Utah Jazz: Costly loss against newly purchased Hornets hurts Jazz playoff chances
Tom Smart, Deseret News
NEW ORLEANS — Paul Millsap was in so much "intolerable pain" Wednesday after spraining his right wrist he couldn't sleep all night.
The Louisiana Tech power forward, whose pain tolerance is in Karl Malone's neighborhood, couldn't practice on Thursday. He didn't even try to shoot the ball Friday morning and was listed as doubtful for the Jazz's game hours later.
Forty-eight minutes after surprising nobody by starting Friday night, the seemingly indestructible Millsap had racked up a game-high 27 points with eight rebounds despite wearing a brace on his shooting wrist.
"Once I got going, it didn't bother me at all," Millsap said. "Once the adrenaline starts flowing, you really don't think about injuries. I was able to fight through it."
Same can't be said of how the Jazz handled a team that's been a pain in their, um, record.
The 17-42 Hornets proved to be even more nagging (again) than a wrist injury, delivering a blow to Utah's playoff hopes by stunning the Jazz 96-85 at New Orleans Arena.
"It's tough. This is a game we needed," Millsap said. "It's a game we're supposed to win. We just didn't get it."
The Jazz (31-29) caught a break because Houston fell to Phoenix, keeping Utah one-and-a-half games out of a playoff spot. Denver, tied with the Rockets at 32-27, also lost to the Lakers.
On one hand, the action around the league might come as comfort to the Jazz.
On the other hand, this was a tough one to let slip away considering only six games remain in their regular season.
"We can't dwell too much on it," Millsap said, mindful of the Jazz's road-trip-ending game Saturday night in Memphis. "We've got to move on to tomorrow and see what the future holds."
As far as Utah's concerned, the wrong Gordon went wild on this night in the Big Easy.
Dealing with his own injury, Hornets guard Eric Gordon returned after missing two games with a back issue to pull the Jazz's should-win game out of their hands.
Gordon scored eight consecutive points after Jason Smith hit a jumper and Marco Belinelli drilled a 3-pointer, turning a one-point Jazz lead with five minutes remaining into a 94-82 Hornets lead with two minutes to go.
That helped New Orleans surprise the Jazz for the second time this season despite Utah coming in after picking up a big road win the previous game (Memphis and Houston).
"We had a difficult time stopping (Gordon)," said Jazz swingman Gordon Hayward, who played against the fellow Indiana product in high school and in summer ball. "He's a talented player. He just made some plays."
Unfortunately for the Jazz, they didn't get too many of those plays made by their guards and wings.
Utah's Big Three combined for 58 points between Millsap, Al Jefferson (19) and Derrick Favors (12), but the perimeter players only accounted for 22 points. Even Hayward saw his nine-game streak of scoring in double figures snapped as he only put in eight points. Starting point guard Devin Harris, so hot from outside for that recent three-game stretch, only had three points and starter DeMarre Carroll had a scoreless outing.
"The shots weren't there tonight," Harris said. "Inside guys played well."
To wit, the Jazz outscored the Hornets 52-42 in the paint and took a 39-33 rebounding advantage.
But Utah's defense allowed an inspired spoiler team to shoot 55.1 percent on the same day it was announced that New Orleans had been bought by Saints owner Tom Benson.
"Tough loss, tough loss," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "You've got to give them credit. They played hard, which we thought they would. We just didn't respond."
Save for a few exceptions, including Derrick Favors (12 points, 13 rebounds) and the team's resident trooper, Millsap. The sixth-year pro scored Utah's first six points, dumped in 14 in the first quarter and ended up sinking 11 of 21 shots.
"Once you get in that zone and you decide not to let that (injury) bother you, not to let that hold you back, you can accomplish whatever," Millsap said. "I was able to put that in the back of my head."
"He did a tremendous job of stepping up for us," Hayward said. "Unfortunately, we didn't win. We've got to find ways to win. (Tonight) is going to be huge for us."
A victory in Memphis would actually put the Jazz back in a decent playoff position. That's a tough challenge considering the Grizzlies have won seven of their past nine games.
"It's going to be a tough game (tonight). It's going to be a big game for us. We'll be ready," Corbin said. "The guys have always responded and we're disappointed in the loss (Friday). We've got another chance (tonight). We'll be ready to go."
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