LOS ANGELES — Basketball fans at Staples Center got an enticing up-close-and-personal preview Wednesday night.
And not just of the most exciting high-flying team that calls Tinseltown home.
As usual, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Chris Paul each gave their share of highlights in the Clippers' 103-99 win over the Jazz.
But spectators in attendance — and Utah fans watching at home — had to be impressed with how well the Junior Jazz players performed while holding their own against the much more polished Clippers.
Sure, the Jazz dropped their sixth consecutive exhibition game, but they looked good doing it for the most part. They even shot better than 30-something percent (42.5 percent) and hit 20 of 25 free throws after struggling so much from the foul line in previous contests.
"I thought the guys after a tough loss last night against the Lakers, I thought we responded well," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "We saw what we wanted to see, the fight in this group that we've been seeing the whole time. I thought the focus from the beginning of the game was there. We came out aggressive on both ends."
A guy who was momentarily left behind after shootaround in the morning started things off for the Jazz.
Good thing the bus returned a moment after it became evident the Jazz’s new $49 million man wasn’t on board.
Derrick Favors, who inked that contract extension this past weekend, had his strongest start of the preseason and his best overall game.
The 6-foot-10 big man elicited a loud “Ooooh!” from the Clipper crowd when he scored the Jazz’s first points on a strong stuff.
"If you get an easy basket like that," Favors said, "it kind of gets you going."
Favors then showed more of his improving offensive skills, hitting from inside and draining a jumper, for eight points in the first quarter as Utah jumped ahead 23-21.
Favors led the Jazz with a game-high 24 points and 17 rebounds. Along with playing like a man child down low, the 22-year-old also had his mid-range jumper going — a combination that will prove to be brutally hard for defenders to deal with if he can find consistency.
"It felt good to just break out of that slump that I was in," Favors said. "Just get into a rhythm, play may game, just finally see shots go in that I normally make."
An hour after Clipper coach Doc Rivers proclaimed that he had a “man crush” on him, Jazz shooting guard Gordon Hayward gave more reasons for respectful opponents and Utah faithful to adore him.
Hayward had 19 points, six rebounds and six assists. His all-around strong night included an impressive third-quarter sequence in which he blocked J.J. Redick’s shot and then powered over the returned L.A. sharpshooter for a strong driving score.
The Jazz’s young centers also gave a sneak peek of what they can bring to the league in the future.
Backup big Rudy Gobert, who's been dealing with a nagging shoulder injury, had his breakout game of the preseason. The 7-foot-1 Frenchman swatted five shots, grabbing 12 rebounds and scoring four points.
Starter Enes Kanter added 13 points and six rebounds.
For much of the night, the young players showed why management brought them to Utah and offered another example of why Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin has remained positive about his core group during preseason struggles.
“I know what we have in our guys in Gordon and Derrick and Enes. We kind of have a feel for that,” Corbin said at the morning shootaround. “They have a feel for the role they’re going to play, and we have a feel for how they’re going to play. Now how do we put pieces and combinations around those guys? We still want to look at that.”
That and a handful of injuries to future rotation guys Trey Burke, Marvin Williams and Brandon Rush are why the Jazz continue to carry 19 players despite the preseason nearly being over.
The young Jazz players showed they also have room to improve.
With the game on the line in the fourth, Favors committed fouls on both ends of the floor in a matter of seconds. He also had a costly turnover. Hayward and Kanter also had turnovers and fouls in that final stretch, which helped the Clippers pull away.
Utah finishes off the preseason in Anaheim, Calif., Friday against the Lakers.
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