- The Washington Times - Friday, April 17, 2009

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - The Utah Jazz know why nobody is giving them a chance to beat the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the playoffs.

They haven’t given any reason to suspect an upset is possible against the top team in the Western Conference.

“It’s our fault,” point guard Deron Williams said. “If you asked people at the beginning of the season they probably would have said we have a chance.”

Utah ended the season by losing seven of nine, punctuated by a 125-112 loss to the Lakers on Tuesday in the regular-season finale.

When the Jazz return to Los Angeles for Game 1 on Sunday, they will have one chance to convert everybody who has declared the series over before it even begins.

And there are plenty.

Local headlines Thursday included “They’re toast” and “Road kill,” a reference to Utah’s 15-26 record away from home.

The Jazz shrugged off the harsh reviews before they returned to practice Thursday, noting that the series is still tied 0-0.

“We finished the season kind of weak, but it’s over with now,” Williams said.

Utah had a difficult schedule at the end, playing six straight road games against playoff-bound teams. The Jazz went 1-5 during that stretch and compounded it with losses at home to Minnesota and Golden State in between.

“We put ourselves in a bad position,” Williams said.

The Jazz haven’t beaten the Lakers in Los Angeles since 2006.

The Lakers ran away with the No. 1 seed in the West, finishing with an 11-game margin over No. 2 Denver, going 65-17 and tying for the third-most wins in the franchise’s rich history.

Utah coach Jerry Sloan described the situation as looking “pretty bleak” after the Jazz’s late collapse Tuesday night, when the Lakers broke open a one-point game with two big scoring runs and coasted the rest of the way.

Sloan had cooled off a little by Thursday.

“I was listening to what everybody told me,” Sloan said. “That’s all anybody says _ ‘How are you going to beat these guys? It’s virtually impossible.’”

The series comes to Utah next week for Games 3 and 4 on Thursday and Saturday. If Utah comes up with an upset Sunday in the opener or Tuesday in Game 2, the outlook will be decidedly different.

“Whoever wins four first is the winner. You can talk about all the other stuff you want. The bottom line is you’ve got to play,” Sloan said.

“The season is not over _ as gloomy as it appears from what everybody says,” he added. “Hopefully players are energized by the fact that there’s 14 teams already home. And you don’t want to be the 15th team.”

Utah can use the long break before Sunday’s opener to get healthy. Center Mehmet Okur missed Tuesday’s game with a strained hamstring and did not practice Thursday.

Forward C.J. Miles is still recovering from a dislocated finger and reserve forward Matt Harpring missed practice with a nasal infection.

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