Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Jazz playoff hopes aren’t looking so hot.
At least the Jazz, now teetering on the edge of official elimination from 2014 postseason play, can say they lasted longer than the Los Angeles Lakers.
They also can brag, if they so choose, about holding a 13-point lead over the NBA’s hottest team.
Even more, Utah held a lead Friday night for almost three quarters before the Los Angeles Clippers slammed and suffocated the hosts for a 96-87 comeback victory at EnergySolutions Arena.
For the Clippers, it was their 10th consecutive win overall, their ninth straight over Utah and the fourth in a row at ESA.
As for the Jazz, they wrapped up a week in which they lost all three home games and came up short for the eighth time in nine games. Next up is a three-game road trip that begins Sunday in San Antonio.
On the bright side, the Jazz (22-44) could still make the playoffs if they win their final 16 games. While that certainly won’t happen — and Utah will soon join the Lakers, also 22-44, on the officially eliminated part of the standings — the Jazz took some comfort in playing a pretty good game against the Clippers.
Los Angeles was held to 96 points, well under the 115 points the team averaged in its first nine games in this streak.
“It seemed like those losses in New York (and on the 1-5 road trip), we were just quitting. We were just giving up,” Jazz center Derrick Favors said. “These recent losses, it’s not cool, it’s not fun to lose. But at the same time, when we’re out there playing hard, we’re out there fighting and the other team is just hitting big shots and making big plays, you can just live with it.”
The Jazz could also live without a few glaring shortcomings from Friday’s game.
For one thing, Utah turned the ball over 20 times and the Clippers converted those errors into 31 points.
“They got aggressive. They put their hands on us. The got us out of our offense,” Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said of the Clippers. “We turned the ball over and they were making transition baskets. It’s a veteran team and we are learning. We have to get better in those situations.”
For another, the Jazz only scored 36 points in the entire second half after taking a 33-22 lead after the first quarter and going up by as many as 13 points.
“The offense got a little stagnant. They started locking in. They threw different looks at us, started doubling,” Jazz point guard Trey Burke said. “That’s my job to get guys playing and see where the doubles are coming from.”
Overall, the Jazz defense played a strong game against Blake Griffin, Chris Paul & Co. But the Clippers turned it up in the third quarter, with Paul going off for nine points and sparking an 11-0 run that led to a 34-21 turnaround period.
Utah’s eight-point halftime lead turned into a 77-72 deficit heading into the final quarter as it became clear which team is headed for a potentially long playoff run and which one is lottery-bound.
“We’re just trying to win. If we win by 30 or two points, I’m good with that,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “Every game is a game, an individual game, and there’s a lot of pros on that (Jazz) team as well. Our job is to win the game.”
The Jazz held Griffin mostly in check, although he ended up leading the Clippers with 20 points on 7-of-17 shooting, and hit a key mid-range jumper with three minutes to go. That put L.A. back up by seven after Gordon Hayward’s 3-pointer gave Utah hope.
Paul finished with 18 points, seven assists and six rebounds, while Matt Barnes (15 points) and Darren Collison (14 points) also added some timely offensive punch to help the Clippers improve to 47-20.
Enes Kanter, starting for injured Marvin Williams (back), led the Jazz’s strong rebounding effort with 15 of Utah’s 39 boards. Kanter also had 11 points in 42 minutes, although his mid-range touch was off during a 5-of-17 shooting night.
Favors and Burke led the Jazz with 18 points apiece, and Hayward dished out 10 assists. Backup Alec Burks had a rough night, missing 8-of-12 shots for 10 points and making five turnovers.
“I think not just the first quarter, but the first half we did a pretty good job. And the second half, they just got aggressive and we couldn’t match them,” Kanter said. “I think we played pretty hard. We just missed a lot of shots in the fourth quarter.”
Twelve of 19, to be exact.
That prevented the Jazz from making a serious run against the Clippers in the final period despite a low-scoring, 19-point quarter for the explosive visitors.
The Clippers will take it.
“Every game you are not going to come out and be up 15 or 20. We are trying to become a better team on the road,” Paul said. “I think this showed a lot of growth for us, not yelling at each other and finding a way.”
Something the Jazz and Lakers haven’t been able to do much this season.
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