Another New Orleans letdown for unpredictable Utah Jazz
New Orleans • Paul Millsap received help pulling off his Jazz jersey. Two large, thick ice bags were wrapped around his knees. Protective padding covered his thighs and lower body.
Millsap had done everything he could. Played through a sprained right wrist that caused intolerable pain less than 48 hours before. Ripped off 16 points on 6-of-8 shooting during the first half. Stole rebounds, fought for loose balls, threw his body around like a painful lockout-shortened season hadn't started.
Nothing was enough.
A night after claiming one of its biggest wins of the season, Utah fell 96-85 to the Hornets at New Orleans Arena. It was the Jazz's second road loss to the 17-42 Hornets this season, and another tough blow to Utah's playoff hopes.
Phoenix fought back to beat Houston on Friday, and the Jazz returned to 10th place in the Western Conference with just six games to go. Utah's road matchup Saturday in a back-to-back against surging Memphis doesn't make the Jazz's immediate future any easier.
"Big loss for us, man," said Millsap, who finished with a game-high 27 points, collected eight rebounds and grabbed three steals, despite initially being listed as doubtful and not being activated until 30 minutes before tipoff.
"This is a game we needed. ... It's a game we're supposed to win. Just didn't get it," he said.
Utah (31-29) helplessly watched a winnable contest slip away during the fourth quarter. After sharpening their attack midway through the third and taking an 82-81 lead with 5 minutes and 30 seconds to go, the Jazz were outscored 15-3 down the stretch.
Utah's offense stagnated, and it was a two-man show all night Al Jefferson and Millsap combined for 46 points and took 34 of the Jazz's 73 field goal attempts.
Meanwhile, four of the Hornets' starters scored at least 11 points, and Eric Gordon returned to action by owning the Jazz.
Due to injuries, Gordon has played in only six games this year. But he started hot Friday, scoring nine points on 4-of-5 shooting during the first quarter, and only got stronger while Utah froze.
Gordon poured in 10 points during the fourth quarter, again hitting 4 of 5 attempts. The total numbers paled compared to what he unleashed in a 1:31 burn, though. Gordon converted a three-point play, drilled a 26-foot 3-pointer, then crossed over multiple times before stepping back and sinking a smooth 23-foot jumper.
Before Gordon's run, it was 86-82 Hornets. After the barrage: 94-82.
The Jazz were done.
"I love those situations," said Gordon, who finished with a team-high 25 points.
Less than 30 minutes after the defeat, Utah already wanted to put the loss in the rearview, and a disappointed Jefferson offered few words before exiting the locker room.
It was hard to escape Utah's deja vu, though.
The Jazz pulled off a signature win Feb. 12 at Memphis, showing the heart and fight that's made Utah so intriguing this year. The gutsy team's response? A nearly unexplainable 86-80 road defeat the next night to the shorthanded Hornets a loss that derailed a three-game road trip and marked one of the lowest points of the Jazz's season.
Utah pulled the same trick Friday. The Jazz demolished the Rockets on Wednesday, walking out of Houston with a 103-91 victory. Gordon Hayward said Utah was going to try and close its season by winning seven consecutive games.
That's impossible after another letdown in New Orleans. And with just six games to go, the Jazz's unpredictable season continues to float up and down.
"I don't know if we were thinking about [Memphis] or thinking about the bigger picture, but we can't," Utah coach Tyrone Corbin said. "We've got to make sure we take care of the business at hand, and we can't run it all together. It's too difficult for us to deal with."
R The Jazz again fall back, losing 96-85 to NewOrleans on Friday.
Jazz at Memphis
P Saturday, 6 p.m.
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