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Kragthorpe: Lakers can take credit for Jazz ouster — again

Published April 2, 2011 11:10 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Nobody in EnergySolutions Arena — other than the Los Angeles Lakers and thousands of their ubiquitous fans — wanted the visitors to claim responsibility for the Jazz's playoff knockout for a fourth year in a row, especially considering the latest indignity would occur two weeks before the NBA postseason even begins.

Three years after missing two chances to force overtime against the Lakers in Game 6 of a Western Conference semifinal series and offering varying degrees of resistance the following two seasons, the Jazz were pretty much out of the 2011 playoffs even before they played them in Game 76 of the regular season.

The Jazz still summoned a spirited effort in a 96-85 loss Friday, not that it meant a lot. Coach Tyrone Corbin jumped and stomped along the sideline, his team battled gamely, the building was alive, and it eventually hit home that this was the closest thing to a playoff atmosphere that Jazz fans would experience this spring.

This was just one last chance to rev up the Metallica music before the fourth quarter and have everyone pretend the game mattered. And then the Lakers coldly made it official, eliminating any possibility of the Jazz's catching anybody for the Western Conference's last playoff spot.

Amid everything, it was sobering to recognize that a team with a starting lineup of Carlos Boozer, Andrei Kirilenko, Mehmet Okur, Wesley Matthews and Deron Williams for most of last season was challenging the Lakers with Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson, Kyrylo Fesenko, C.J. Miles and Earl Watson.

What's more, that meant the bench consisted of Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward, Kyle Weaver and Jeremy Evans.

Yet the Jazz somehow led by 17 points in the second quarter. Favors was active in the first half with six points, five rebounds and two blocked shots, while Fesenko was outplaying Andrew Bynum and Miles was knocking down shots.

It would not last. Foul trouble took a toll on the Jazz, and so did the Lakers themselves. With only nine healthy players, the Jazz's effort was as admirable as the outcome was predictable. Much as they did last Saturday when they were even with Dallas for 42 minutes and lost by 17, the Jazz tried unsuccessfully to hang with the Lakers. When it goes bad for this team, it happens in a hurry.

So there went any consolation for the playoff quest's ending, although there's an argument that beating the Lakers just would have made the Jazz look worse, after the way their season has crumbled.

I claim to have seen the collapse coming six weeks ago, writing, "Sorry, this season's over." That was right before the All-Star break, after what became Williams' last game as a Jazzman, when the team stood 31-26.

Then again, in early December when the Jazz were 15-5, I raised the subject of a 60-win season and said, "These guys should have some staying power. … Something in the high 50s appears realistic."

Clearly, I meant the high 30s.

Shortly before that, after the Jazz came from 19 points down in the second quarter and then scored the game's last 11 points in a 102-96 defeat of the Lakers, I had declared, "The way everything played out in the end was enough to make anyone believe the Jazz will have a better chance of competing with the champs in the postseason."

Well, it was true at the time. In fact, I'll go ahead right now and say the Jazz won't lose at all to the Lakers in the 2011 playoffs.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com