SALT LAKE CITY — Two days later, Al Jefferson acknowledged that Friday’s 40-point, 13-rebound, six-assist game was the best of his career “because it means something.’’
Jefferson was referring to the fact that his performance — the first 40-10-5 game in the NBA this season and the first since LeBron James in 2011 — came in an absolute must-win situation for the Utah Jazz. Without Jefferson’s outstanding play Friday night at EnergySolutions Arena in Utah's 107-100 victory over Minnesota, the Jazz’s playoff hopes would almost be toast.
As it is, the Jazz are hanging on by a thread, needing to win their final two games on the road and hoping the Los Angeles Lakers lose one of their two home games. Or win one of two and hope the Lakers lose two.
The Jazz play Minnesota on Monday night for the second time in three nights, but this time it’s at the Target Center in Minneapolis.
For the Jazz to win, they’ll likely need to play better than they did Friday night, when they were in a dogfight until the final minute as Jefferson came through with several clutch baskets to propel his team.
“I’ve had 40 points a couple of times in my career, but it was at a point not fighting for anything,’’ he said. “This time I did it when we were fighting (to) get in the playoffs, so I guess this would have to be the (best game) because it means a lot more.’’
As for a repeat performance Monday, Jefferson caused some chuckles from the media when asked if the Timberwolves should do anything different against him.
“They should,’’ he said, before laughing and adding: “I didn’t mean it like that. I’m pretty sure they’re not going to play me the way they did the first time. I’ve just got to be prepared for it and have my teammates help me out.’’
Coach Tyrone Corbin expects Jefferson to have another strong game Monday.
“We expect to carry it over,’’ he said. “We’ve had great success with him on the low block, giving us some one-on-one opportunities, and he made some tough shots for us down the stretch. We play through him a lot and he was able to carry us through the game over here and we’re going to try and go inside again.’’
Corbin doesn’t see Monday’s game as the “second half” of Friday’s game, even though it is against the same opponent.
“We have to win our games and that’s the only thing we’ve talked about having our business and controlling our own destiny,’’ he said. “We can’t afford to think those guys are going to lay down. They’re going to play and prove that they can beat a team and we have to continue to improve and take care of business.’’
As for having familiarity with the T-Wolves, Corbin doesn’t see any advantage to playing them a couple of days ago.
“They’ve just seen us also,’’ he said. “They had some success with some things in the game. We’ve got to understand how we’ve got to come out more aggressive and do a better job than we did early in the game of stopping that pick-and-roll action. We’ve got to do a better job on the defensive end.’’
After Monday’s game, the Jazz play at Memphis in their season finale. The Lakers finish their season Wednesday with a home game against Houston.
Corbin doesn’t apologize for rooting against the Lakers this week.
“You do that all year anyway,’’ he said. “It’s just that the timing of it is so close at the end. But the bottom line is, you have to handle your own business. We have to make sure we can control what we’re doing here and try to win our two games and that’s the main focus more than rooting against the other guys.’’
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