Jazz Win in Minnesota to Keep Playoffs Hopes Alive

Photo: David ShermanPhoto: David Sherman

The Utah Jazz and Al Jefferson continued their domination of his former team Monday night, winning 96-80 against the Timberwolves, to bring the Jazz within one game of eighth place Los Angeles. Jefferson led Utah with 22 points and has now scored 62 total points in his last two games against Minnesota, shooting 64 percent (27-for-42). The big man grabbed eight rebounds to tie Paul Milsap for the team-high, and added two blocks. Jefferson was also perfect from the foul line (6-6).

Mo Williams shouldered a lot of the load, chipping in 15 points, seven assists, four rebounds, and four steals. Williams accounted for one of Utah’s three 3-point field goals, Randy Foye making the other two. Milsap tallied 14 points and Derrick Favors rounded out the Jazz players scoring in double figures, leading the Utah bench with 12 points.

Derrick Williams continued to play well against the Jazz, posting a team-high 18 points for Minnesota. In the first contest between the two teams in the last four days he dropped 24 points and 16 rebounds. Williams and company were unable to slow Al Jefferson, who worked hard to find openings in the paint to score.

Defensively the Jazz were able to hold Minnesota to just 2-of-17 from three point range. Utah statistically has struggled to control opposing point guards this season, but the Jazz were able to frustrate Ricky Rubio all night, holding him to six points on 2-of-9 shooting and four assists, nearly half his season average.

Opening the game with a 16-2 lead, the Jazz set the tempo from the get-go. The game went back and forth, Minnesota using a 20-8 scoring advantage in fast break points to stay close, but never led after scoring the initial two points of the game. The Timberwolves did make a run to get within three, 61-58, after two Andrei Kirilenko free throws with 2:28 remaining in the third quarter, but Utah outscored the Timberwolves 25-10 over the next eight minutes.  Randy Foye’s corner three gave the Jazz an 18-point lead at that point, its largest of the game.

Utah swept the season series against the Timberwolves for the first time since Stockton and Malone were still wearing Jazz purple. Utah has defeated Minnesota six straight times, and have taken 11 of the past 13 contests.

Overall the Jazz have won nine of their last 11, and have seemingly saved their basketball of the season for the right time. Over that span Utah is averaging 100.6 points per game and only three of its 11 opponents have been able to score more than 100 points against the Jazz. Utah is still only 13-27 on the road, but has won its last three games played outside Salt Lake City.

The fate of the season now rests on the final game, which is away from home. Though the Jazz don’t control their own destiny, they are focused on winning in Memphis to put them in position to taste the postseason should Los Angeles falter.

This win helps the Jazz remain in the hunt for the eighth seed in the West, and puts the pressure to win on the Lakers, who play their final game of the regular season on Wednesday at home against Houston. A Los Angeles win would clinch the final playoff berth for the Lakers. The Jazz play their final regular season game the same night and hold the tiebreaker with Los Angeles after winning the season series, meaning  if the Rockets can upend the Lakers and Utah can manage to win in Memphis, the Jazz would travel to Oklahoma City for a first round playoff matchup with the West’s best.

 

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