SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Jazz managed to win and lose Thursday night at EnergySolutions Arena.
With a 96-87 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks, the Jazz earned scoreboard proof that they’re not the worst team in the NBA anymore.
But while accomplishing that particular feat and improving to 11-24 with their third win in four outings, the Jazz also lost the NBA’s Lottery Bowl.
The Bucks, now 7-25 after suffering nine losses in their last 11 games, strengthened their lead for obtaining the most pingpong balls when the draft order is determined on May 20.
The Jazz earned some kudos by clutching up and closing out another game in the final minutes, using a late 13-4 run to pick up their second win in a row.
Don't look now, but Utah is undefeated in 2014.
“It does feel good. We bring in the new year with a win,” Jazz point guard Trey Burke said. “I think we are getting better and better each and every game. We are learning to play with each other and the chemistry is coming along. We just need to continue to fight.”
Utah has a chance — perhaps even a good one — to continue this successful spurt Friday night when it visits Los Angeles. A win over the struggling Lakers at Staples Center would give the Jazz their first three-game winning streak of the 2013-14 season.
“Just keep being focused. We’re playing really good defense and we showed the last four or five minutes (in Thursday’s win),” Jazz backup big man Enes Kanter said. “We just have to be the same in the L.A. game tomorrow.”
The Jazz earned an exciting 105-103 win over the Lakers last Thursday in Utah when Derrick Favors slammed in a Gordon Hayward miss in the final seconds.
A week later, Favors had another big dunk and an even bigger game.
Favors’ rim-punishing bucket with 2:03 remaining followed back-to-back scores by Alec Burks (layup) and Burke (jumper), capping a 6-0 run that gave Utah some breathing room with an 89-80 lead for the final stretch.
Favors picked up his 11th double-double of the season with 21 points and 11 rebounds along with four steals.
Hayward led all scorers with 22 points. The 6-8 swingman also had four rebounds, three blocked shots, two assists and two steals to counter two turnovers.
The former Butler star, who hit 8 of 16 shots, was particularly effective offensively in the second quarter when he scored 13 points as Utah took control of the game.
The Jazz and Bucks were tied at 20 until Hayward and reserves Kanter, Diante Garrett, Burks and Jeremy Evans helped give the home team a nine-point halftime lead thanks to a 31-22 quarter.
Utah’s bench played a big role in the win, with three subs scoring in double figures. Burks scored 13; Kanter finished with 11; and Milwaukee native Garrett netted a career-best 10 points.
“Yeah, we came out and played with a lot of energy,” Burks said. “Diante had a great game. Enes had a great game. We fed off that.”
Burks also scored seven points in the latter portion of the fourth quarter to fend off a Bucks rally after Milwaukee threatened late after falling behind by as many as 15 points.
The fact that the Jazz needed to clutch up in the fourth quarter to beat the Bucks for the 12th consecutive time at ESA played into their coach’s earlier warnings of not overlooking Milwaukee because of its record.
“Give them credit. They kept fighting,” Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said of the Bucks, whom he believes are better than their league-worst record. “I told the guys, ‘These guys can make shots.’ We needed to come in and play with a little more energy. I thought our second group did a great job all night for us.”
Next up is a Lakers squad that has been decimated by injuries to Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar.
The Jazz can empathize, considering early injuries, particularly to Burke and Marvin Williams, contributed to Utah's miserable 1-14 start. But the squad has rebounded and gone 10-7 with the current starting group of Burke, Hayward, Williams, Richard Jefferson and Favors.
And they like the direction they're now headed.
"We understand it's a lot of games (left), so we're trying to win as many as we can," Burke said. "We're going to L.A. (Thursday night) and looking forward to getting another one (Friday night)."
The Lakers' last game, by the way, was a 94-79 home loss to the Bucks, which dropped the Tinseltown team's record to 13-19.