A small white board with the NBA's Western Conference standings rests on the floor in the Jazz locker room, a dark line clearly separating those teams holding playoff positions from those that do not.

A games-behind count is off to the right, much like in the newspaper.

Those with the 38-39 Jazz look at the board, see they're ninth in a race that allows only eight to play on, know they have just five regular-season games remaining including tonight's against Denver, and can't help but ponder losses that might have been wins.

"I look back," coach Jerry Sloan said, "and think that three or four games here and there make a huge difference — and we let some of those get away."

What particularly sticks in Sloan's craw is a 113-83 blowout loss in January at Denver — not so much because Utah let it slip, but rather because they never were in it.

Big man Mehmet Okur points to a four-game trip in March with losses at Miami, Orlando and Memphis.

"Those three games were important for us," he said.

Guard Devin Brown thinks about some of the Jazz's 19 losses in 39 games so far at the Delta Center, where they must either win tonight against the Northwest Division-champion Nuggets or next Wednesday vs. Golden State to avoid a second straight losing home record.

"From what I know about this league," Brown said, "home games are extremely important. You want to be nine, 10 games above .500 on your home games."

Others might look specifically to a pair of losses, one against the New York Knicks and one at home on March 1 to Charlotte — currently the NBA's two worst teams.

The first Knicks loss was so pitiful, owner Larry H. Miller left his courtside seat to chew out the team.

The list goes on: A November loss at Chicago could go either way . . . Utah blows an 18-point home lead to Golden State in late November . . . The Jazz are up four with 90 seconds left against the Los Angeles Clippers in mid-January, but lose in overtime . . . a critical turnover comes in the waning seconds of a close late-February loss to New Orleans/Oklahoma City . . . Andrei Kirilenko's freelancing catches up with him in a March loss to Dallas . . . Kirilenko's triple-double is wasted in a two-point, 16-missed-free-throw loss to Sacramento later in the month.

But the most glaring might be a 105-101 overtime loss back on Dec. 1 to the Los Angeles Lakers, one of two remaining teams — along with Sacramento — the Jazz have a longshot chance to catch.

That's the one in which Kobe Bryant rose for a jumper with 0.4 seconds remaining in regulation, extended his shooting arm and drew what replays suggest amounted to a phantom foul on Brown. Bryant calmly sank both free throws, overtime was on, and the Jazz eventually lost one that even then they suspected could come back to bite.

"I have a scenario for that," Brown, who played last season for the NBA-champion San Antonio Spurs, said Tuesday. "Let's say I had on a silver-and-black (Spurs colors) jersey. I don't know if they make that call. You know what I'm saying?"

Uh-huh.

Still, the Jazz try not to dwell on one game among 82.

"I don't think there was a foul," Okur said of the Lakers game in question, "but we can't change that."

"What are you gonna do about it?" Sloan asked. "We can complain, but I don't think that's gonna make you feel any better the next day."

Besides, swingman Kirilenko added, so go the breaks.

"Lots of people say referees are why you lose," Kirilenko said. "But, some games referees help."

Over six-and-a-half months, in other words, Kirilenko feels fair and unfair eventually even out. For that reason, he tries not to be drawn into a game of what-if.

"Some games, I understand, we lose — but you cannot do anything about it," he said. "So I am trying to avoid it. . . . Don't think about it because I don't think it will help you."

On the other hand, however, Kirilenko can't help but play along.

If that single loss to L.A. ends up the difference between the Lakers going to the playoffs and the Jazz staying home for a third straight season, Kirilenko said, "Then I'll probably think about it."

He would not be alone.

"I hope it doesn't come down to that," Brown said. "But we can't think about that now. . . . You're gonna really cause yourself some stress if you try and look back and see what we did."

Still, it's hard not to notice how close the Jazz are — and just how far away they remain.

"Yeah," Brown said, "every time you look at the board you see teams that are above you (and) you know can play with them, so it hurts a little bit."

"We all look at the board every day," Okur added. "I'm always thinking, 'It was a winnable game.' "


If only . . .

A look at just five of the losses this season the Jazz could soon be kicking themselves about:

Nov. 14 . . . Knicks 73, Jazz 62 . . . loss to lowly New York brings owner Larry H. Miller out of his seat

Nov. 25 . . . Warriors 94, Jazz 90 . . . Utah blows 18-point lead to lottery-bound Golden State

Dec. 1 . . . Lakers 105, Jazz 101 . . . phantom foul on Devin Brown helps Kobe Bryant force overtime

Jan. 16 . . . Clippers 102, Jazz 93 . . . up by four with 90 seconds left, Utah loses in overtime

March 25 . . . Kings 91, Jazz 89 . . . Jazz miss 16 free throws, waste Andrei Kirilenko's triple-double


E-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com