These guys are talented. They have a few guys that can score, that can get hot. They have bigs that shoot the ball, too, so it’s a different kind of game. —Rudy Gobert on the Lakers
SALT LAKE CITY—The Utah Jazz are officially on the verge of making the playoffs.
With a win Sunday over the Los Angeles Lakers on the road, the Jazz will clinch their second straight trip to the postseason. They actually would have done so Saturday had both the New Orleans Pelicans and San Antonio Spurs lost their respective games, but both won, delaying the possibility for a day.
While Utah still has three games remaining in the regular season and still could get as high as No. 3 in the Western Conference, the closeness of the second season gave occasion for center Rudy Gobert to reflect some on the campaign following the Jazz’s short practice Saturday at Zions Bank Basketball Campus before they left for the City of Angels.
Touching on his Defensive Player of the Year candidacy, Donovan Mitchell’s rise and the overall success of the team since mid-January, Gobert said, “I had a feeling something great was going to happen, and it happened. The goal now is to keep getting better and hopefully surprise some people.”
One team they surely won’t be surprising is the Lakers, as the two squads squared off earlier this week, a game Utah won 117-110 at Vivint Arena.
While a strong second quarter was enough of a catalyst to carry the Jazz to the win on Tuesday, Los Angeles played tough throughout. The Lakers held a seven-point lead at the end of the first quarter and got to within six with less than a minute remaining.
The game was the first of three this week against likely Western Conference playoff teams for lottery-bound Los Angeles, as it beat San Antonio the next night and then led the Minnesota Timberwolves by seven at intermission on Friday night before faltering in the second half.
“This is a good team,” Gobert said of the Lakers after Tuesday’s game. “These guys are talented. They have a few guys that can score, that can get hot. They have bigs that shoot the ball, too, so it’s a different kind of game.”
Utah head coach Quin Snyder on Saturday also called Los Angeles, which has a 34-45 record, “a good team, adding that, “They made us pay (on defense) it really wasn’t mistakes as much as it was just not quite as urgent as we needed to be. A lot of that’s them.”
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope wound up leading the Lakers with 28 points, while former University of Utah forward Kyle Kuzma had 26. He’s questionable for Sunday, however, after he suffered a sprained left ankle on Friday night and missed the final 18:29 of the contest.
On a positive note for Los Angeles, Lonzo Ball is questionable after he’s missed the last five games because of a left knee contusion.
As far as the Jazz are concerned on the injury front for Sunday, Jae Crowder will be available to play after Derrick Favors inadvertently hit him in the eye in the first quarter of Thursday’s win over the LA Clippers, as will Raul Neto, who hasn’t played since March 11 because of a fractured left wrist.
Ricky Rubio, however, is listed as questionable after he played just eight minutes against the Clippers thanks to lingering hip soreness.
“Not that the last few games haven’t been important,” Snyder said after the win that night, “but as you move forward, every game matters right now in a very significant way particularly after (the Lakers game), I think they challenged each other to make sure that we had the right focus and urgency.”
Tip time for Sunday is scheduled for 4 p.m. MDT.