With some degree of apparent reluctance, the Jazz settled for a victory Friday night.
Midway through the second quarter, when the Jazz trailed Golden State by 13 points, their season was crumbling around them. Or everything was coming together wonderfully, depending on your perspective.
In the end, a wholly uninspiring 104-98 win at EnergySolutions Arena helped the Jazz’s playoff positioning and hurt their draft possibilities, as this month of scoreboard-watching agony continues.
To review: If the Jazz make the playoffs, they have to give Minnesota their 2012 first-round pick, thanks to the Al Jefferson trade. If Golden State’s pick is not in the top seven (after the lottery results), the Warriors must give it to the Jazz, via the Deron Williams trade with New Jersey.
I’m still saying that experiencing the playoffs — even for only four or five games against Oklahoma City — would be valuable to a young team. And if the Jazz can play in the postseason and still receive a lottery pick from Golden State in a deep draft, that would be perfect. So they need the Warriors to stay out of the bottom seven.
The problem? Advancing both causes Friday was going to be impossible — and so, at times, was determining which team was tanking.
Whether the low-energy vibe in the building was attributable mainly to illness (Jazz forwards Paul Millsap and C.J. Miles gamely tried to play), Golden State’s zone defense (causing Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin basically to give up on his younger players) or a relatively small crowd (18,933), the Jazz were lucky to win, which was their expressed purpose.
The Jazz (29-27) stand ninth in the Western Conference, just below the playoff cut with 10 games left. Golden State (21-33) maintains the NBA’s ninth-worst record, but Detroit, Toronto and New Jersey could overtake the Warriors, who have 12 games left.
Golden State traded guard Monta Ellis to Milwaukee for former University of Utah center Andrew Bogut, who arrived with a season-ending ankle injury, and guard Steph Curry also is out. Yet the Warriors hardly looked like a team trying to lose, other than allowing the Jazz to wash away that 13-point lead in the last seven minutes of the first half. Similarly, the Jazz refused to stay in control after building a 10-point lead in the last five minutes of the game, allowing Golden State to get within three before Jefferson scored to punctuate his 30-point night.
If not for Devin Harris’ season-high 28 points, including a personal 8-0 run in the first 77 seconds of a fourth quarter that began with the Jazz behind by two, this game might have become a disaster. As it turned out, Harris’ five 3-pointers underscored how much the Jazz could have used him Wednesday, when a sprained ankle sidelined him in a two-point loss to Phoenix.
“He took the right shots,” Corbin said. “And against a zone, that’s how you break it — you make perimeter shots.”
Corbin was not going to use this game merely as a learning experience for his young guys, that’s for sure. Displeased with their tentative effort against the zone in the second quarter, when Golden State charged ahead, Corbin played Alec Burks, Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors a total of only 30 minutes.
So with Miles ill, Corbin used Harris and veteran point guards Earl Watson and Jamaal Tinsley in rotating tandems, which worked reasonably well.
“I played a little shooting guard tonight,” Harris said. “Shooting guards get to shoot.”
That expression of logic was welcome, amid Friday’s weird circumstances.