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Season ends quietly

Phoenix hands Jazz loss No. 40

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Phoenix's Amare Stoudamire, left, gets around Utah's Andrei Kirilenko as the Jazz fell to the Suns.

Phoenix’s Amare Stoudamire, left, gets around Utah’s Andrei Kirilenko as the Jazz fell to the Suns.

Jeremy Harmon. Deseret Morning News

Eliminated from postseason contention at Minnesota on Monday night, Wednesday night's game against Phoenix amounted to little more than business the Jazz were required to finish.

But before he addressed its outcome — an 89-84 Suns win at the Delta Center — and the conclusion of Utah's first NBA season without a playoff appearance after 20 straight with one, Jazz coach Jerry Sloan had some unfinished business of his own to discuss.

"I apologized to our players (for saying after) the game we had up in Minnesota . . . they were not trying to win a ballgame," Sloan said after Wednesday's loss. "I was wrong for that . . . I was wrong for saying what I did."

Sloan blasted his club after it fell behind by 23 in the second quarter of an eventual 14-point loss to the Timberwolves, suggesting some had "packed it in" and seemed disinterested in trying to beat Minnesota.

"I probably got a little bit carried away. I probably went overboard" Sloan said before Wednesday's game. "They have done a good job."

The Jazz — who finished 42-40, extending their streak of consecutive winning seasons to 19 — played hard against Phoenix, too.

Even after the Suns went up by 16 in the third quarter, Utah rallied. Backup point guard Raul Lopez led the charge, finishing with a career-high 25 points in the final game of his rookie season.

When Lopez hit the second of two free throws stemming from a flagrant foul on Phoenix's Leandro Barbosa, the Jazz — who had been down 67-51 midway through the third — were up with 72-71 with eight minutes and 41 seconds to go.

An Andrei Kirilenko tip-in extended the Jazz advantage to three, but the Suns would rally themselves, going ahead for good when Shawn Marion hit a short jumper to make it 78-76.

Afterward, Sloan lauded his club for exceeding the expectations of most in its first season sans John Stockton and Karl Malone.

"The season is over, and our guys have done a terrific job," he said. "When it's all said and done, I think they deserve a lot of credit for the fact that they did play hard in most cases.

"We let a few games get away from us," Sloan added, "but we won a few games that we probably shouldn't have won."

That may be a comfort to Jazz players as they head their separate ways for the offseason, but it was the apologetic words from Sloan that really struck a cord.

"People say things in the heat of the moment, and sometimes you let stuff come out that you didn't mean let come out," swingman Raja Bell said. "That's what happened, I guess."

"That (the apology) totally shows what kind of man he is," guard Gordan Giricek added. "He's a fair guy. He tries to be fair to everyone, with no exceptions. If you're an All-Star or not, he's fair. That's the reason guys believe in him."

Kirilenko, the Jazz's lone All-Star this season, suggested he considered Sloan's critical words water under the proverbial bridge.

"I'm telling you, I never really cared what Coach said in the newspaper," Kirilenko said. "I really only care what the coach says to me. If we have some problems, and he comes to me and says, 'Andrei, right here is problem, right here is problem,' he can do whatever he wants. I mean, I'm a coach-able player, and I want to listen."

Kirilenko will probably listen, then, to what else Sloan had to say about what he said in Minnesota.

"I think they have to have expectations," he said.

"When they don't come and give you the effort that you think is necessary, then I think sometimes I have a right to be able to explain that to 'em — not to hurt their feelings as much as get 'em to understand," Sloan added. "That's what our whole job was this year: to get 'em to understand that they can be a lot better than a lot of people think they can be."

With 42 wins, the Jazz certainly did that.

Not that Sloan, apologies aside, found any solace in that fact.

"Satisfaction," he said, "is making the playoffs. I mean, why do you play?"


E-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com