This is what you play for to be in a situation like this where there's some pressure on the line, and the games are competitive, so it's been fun. —Gordon Hayward, Utah Jazz forward
SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Jazz will be at full-strength, almost, for tonight's must-win game against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Veteran forward Marvin Williams, who sat out Tuesday's loss to Oklahoma City with the stomach flu, will be available for tonight's game with the T-wolves, as will combo guard Alec Burks, who didn't play against the Thunder due to a sprained left ankle that has sidelined him for Utah's last two games.
The only Jazz player who won't be available for tonight's game against Minnesota is second-year center Enes Kanter, who has missed their last seven games and is lost for the remainder of the season after dislocating his left shoulder in Utah's victory over Phoenix in late-March. Kanter underwent surgery to repair the injured shoulder on Wednesday.
With three games to go in the regular season, the Jazz (41-38) trail the Los Angeles Lakers (42-37) by one game in the race for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Lakers, who play their final three games of the regular season at home, host Golden State tonight.
Despite their do-or-die predicament, Jazz players seemed in good spirits following Friday morning's shootaround in preparation for what will be their final home game of the regular season, and perhaps for this entire campaign if they can't catch the Lakers, who've enjoyed stellar late-season leadership from veteran superstar Kobe Bryant.
"It's been fun," swingman Gordon Hayward said of his team's late-season playoff run. "This is what you play for to be in a situation like this where there's some pressure on the line, and the games are competitive, so it's been fun."
Shooting guard Randy Foye used the same word — fun — to describe what he and his teammates having been going through.
"This is fun, man, this is definitely fun," he said. "Kobe's playing out of his mind, he's playing all 48 minutes, and I feel like the last 10 games we've been playing out of our minds. We lost a couple, but we fixed our struggle woes of losing on the road. We beat Portland up there when we were down 10, we beat a good team, a playoff team, in Golden State, and we just been rolling at home.
"So this is, I think, goes down in history as one of the best finishes to the end of the season in the Western Conference," Foye said.
Utah big man Al Jefferson agreed with that assessment.
"We know how important these last three games is, but it's really kinda fun to be competing all the way to the end," he said. "If you're a competitor and really care about the game, this is fun for you.
"It also can be a little stressful sometimes, especially watching another team (the Lakers) and have them be the one to control what happen to you, but for the most part, it's fun. We're just taking it as a sign of respect that we put ourself in this position to have a chance to fight for a playoff. So we're just taking advantage of it.
"At the end of the day, it's all fun," Jefferson continued. "We're just glad to be in this position."
Hayward said that, at times, facing a non-contending team like Minnesota — which has nothing to lose and would love to spoil Utah's playoff hopes — can be a challenge.
"These teams sometimes can be difficult to play just because they're playing loose, they're playing freely and they have nothing to lose," he said. "So it's important to make sure we don't let 'em get a rhythm going and we've got to shut 'em down early."
Jefferson, who spent three standout seasons starring for the Timberwolves before being traded to Utah in the summer of 2010, is wary of facing a Timberwolves team that, when healthy, has plenty of potential.
"Minnesota's finally got all their players back healthy besides Kevin (Love), and they're playing hard and playing well," he said. "I always said if their team was healthy throughout the year, I believe they would've made a lot of noise this year. But we can't worry about what's going on with them; we've just got to go out there and focus and try and get this win tonight and then go from there. To be honest, we're just taking it one game at a time, trying to get a victory."
And what's the key to success for the Jazz, who have won seven of their last 10 games but dropped a 90-80 decision to the Thunder three days ago?2 comments on this story
"Just play like we been playing," Jefferson said. "Even though we lost our last game, I think we played well. We held a great offensive team to 39 percent shooting, and I think that we played well enough to win. We've just got to play the way we've been playing the last five or six games.
"It's all about what we fighting for — we can't lose it now. ... Three games left and every game is important. You can lose a game and just give up or you can lose a game and bounce back from it, and that's the way we're looking at it — to bounce back."