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Utah Jazz fans naturally are disappointed over the team's fall this week from the ranks of the National Basketball Association playoffs at the hands of the Houston Rockets, particularly since the final loss was a lopsided one. But in most respects, it has been a very successful season.

Although the Jazz were ousted by the Rockets by a 4-1 margin, two of the losses were last-minute squeakers that easily could have gone the other way, creating a different scenario for the rest of the playoffs.If anything was especially wrenching in the playoff loss, it was the fact that this year the Jazz might have gone all the way to the NBA championship. No dominating team stood in their way. The Jazz had enjoyed reasonable success against all the other finalists during the season.

The team has nothing to be ashamed of or any reason to be apologetic. They played hard, conducted themselves well, and in a tough, emotional sport, represented Utah with dignity and enthusiasm.

Despite the playoff defeat, the season as a whole has been mostly positive. For example:

- Although the Jazz's top draft pick became enmeshed in personal troubles and was never an active performer, the team ended the season stronger and more talented than it began, thanks to the acquisition of Jeff Hornacek and Felton Spencer. Spencer's emergence as a major player was a special surprise.

- If finishing third in the division behind San Antonio and Houston was frustrating, the Jazz were still in the hunt late in the season and posted a 53-29 record, one of the better marks in the NBA.

- A 10-game winning streak late in the season showed the potential of the Jazz as they won road and home games against their top rivals, including Houston, San Antonio and Phoenix.

- In the playoffs, the Jazz upset San Antonio 3-1 and then held off an enthusiastic, upset-minded Denver in a seven-game series to get into the conference finals against Houston. It is a considerable achievement to be counted among the last four teams in the NBA playoffs, a pinnacle the Utah team reached only once before.

- During the long season, the Jazz sold out all but one home game in the Delta Center. That, and the playoff revenue, guaranteed a successful financial year for the franchise.

So congratulations to the Jazz, the coaches and management for an entertaining and rewarding season. The challenge now is to work for an even better performance next season.