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Kragthorpe: Utah Jazz's playoff hopes fading fast

Published February 9, 2012 5:05 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This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

Indianapolis

After a final flurry under the basket, the game ended with Jazz center Al Jefferson flat on his back in the lane, extending a hand in need of help.

The Jazz were knocked down Tuesday night, and they got back up — just not adequately enough to finish well against Indiana.

The result at Bankers Life Fieldhouse was a 104-99 defeat that featured one of those standard-issue sequences for an NBA road team: crumble, recover, relapse.

So where and when did the Jazz lose this game? Take your pick of the period sandwiching halftime when they fell behind by 21 points, or the last four minutes, when they failed to hold a three-point lead because of problems offensively and defensively.

If there's encouragement in the comeback, there's also the reality of where this Jazz season is headed. "We've got to wake up, man," Jefferson said. "We've got to start doing it, because we're going to find ourselves on the outside looking in."

That's already happened. The Jazz (13-11) fell below the Western Conference's playoff cut Tuesday for the first time since early January, and if you think this stuff is going to get any easier for them, guess again. They're 2-7 away from home, with a long road ahead during this shortened season.

Just about all of the mild hope they inspired with a 10-5 start is gone now, replaced by the dilemma of how coach Tyrone Corbin should approach this season.

Once he discovered a rotation, Corbin has allotted playing time almost exactly to the minute of how it should be scripted. He's been trying to win games and develop young players at the same time, which is tricky.

But inevitably, this season will have to be sacrificed at some point. The Jazz are not going anywhere — not when playing well in spurts and coming close is the best they can do on the road.

A genuine playoff team never would have trailed by 21 points early in the third quarter, after being down by only six just before halftime.

A genuine playoff team would have completed the comeback after surging ahead by three in the last four minutes.

No, the Jazz do not fit that definition.

Coming off a poor effort in New York, the Jazz deserve credit for not totally caving in against a good team. Completing a rally that resembled their magical run of November 2010 was just asking too much of them, though.

While the Pacers responded with poise after trailing by three, the Jazz produced four straight empty possessions. Jefferson clearly was bothered by 7-foot-2 Roy Hibbert, although he insisted otherwise. Jefferson missed two shots and traveled, then Paul Millsap fumbled the ball, resulting in a shot-clock violation.

Jefferson "got fouled — or didn't get the call," Corbin said. "I thought he attacked the basket, which is what you want to do."

After a 6-of-17 night, Jefferson labeled the misses "shots I make all the time."

Meanwhile, Indiana was getting a three-point play from Hibbert, a 3-point shot from Paul George and a floater from Darren Collison. That 8-0 run, plus Danny Granger's 12-point fourth quarter, undid all the good things the Jazz had done.

Afterward, the best question of the night may have come from a fan during a homecoming Q & A session for Indiana native Gordon Hayward, who was asked why he was on the bench and not guarding Granger in the fourth quarter after shutting him down until then.

Hayward naturally did not have much to say in response, on a night when the Jazz provided some answers about their future, but ultimately produced only more questions.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribkurt