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Utah Jazz: Wake-up call? Jazz can't afford any more snooze sessions

Utah's Earl Watson and Paul Millsap watch from the bench as the Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets play Wednesday, April 3, 2013 in Salt Lake City at EnergySolutions Arena. Denver beat the Jazz 113-96.
Utah's Earl Watson and Paul Millsap watch from the bench as the Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets play Wednesday, April 3, 2013 in Salt Lake City at EnergySolutions Arena. Denver beat the Jazz 113-96.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — For the Utah Jazz, Wednesday's blowout loss to the Denver Nuggets was about as pleasant as seeing your supervisor's number flash on your phone while oversleeping.

After having their five-game winning streak rudely interrupted by the top-notch Nuggets, the Jazz are hoping their snooze-and-you-lose experience serves as a wake-up call.

Only six games remain in the 2012-13 regular season.

Utah simply can't afford many, if any, more extra-sleep sessions.

Trailing the Lakers (39-36) by a half-game for the final Western Conference playoff spot, the Jazz (39-37) are chalking that 17-point debacle up as a valuable reminder.

"You have a little bit of success and you start feeling yourself a little bit and you're thinking it can just happen or you can turn it on at some point," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said at Thursday's practice.

"It's a setup for where we are now in our development. We can use it (the big loss) as a an eye-opener and say, 'Look, if we don't play like we need to play with the tempo and the understanding on the defensive end to create offense there … we'll struggle.' We'll use it to make sure we send that message home."

Though the Jazz only shot 46 percent and scored under 100 points for the first time in seven games, their defense was even more disturbing.

A game after allowing Portland to shoot 58 percent, Utah watched Denver go for 56 percent from the field and outscore the Jazz 58-38 inside. For Corbin, that points-in-the-paint disparity is the biggest indicator of how his team's defense is performing.

That correlates with the Jazz's results. Utah is 27-7 this season when it has the scoring advantage in the paint. When opponents outscore the Jazz inside, however, they're only 10-28.

"They got a lot of shots at the rim and that's what hurts your defense," Corbin said. "We want to take away the easy baskets and make teams shoot outside."

With their playoff hopes on the line, the Jazz returned to the practice floor Thursday in an effort to regroup and re-energize before tonight's home game against New Orleans.

Utah, which fell to 28-10 at EnergySolutions Arena, can't afford to fret over a wasted home game.

"I just feel as though (Friday night) we have another opportunity to go out, play together, play Utah Jazz basketball and get better," Jazz guard Randy Foye said. "That game (against Denver) for us is a good learning point — just like, hey, you're not invincible. You won five in a row, but you didn't win 27 in a row."

Realistically, if the Jazz are going to make the playoffs, this game against the Hornets is as much of a must-win as they get. New Orleans is 26-49, has lost three of four games and only has 10 road victories. Plus, this is one of only three contests remaining against sub-.500 teams for the Jazz, and the Lakers are playing at home against Memphis.

The Jazz recognize that they didn't play their best, but they're also quick to point out how good the Nuggets are. Even so, they know a bounce-back performance is critical to keep postseason dreams alive.

"That's the key — not to let one loss turn into two, three. Stay positive," Jazz forward Paul Millsap said. "It's a game they just came out and beat us, so we've just got to move on. Let's not let that happen."

Millsap believes Wednesday's outcome was more indicative of the level the Nuggets are playing on — having won 17 of 19 — rather than a lack of focus or effort by the Jazz.

"Refocusing isn't really the key. I think we're a focused team," Millsap said. "We know what's at stake, so we're going to get out there and try to make it happen."

Any worry that the confidence built up in the season-high win streak took a hit?

"We feel like we still have that swagger," Millsap said. "We feel like we can still make these playoffs. There's no doubt about that. We feel like we can do it."

Corbin still likes his team's trend. The Jazz said they just have to do a better job on defense of making the right rotations, helping and responding properly when being helped, being responsible for individual assignments and being more aggressive.

"Through the disappointment in our defense (Wednesday) night, you have to look at the five games before. We played a lot better," Corbin said. "I've got to understand it was one tough loss for us. As you see (at practice), we'll get some work today (Thursday) and be ready to go again tomorrow (Friday)."

And make sure they don't hit the snooze button too many times.