Utah's deficiencies came to the forefront at the worst possible time. Not enough athleticism; a lack of size, speed and variation; an inefficient, predictable offense and a porous defense. Soon, Thunder forward Kevin Durant was rolling off 3-pointers like the professional contest was a simple video game; skyrocketing Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook was not just flash but substance; and a Jazz team that increasingly lacks both was heading home winless during an 0-3 road trip that will likely prove to be the end of Utah's postseason hopes.
"We didn't have enough," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "We're right there. You're close in the ballgame with two, three points. You get a couple possessions and you get some good stops, and you can't get the score. You can't get any separation."
Oklahoma City did. Topped by Russell Westbrook's team-high 31 points on 11-of-17 shooting, The Thunder (46-24), currently positioned fourth in the Western Conference standings and clearly taking command in the division, shot 54.5 percent (36 of 66) from the field and 83.3 percent (30 of 36) from the free-throw line.
"Good win," Westbrook said. "That's a tough team that's fighting for position just like we are."
Al Jefferson scored a game-high 32 points on 14-of-18 shooting and grabbed a team-high 12 rebounds for Utah (36-36).
The Jazz's starting center vowed after the game to keep fighting. Jefferson said that his team will battle "until the end" - which will occur when the Jazz are mathematically eliminated from the playoff race.
But after failing to pick up a single victory on the road against three squads Houston, Memphis, Oklahoma City playing postseason-caliber ball, the end is closer than ever for Utah.
The 11th-place Jazz sit four games behind the eighth-place Grizzlies in the conference with just 10 regular-season contests remaining, and Memphis holds a tiebreaker. Meanwhile, the Jazz dropped to the .500 mark for the first time since Nov. 2, 2010, when the team started the season 2-2.
"We shouldn't be trying to win because we want to make the playoffs. We should be trying to win because we want to win games," Utah forward C.J. Miles said. "Winning games results in that. But that shouldn't be why we're still playing hard right now. We should've been playing hard regardless, even if we wasn't going to make it."
Improved effort was unquestionably there through nearly three quarters, and a Jazz team playing without injured starters Devin Harris and Andrei Kirilenko tied the contest at 63 with 3 minutes, 28 seconds remaining in the third period. But by the end of the quarter Oklahoma City was up by nine points. Then 13. Then 18. Utah was falling downward again, and the Jazz's disappointing season one now defined by a flat, average record was edging closer to completion.
"If the numbers say that you're still in it, then that's what you're playing for until they're not," Jazz guard Raja Bell said. "And if they say you're not in it, then you're just trying to be the best player you can be. That's it."
P The Thunder shoot 83.3 percent (30 of 36) from the free-throw line.
Hornets at Jazz
P Thursday, 7 p.m.
TV • FSN Utah
Hornets at Jazz
P At EnergySolutions Arena
Tipoff • Thursday, 7 p.m.
TV • FSN Utah
Radio • 1320 AM, 1600 AM, 98.7 FM
Records • Hornets 40-31, Jazz 36-36
Last meeting • Hornets, 100-71 (Dec. 17, 2010)
About the Hornets • Hold the seventh seed in the Western Conference.
About the Jazz • Finished 0-3 during a recent trip.