MINNEAPOLIS — With just eight games to go in their regular season, things are not exactly looking jiffy for the Jazz.

At 35-39 heading into tonight's visit with Minnesota, they remain 10th in the NBA's Western Conference — three games behind Sacramento, current holder of the West's eight and final playoff position.

Even if the Kings go 0-6 in their final half-dozen games, Utah would have to finish at least 5-3 — and find a way to leapfrog ninth-place New Orleans/Oklahoma City, as well — to pick off Sacramento for eighth.

At 35-39, the Jazz are not just in danger of missing out on postseason play for the third straight year, either; they also are just two losses away from a second straight season without a winning record.

For all that, and whatever else one might want to pile on, coach Jerry Sloan blames two factors.

One is injuries.

The other: himself.

"From my standpoint, I don't think I've done as good a job as should have been done. That's my responsibility," Sloan said Thursday. "Whether you've got good players, whatever, you're still expected to win. And we're not in that position today.

"It all comes back to me, and I know how that works," he added. "I don't have a problem with that at all. I take full responsibility for what's happened."

Sloan said what he did despite the fact $11.6 million-forward Carlos Boozer has missed 31 games last season with a sore foot and the first 49 of this season with a strained hamstring; despite the fact $11 million-swingman Andrei Kirilenko missed half of last season and 10 games this season with knee, ankle and back injuries; despite the fact $5 million forward Matt Harpring had offseason knee surgery; despite the fact the Jazz have lost 196 total man games to various ailments and illnesses since the start of November.

"You factor in (injuries)," Sloan said, "and I think this team is a pretty good team.

"I look at who this team is today, and, had they stayed healthy, I don't think we're talking so much about (this). I think we'd have been in pretty good shape.

"I don't like to cry about injuries and stuff," he added. "It sounds like I'm crying about it. But I don't mean to be crying. I just think that's the reality."

After 18 fortunate seasons with an almost-always healthy Karl Malone and John Stockton, Sloan hoped last season was an aberration.

The reason is rudimentary.

Without injuries, the Jazz coach said, "You're able to develop a little bit more continuity, and have a chance. Now, we're up and down. We really don't know who we are. We've gone for two years with injuries, and . . . trying to figure out 'Can this guy play in this situation?' "

For two big reasons, Sloan had lofty expectations for this season.

One: He had a hunch the Jazz were bound to be relatively injury-free this season, after such lousy luck last season.

The other: a 42-40 record in the Jazz's first season (2003-04) post-Stockton and Malone.

"I knew it was going to be difficult," he said, the notion of relying heavily on a rookie point guard — Deron Williams was the selected No. 3 overall in last June's NBA Draft — in his mind from the get-go. "But I also knew that if we come to play, and we could stay healthy, there's talent here.

"I just have always felt if we could stay healthy, stay together as a group of guys, we could be there."

They're not.

At least in part, it is indeed because of the health — or lack thereof. Boozer's prolonged absence saw to that.

But there is more to it. Consider: As the Jazz cling to hope, albeit fast-fading, and in spite of the setbacks, Sloan remains far from satisfied.

"I know I've said it will be a very disappointing thing if this team doesn't make the playoffs," he said Thursday. "I said that at the beginning of the year. . . . And I still say that, because, even though we've had injuries, I think there have been opportunities to be able to win games."

Without stopping for a breath, Sloan hastened to offer an addendum to his disappointment.

"I haven't been able to get them there," he said. "So, I take responsibility for that."


E-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com