Al Jefferson said that he hoped Houston coach Kevin McHale, Big Al's former coach in Minnesota, would give him a belated birthday gift with a win Wednesday night over the Los Angeles Lakers.
Since Utah lost handily before the Lakers and Rockets even tipped off, however, it's all irrelevant.
An 86-70 Jazz loss to Memphis (56-26) means that Utah (43-39) is the winningest team in franchise history to miss out on the playoffs. The Jazz had already surpassed the 42-40 2003-04 squad that just missed out on extending its season the year after John Stockton and Karl Malone moved on.
GUARDS: Mo Williams (eight points on 3-of-13 shooting, three turnovers, just three assists) was outplayed by Memphis point Mike Conley (14 points on 5-of-11 shooting, five assists). Williams, the veteran point guard, was brought to Utah in the offseason to bolster the Jazz in critical contests like Wednesday's. However, he was surprisingly cold after shooting an excellent 30 of 63 (48 percent) in the past four games. He did have just a 23:14 assist-to-turnover ratio during that span. Utah finishes 18-23 in games Williams played in which he scored less than 20 points.
Memphis' Tony Allen (eight points on 3-of-9 shooting, seven rebounds, four assists also clearly bested ice-cold Randy Foye (seven points on 1-of-9 shooting). The new Utah single-season record-holder for made 3-point field goals shot just 1 of 5 from distance Wednesday, though he was 7 of 12 the past two games against Minnesota and shot better than 41 percent from the field for the season. Given the importance of the contest, the two Jazz guards will be penalized an additional half-grade for being dominated by two younger counterparts. GRADE: D-.
FORWARDS: Paul Millsap (six points on 2-of-7 shooting, eight rebounds) was quite poor in probably his final game as a Jazzman, especially since the Grizzlies' Zach Randolph (25 points on 10-of-20 shooting, 19 rebounds) dominated. Millsap was even given the final few minutes of the game, even though Derrick Favors had performed better. You'd expect the veteran, hard-working Millsap to be the last player on Utah's roster who would let his playoff-fighting team down with it all on the line. Millsap shot just 14 of 41 (34 percent) in four of his likely five last games in a Jazz uniform.
Gordon Hayward (nine points on 4-of-8 shooting) was reliable, and Favors (four points on just 2-of-9 shooting) was awful offensively but provided 11 boards and two blocks in 27 minutes — just four less than Hayward and one less than Mllsap. The Jazz dropped to 20-15 when Favors blocks two-plus shots. GRADE: C-.
CENTERS: Don't blame Jefferson (22 points on 8-of-19 shooting, 16 rebounds) for the loss after his big performance, especially since Memphis star Marc Gasol (four points on 2-of-7 shooting, five fouls) struggled. Entering the contest, Big Al called Gasol "the best big man in the league as far as all-around talent." Jefferson finishes the season with 20-plus points for three straight contests, though he scored 16 or less (below his season average of 17.8) in three of the previous four games. The Jazz also end up 23-8 when Jefferson scores 20-plus points. GRADE: A-.
BENCH: The Jazz reserves certainly were a letdown, revealing their inexperience in high-profile contests. They were outscored 33-18 by the Grizzlies bench as Favors and Marvin Williams shot just 4 of 16 between them.
Surprisingly, Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin randomly inserted Jamaal Tinsley into the lineup for 15 minutes, which proved unfruitful: The 10-year veteran committed three fouls and tallied as many turnovers (two) as assists. Tinsley had logged seven or less minutes in seven of the past 13 games. Perhaps Corbin played the veteran more to try to account for Williams' struggles, though Alec Burks (eight points on 3-of-6 shooting) was at least solid in 13 minutes.
The main killer here was Darrell Arthur. The fifth-year player scored 11 points on 5-of-9 shooting with three rebounds in 16 minutes. But he averaged just six points per game in more than 16 minutes entering Wednesday. GRADE: D.
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