It was just a basketball game. Just a loss.

Nothing affecting world peace, hunger or even the U.S. Justice Department's brilliant plan to trust-bust Microsoft and make Bill Gates the second-grumpiest guy in the Pacific Northwest.

(If Sonics coach Paul Westphal doesn't win No. 1 in a landslide, the region has some real worries.)

Heck, the Jazz aren't even the only ones who failed to complete the sweep over the weekend.

Joined by the Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Lakers, both up 2-0 (on Minnesota and Sacramento, respectively) before losing their own opening-round NBA Western Conference playoff series Game 3s on Sunday, they're in awfully good company.

So who can blame Jazz coach Jerry Sloan for feeling moved to inject a little humor into his postgame remarks following Seattle's 89-78 victory over Utah on Saturday, the first game in the series since Utah won Game 2 way back on last Monday?

"Hopefully, we can get ourselves ready to play," Sloan said. "We have a few weeks off before we have to play again, so we just have to wait and see."

The truth is that Game 4 between the Jazz and Sonics will be on Wednesday night, when Utah, up 2-1 in the best-of-five series, tries for a second time to end Seattle's season.

It just seems that long between games, a trend for which the NBA — which conspired with its TV network partners to make these series seemingly last longer than the regular season — is getting pounded.

In the meantime, all realists like Sloan can do is try to remember that the lengthy wait is the same for one as it is for the other.

"I'm not going to buy that 'days off' stuff," he said. "They had the same number of days we did.

"If they had 10 days off, and we had five, then I could go along with it," Sloan added. "But since we had the same number of days off, I don't buy that. Players get paid to play."

And coaches get paid to coach.

Whatever Westphal did seemed to work, because he got the Sonics to respond despite talk among the Seattle media that his job security is at stake — a certain cause of his super-sour state, even after Saturday's victory.

"We tried to make what we've been doing more effective," Westphal said dryly. "Four days of practice helped us."

It didn't do squat for the Jazz, which actually practiced Tuesday, took Wednesday off, then practiced again Thursday and Friday mornings before flying to Seattle on Friday afternoon.

"Everybody would like a day off," Sloan said before following with a jab. "But I didn't know they had to have three or four."

The Jazz coach was none too thrilled with the way his club opened Saturday at KeyArena, falling behind before it realized where it was and failing to ever pull even with the Sonics.

"They came out knowing that you're going to have to play, you're going to have to have your work clothes on to come and play against this team here," Sloan said, "and we didn't respond."

Jazz players indicated they did that in spite of themselves, but they did willfully dole credit where it was due.

"They wanted it more; they got it," forward Bryon Russell said. "We just came out and played like s---. Not one player, not two players, but eight, nine, 10, 11 and 12 players."

"We didn't do a lot of things," added forward Karl Malone, who did all he could by scoring a game-high 30 points in the loss, "and they did everything."

"The one thing we realized: That they were not going to go down easy, because even if we had beaten them, they still would have put on a good show," center Olden Polynice said. "Unfortunately, they put on too good of a show. They got a win. But it's still our series."

At least it is for now, with the No. 2 seed Jazz still holding homecourt advantage over the No. 7 seed Sonics.

Before finding out Wednesday if it really is theirs, Utah must prep. Rather than stay in Seattle, the Jazz returned after Saturday's game, took Sunday off, and were scheduled to practice both Monday and Tuesday.

As for Seattle's plans, Sloan didn't seem certain.

"They've got more days off," he cracked, "than we do. Don't they?"

Hey, it's only a game.


You can reach Tim Buckley by e-mail at tbuckley@desnews.com