Slow-starting Utah Jazz get crushed by Clippers, 105-96

Published: Saturday, March 31 2012 11:04 p.m. MDT

Los Angeles Clippers' guard Chris Paul, left, makes a pass as he is defended by Utah Jazz's guard Devin Harris during the first half of a NBA basketball game in Los Angeles, Saturday, March 31, 2012. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — In March, the Utah Jazz played 19 games, which is an insane amount of basketball even for professional players in tip-top shape.

Making Saturday's game against the Los Angeles Clippers worse, it was the Jazz's seventh contest in 10 nights. Not only that, but in the past four nights they played in Boston, Salt Lake City and Tinsel Town.

Because of that brutal schedule — not to mention a quadruple-overtime game to begin the week Sunday in Atlanta — Jazz regulars were flat-out tired Saturday.

Nobody could blame them.

But it showed.

The Jazz were so groggy early on in an eventual 105-96 loss to the Clippers, it looked like somebody stuck them with a fork full of sleeping pills.

The Clippers' two superstars — Blake Griffin and Chris Paul — combined to score 50 points to help their team improve to 31-21. L.A. shot 54.2 percent for the game and hit 10 of 21 3-pointers.

Meanwhile, a Jazz team that was the hottest squad in the NBA while winning six straight just a week ago has suddenly slipped into hard times. The Jazz fell to 27-26 after losing their third straight game.

Al Jefferson led Utah with 26 points and Paul Millsap added 18 points with nine rebounds, but the Jazz couldn't overcome a dismal first quarter in which they were outscored 38-22.

Coach Tyrone Corbin even admitted before tipoff that his players were feeling the effects of the longest game in franchise history — the 139-133 4-OT loss to the Hawks — six days after it happened.

"I think it's taking its toll now," Corbin said a night after the Jazz dragged their way through a devastating 104-103 home loss to 18-win Sacramento.

It didn't help that Utah had a game the night after that Atlanta marathon in New Jersey and two more games in the next four days. That heavy schedule, of course, became a necessity due to the compressed nature of this irregular season.

Corbin won't use the overloaded schedule as an excuse.

"This team has shown a lot of resiliency," he said in a pregame interview Saturday. "And they'll continue to fight and give everything they have tonight."

They ended up doing that — just as they had in previous road losses earlier in the week.

In Atlanta, the Jazz trailed by as many 18 points before charging back to force overtime (times four). Utah again found itself in an 18-point hole in Boston but then stormed back to tie the contest before running out of steam.

That same scenario took place in Saturday's setback.

Gordon Hayward gave Utah a 4-2 lead with a fast-break bucket after making a steal. He was fouled and missed the free throw, which might have been a sign of things to come.

Blake Griffin made a hook shot and then Randy Foye drilled a 3-pointer to give the Clippers the lead for good at 7-4.

Foye also set a tempting trend, which his teammates more than eagerly copycatted.

Forget Lob City. (OK, put it on hold, at least.) The Clippers were Long Ball City in the first half. While building a 19-point lead, L.A.'s most exciting team hit nine 3-pointers, including two apiece from Foye, Caron Butler, Chris Paul and Nick Young.

The Jazz somehow managed to trim the Clippers' lead to a dozen by halftime, and Utah kept that momentum going in the third quarter.

The team that looked like it was sleepwalking through the first quarter rallied to within four points thanks to a strong second-half start by Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap.

The Jazz scored the first eight points of the third, and Millsap made it 61-57 with a putback score midway through the quarter.

Then Long Ball City struck again.

Foye snapped the nets from deep after Millsap's basket, and that seemed to also snap the home team out of its funk.

Despite Chris Paul leaving with a bruised right elbow, the Clippers went on a 14-4 run to seize momentum for good. And, yes, that spurt included a Lob City special from Foye to Griffin.

The Jazz practice in L.A. on Sunday before flying to Portland, where they face the Trail Blazers. Now 1 1/2 games out of the playoff picture and having lost four of five games, Utah is in desperate need of a victory before the postseason that seemed almost inevitable a week ago becomes an unattainable dream.

EMAIL: jody@desnews.com

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