SALT LAKE CITY — A 19-point lead wasn't enough.
Don't look now, but an old Jazz problem has resurfaced: They're still having problems beating Los Angeles.
Clippers, that is.
Such is life on the short end of the stick. Friday's 116-114 loss was the second in a month and third consecutive time the Jazz have lost to their glamorous Hollywood rivals.
Amazing but true: The Clippers — on a 16-game win streak — are more glamorous than their crosstown rivals, the Lakers. After threatening to run the Clippers off the court, the Jazz wasted their lead, but hung tough down the stretch. It ended with Randy Foye trying to draw contact on a buzzer shot and the ball falling harmlessly away.
Amazing how time flies. Seems only yesterday the Jazz were squashing the Clippers like ants. Last time the Clippers beat the Jazz three in a row in Salt Lake was in 1979-81, before the Clippers had left San Diego.
While the Jazz coasted on their cushion(s) in the third quarter, the Clippers maintained their composure. The Jazz's starters dawdled as the lead fell to five. That's when coach Ty Corbin started subbing back in those who had stretched the lead in the first half: Enes Kanter, Alec Burks and Gordon Hayward. By then the situation had jumped from a concern to a worry.
This, then, is the Jazz's dilemma as 2013 arrives: Even with the Lakers mired in mediocrity, the Jazz have a problem with one L.A. team or another.
Looks like there's now another Hollywood team for Jazz fans to hate.
In some ways the Clippers are just what the Jazz aspire to be: aggressive when they need to be, cool when it matters, active on defense. In a cruel irony, the Jazz's best scorer was actually a Clipper last season. Foye went for 28 points against his former teammates.
"It was a good test. It is always a test for us," said L.A. coach Vinny Del Negro.
Ouch. A test. True or false: The Utah Jazz will make the playoffs in 2013.
Poor Jazz. At times they seem a nice mix of young and veteran, athletic and tough. Then the Clippers come along and outdo them at the same things. Unlike the Jazz, the Clippers have at least two superstars.
Still, if the Jazz start feeling they might never rise above mediocrity, they can take hope by observing the team on the other end of the scorer's table on Friday.
The erstwhile Paper Clips have become a hot story.
This from the franchise that has finished with a winning record only four times since moving west from Buffalo in 1978-79.
It's not that the Clippers never had talent before. Or chances. They have had a lottery pick in 16 of the last 18 seasons.
Drafting the freakishly talented Blake Griffin No. 1 was a smart move, though it looked like the Clipper Curse had kicked in when he was injured early in his career.
Their cleverest decision, though, might have been drafting DeAndre Jordan with the 35th pick in 2008. Adding Chris Paul in a trade last year made it complete. Don't look now, but the Clippers are now the sexiest team in Los Angeles. They have the game's best point guard (Paul) and it's best dunker (Griffin). They also have the third-best defense in the league, allowing just 91 points a game.
Behind the Hollywood makeup lurks a team that actually dives for loose balls and takes charges.
Hmmm. Beautiful and tough, too?
Just call them the "Charlie's Angels" of basketball.
Hard to imagine the Lakers being secondary tenants at the Staples Center, but there you have it. The Clippers are fifth in NBA attendance, the Lakers seventh.
Watching the Clippers' rise brings the inevitable impulse to say the Jazz could do the same. Young talent, good work ethic, etc. Problem is, as bad as the Clippers have been over the years, they were always sleeping giants. They're in the nation's second-largest market. Their practice facility is a 3-point shot from the beaches.
These days you have to wonder how many NBA players want to spend winters in snow if they can spend them in the cabana?
"I call it a vacation destination," said Jazz guard Mo Williams, a former Clipper. "When you get a vacation destination, you've always got the opportunity of being a powerhouse."
This kind of prestige is new territory for the Clippers. Who could have imagined until Griffin showed up that teams would aspire to pattern themselves after the Clippers?
"It's all tough. On our home court," said Corbin after the loss.
It's always tough when Los Angeles comes calling.
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