SALT LAKE CITY - Last night wasn't quite what the 76ers had in mind.

They were hoping for something they rarely have done this season: play well.

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The NBA schedule provided a natural break, four days between games, four days to breathe before the start of this trip.

In that time, the Sixers were hoping they had crossed a bridge away from the disaster that was the first third of the season and toward something better.

It didn't happen last night. Last night, the losing continued.

At a sold-out EnergySolutions Arena, the Utah Jazz defeated the Sixers, 97-76.

The Sixers dropped to 7-22; they have lost three games in a row and 16 of their last 18. Utah improved to 17-13.

"It's an eight-point game going into the fourth, and we weren't playing particularly well or poorly," Sixers coach Eddie Jordan said. "They just knew how to raise their game and get to another level."

The Sixers, who are on the road until next Sunday, will visit the Portland Trail Blazers tomorrow night.

Last night, the second half of the fourth quarter was wasted time: The Sixers took outside jumpers as if it were some sort of three-point- shooting contest, and the Jazz were methodically running through their offensive sets while waiting for the final buzzer.

With 3 minutes, 45 seconds to play, Utah point guard Deron Williams, who finished with 27 points, nailed a three to give his team an 86-66 lead.

Utah runs its offense the way it must look on a white board: equal spacing, angled cuts, direct-line passes.

The Jazz dominated all but the first 10 minutes of the game.

With 2:27 left in the first quarter, things were looking decent, almost good for the Sixers. They were up by 19-15 and had just forced Utah to call a time-out.

But at the end of that first quarter, Utah was ahead, 25-19. Only a minute into the second quarter, the Jazz had a 32-19 lead.

In 3:34, they had scored 17 points, the Sixers zero.

There were many reasons for Utah's 17-0 first-half run - rebounding, defense, its trademark offensive execution - but mostly the Jazz just looked more physical.

They set screens not like an exchange of space, but as if they genuinely wanted to separate their teammate from the defender.

In the middle of their killer first-half run, Jazz point guard Ronnie Price first set a cross screen, then a back screen, both as intense as if he were trying to move a piano.

On the play, Andrei Kirilenko, one of the recipients of a Price screen, took an easy six-foot baseline jumper.

The game's first bucket was a lefthanded dunk by Sixers forward Thaddeus Young, who finished with a team-high 20 points. The second bucket was a righthanded dunk by the Sixers' other forward, Andre Iguodala.

It was a perfect first few possessions for the Sixers.

But a little more than 90 minutes later, with 1:54 remaining, they were trudging to their bench for a time-out.

"We don't have a good rhythm on offense," Iguodala said. "They're just a better team than us."

Some time remained, but most of the spectators inside the arena were putting on their coats and walking out.

The game had been won.

Contact staff writer Kate Fagan at 856-779-3844 or kfagan@phillynews.com.