Corbin. Anecdotally, the Jazz have to be the worst team in the NBA when it comes to executing offensive end-of-quarter sequences.

They blew two more last-shot opportunities, starting with failing to shoot in time to beat the halftime buzzer on a possession that began with 11.7 seconds remaining.

The third quarter's ending was more egregious. The Jazz became discombobulated when Derrick Favors set his screen too late and ended up with a 24-second violation. "We mismanaged the clock," Corbin said. Worst of all, the Jazz then allowed Spurs guard Gary Neal to tie the game with a running 28-footer.

Think those three points meant much in a four-point game?

And consider this: The Spurs led by more than four points only once all night, and that was with 6.5 seconds remaining, after Richard Jefferson's killer 3-pointer.

On the previous possession, while trailing by two points, the best shot the Jazz could get after a timeout was Al Jefferson's 18-footer that missed badly.

Even before the unhappy ending, the Jazz were making so many of their usual, maddening mistakes. Favors and Enes Kanter repeatedly failed to grab a rebound, eventually resulting in DeJuan Blair's tip-in. Gordon Hayward had an open lane and settled for a pull-up jump shot that missed. Alec Burks tried to lob a pass toward the basket, into heavy traffic.

Those are the kind of plays that will create a dilemma for Corbin and his bosses, going forward. Do they play those kids more minutes and live with their growing pains? The question may answer itself by mid-March, if the Jazz have fallen hopelessly out of the playoff picture.

As of Monday, there was only the realization that a team so far ahead of the Jazz in the standings was barely better in this game.

"They've been together for a while," said Jazz forward Paul Millsap. "Our core group's just getting started. It's going to take a little time, but we will get there."

It's just not happening right now, for a team that has trouble reading a clock.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribkurt