"We walked out there thinking it was just going to be a walk in the park," Jazz center Al Jefferson said.
Try a walking disaster.
Midway through the second quarter, the Jazz (14-13) were living what Jefferson referred to as a bad dream. By the early third, Utah was performing as if it had no interest in either making the playoffs or holding a winning record after completing a back-to-back-to-back away series that ends Tuesday against NBA-leading Oklahoma City.
"In the second half, it was obvious that our heads weren't into it," Jazz guard Raja Bell said. "We were throwing the ball all over the gym and just doing things that were pretty uncharacteristic of us. Our sets were awful. Our offense was terrible. What can I tell you?"
He added: "I don't know what happened. … We had nothing. There was nothing going on. They just beat us up."
How bad was the damage? Utah committed nine turnovers during the third quarter alone, scored just 30 points in the second and third periods combined, and somehow managed to make the lowly Hornets look like the mighty Thunder.
"If we come out and do what we did tonight [against Oklahoma City], we will get smashed," Bell said.
A Jazz second unit composed of 32-year-old reserve point guard Earl Watson and four players 21 or younger Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks, Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors trimmed New Orleans' 63-43 lead with 3 minutes, 30 seconds left in the third to just three points with 21.6 to go.
But even with Watson magically banking in a 34-foot 3-pointer and Burks slicing through the lane and getting to the foul line as if the remainder of his rookie season depended on it, Utah could not save a game it had no business being in and no reason to lose.
The Jazz fought off Memphis on the road Sunday, capturing a crucial victory that left the team eyeing Jefferson's immediate goal: going at least 2-1 during their back-to-back-to-back and returning to Salt Lake City with a winning record. Utah's locker room buzzed after the win Jefferson went so far as to say he wanted the Jazz to win all their remaining games heading into the All-Star break and the Jazz flew to New Orleans looser and more confident than they'd been all season.
But a dark side that has constantly underlined Utah's up-and-down 2011-12 campaign was more apparent than ever Monday. A team without an elected captain looked leader-less, and starters Devin Harris, Paul Millsap, Bell and Jefferson didn't return to the game after leaving by the 4:03 mark in the third.
Asked about Corbin's decision to go and stay young, Bell said it was "not his call."
"I play the minutes that I'm called on to play," he said. "Other than that, it doesn't matter if I have an opinion."
Jefferson backed his coach, saying he and the remainder of the Jazz starters not named Hayward had no right returning to a game they willingly threw away.
"The way we started the third quarter, I would've done the same thing," Jefferson said.
Corbin was left to process the fallout. His mix-and-match team of NBA lottery picks and proven veterans can compete with anyone in the league when they play the right way. But when Utah spends two quarters demolishing everything it's worked for since training camp began, the second-year coach was left searching for words that made sense.
"Right now, it's the most disappointing [loss] for me. … It's tough. After the way we played [against Memphis], I just didn't expect we'd come out with this kind of effort," Corbin said.
New Orleans 86, Utah 80
R In short • The Jazz are embarrassed by New Orleans, suffering their worst emotional loss of the season.
Key stat • Rookie Alec Burks attempted more free throws (10) than the Jazz's starters (four).
Key moment • The Hornets bridged the second and third quarters with a 27-4 run.