They blew a lead that had stood at 20 points late in the third quarter, and darn near lost to a terrible Eastern Conference team that has lost six straight and 18 of its last 20 games.

No wonder the Jazz sounded as if they had lost after beating Orlando 90-85 Monday night at Delta Center, doing so under a bizarre set of circumstances that included owner Larry H. Miller meeting with upper management on the floor late in the fourth quarter.

"That's what's tough," point guard Milt Palacio said. "It doesn't even feel like a win."

Andrei Kirilenko saved the night for the 29-31 Jazz, but only after Miller left his courtside seat to meet with team president Dennis Haslam and basketball operations senior vice president Kevin O'Connor with 28.6 seconds remaining and the game tied at 85.

Kirilenko hit two free throws 10 seconds after the timeout, then blocked Orlando's Jameer Nelson on the other end with 7.9 seconds remaining.

Kirilenko was fouled two seconds later, and again hit both free throws. Then he added yet one more block, this time stopping ex-Jazz shooting guard DeShawn Stevenson on the 3-point line to help Utah from being thoroughly embarrassed by the 20-40 Magic.

"Fortunately," said Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, whose club made just one of 14 fourth-quarter field-goal attempts, "Andrei made a couple big plays to win the ballgame."

Had he not, there is no telling what might have happened.

O'Connor would not reveal what Miller said: "You're not gonna get a comment out of me," he said.

Some thought Miller had mouthed the word "fired" while talking with Haslam and O'Connor, but Miller later said no one's job was in jeopardy.

"I said, 'Be in the locker room as soon as it's over, because I'm gonna get some answers,'" Miller said.

"I said, 'I'm gonna get some questions; I'll get some answers.'"

Some tried to downplay what Miller said afterward.

"He just said some things about us being casual in the fourth quarter," Palacio said. "Same things the coach said. That was it."

Sloan didn't want to shed much light, either.

"He just asked me a couple of questions about 'em," the Jazz coach said. "I think he probably was concerned a little bit as to what was going on, but that's about all I'll say about it.

"I don't think that's something I need to discuss."

Miller, though, met at length with media members while standing in a Delta Center hallway.

He even revealed specifically what questions were asked: " 'Why were we running the shot clock down to three seconds before taking a shot? We had one field goal in the fourth quarter. Have we got a bunch of guys out there that don't want to shoot? Are they scared to shoot? I said to Jerry, 'I need to have an understanding (of) what's going on out there."'

Miller, though, had no greater understanding of the Jazz's woes after he left than when he walked in.

"No," he said when asked if he got any answers. "Nobody wanted to deal with that."

As a result, Miller offered some suggestions of his own.

"We need to get some better players," he said. "That's what we need — some guys who've got some fire down the stretch.

"These guys have got to get their head out and play basketball," added the Jazz owner, who called his players "a bunch of pampered babies with hurt feelings."

Asked if his concerns were only player oriented, and not coaching oriented, Miller said, "Well, it's hard to tell where it starts and where it ends. But I'm concerned about the way we're playing. We got our a-- kicked in Seattle (on Sunday) by 32, come home and give up a 20-point lead ... I'm troubled by it."

But no, Miller added, he did not threaten to fire anyone.

"I said, 'We don't have anybody out there with any fire,'" he said. "Nobody's out there playing with any fire."


E-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com