Los Angeles • Call it a photobomb.
Seriously, turn on the TV. See those guys in the background of the highlights they keep showing? The guys in blue? Those are the Utah Jazz, playing the role of the victim for the third time in a month. The feel-good story of the NBA season, the Clippers happily marched to their 17th consecutive win, this one 107-96 over the Jazz.
The Clippers are streaking, the Jazz are reeling, and it’s probably not a good time to be asking which team is more likely to drift back toward its preseason expectations.
Seven of the Jazz’s last nine games have been losses, six by double digits, and the new-look Jazz have gotten old pretty quick. Only four Western Conference teams have worse records.
“We just have to keep playing hard,” coach Tyrone Corbin said, “and it will work itself out.”
Al Jefferson scored 30 points and grabbed eight rebounds to lead the Jazz, but his superlative night was overshadowed by another frustrating night for his team and the overwhelming issues that precipitated them.
This one, despite going down differently, counts just the same and is as frustrating as the others to the Clippers: on Dec. 3 — when the Jazz blew a 14-point lead — and on Friday, when they wasted a 19-point lead in a 116-114 loss.
While teams such as the Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies, Houston Rockets and Minnesota Timberwolves got better, the Jazz seem to be perilously stuck in neutral. It’s a bad place to be for a team that can win on the road and plays five of its next seven games away from EnergySolutions Arena.
Corbin tried to change things on Sunday. He benched starting power forward Paul Millsap for the final 16 minutes, going instead with touted third-year backup Derrick Favors. Favors, the gem of 2011’s Deron Williams trade, scored 11 points and grabbed seven rebounds in 28 minutes, while Millsap was held to 9 points and 2 boards in 20.
Asked if he was frustrated not to play the entirety of a fourth quarter in which the Clippers’ lead ballooned from 3 to, at one point, 13, Millsap snapped, “What do you think?”
So add a frustrated, free-agent-to-be fan favorite to the list of issues the Jazz are dealing with.
A win, any win, would surely alter the narrative this team is enduring. But the upcoming slate of games is daunting: Minnesota at home Wednesday, then back-to-back road games at Phoenix and Denver.
They didn’t fall apart Sunday as they have in other road defeats this season, notably in Indianapolis and Denver. Instead, they battled, which led to Corbin call his team “proud guys” and commend their character.
“They’re going to continue to work, even though we struggle, we’re going to work our way through it,” he said.
On Sunday, that manifested itself in the form of a comeback from a 12-point third-quarter deficit. The Jazz took a 76-75 lead with 2:05 remaining when a layup by Jefferson capped a 17-4 run.
“We were getting stops defensively,” said Gordon Hayward, who scored 16 points off the bench. “Seems like I’ve said that a lot. That’s kind of where it all starts for us, we got a couple of easy buckets in transition, we got Al rolling a little bit. That’s kind of how we went on a run.”
It was a stark contrast to the second quarter, when the Jazz made just 26.9 percent of their shots and the Clippers made 11 of 16 attempts.
The question the Jazz must answer is how to capture that energy and efficiency and make it the rule, rather than the exception.
“We’re definitely capable of making runs where we can win seven out of nine,” Hayward said. “I think we still believe in each other.”
O The Jazz overcome a 12-point deficit to lead in the third quarter, but they can’t stay ahead of the red-hot Clippers.
• The Clippers have won 17 straight games, including three against the Jazz.
• Al Jefferson scores 30 points and grabs eight rebounds to lead the Jazz.