After Al Jefferson did what he did to Minnesota on Friday, the Timberwolves may want to devise a new defensive plan.
“They should,” Jefferson advised prior to Sunday’s practice in Salt Lake City.
The typically demurring Jazz center’s eyes widened as he realized the boisterous nature of his words.
“I mean, not trying to be like that,” he backtracked, “but saying, I’m pretty sure they’re not going to play me the way they did the first time.”
It’s OK, Al. We know what you mean.
When Jefferson takes the floor Monday against his former team at the Target Center, he will be fewer than 72 hours removed from what he considers his best game in a nine-year career, one that kept the Jazz’s playoff hopes alive.
“I guess this has got to be the best,” Jefferson said. “Because it means something.”
And in the context of the Jazz’s season, that “something” means everything.
Jefferson scored 40 points, tying his twice-before career high, and added 13 rebounds and 6 assists in a 107-100 win.
The Jazz must win their final two regular-season games and the Los Angeles Lakers must lose their finale for Utah to reach the playoffs. The alternative is missing the postseason for just the fifth time in 30 years.
“We talk about the importance of every play,” coach Tyrone Corbin said. “These really are our playoffs because if we don’t handle business now, we don’t get to play on. Everybody understands that.”
The Lakers’ path got tougher on Friday when Kobe Bryant suffered a season-ending Achilles injury, though they gutted out a 91-86 win over San Antonio on Sunday. With the Jazz down to two remaining games and the Lakers one — Wednesday at home against Houston — there may not be enough time for that injury to have the devastating effect it might have earlier in the season.
The Jazz are instead left to, as Corbin says, “control what we can control.” And Jefferson is their steadiest hand.
Jefferson played the final 24 minutes of Friday’s game, scoring 29 of his 40 points in the second half.
“He just did an unbelievable job demanding the ball,” Jazz guard Randy Foye said, “and understanding that he had the mismatch.”
The Lakers leaned on Bryant all season, including seven straight games of 40 or more minutes that were capped by Friday’s bittersweet win over Golden State. The Jazz don’t have a legend to turn to, but they are counting on Jefferson, whose Jazz career may be nearing its conclusion, to shoulder the load.
“That’s how we play,” Corbin said.”We play through him a lot. He was able to carry us and we’re going to try to start by going back inside and seeing what they do.”
On Friday, Jefferson finished 19-for-27 from the field, matching the most shots he had taken in a game since 2009, when he was still with the T-Wolves.
Monday will mark the third time this season the Jazz have played the same team in consecutive games, although this will be the first time the sequence has come with off-days in between. One thing the Jazz know from past experience is that consecutive games against an opponent rarely play out in similar fashion.
“It’s like a playoff game,” Foye said. “You’re playing the same team and you’re preparing for them, you pretty much know what they’re going to do.”
Down to the wire
• Al Jefferson tied a career-high with 40 points in the Jazz’s 107-100 win over Minnesota on Friday.
• The Jazz must win their final two games and the Lakers must lose their finale for Utah to make the playoffs.
• The Jazz are looking to sweep the T-Wolves. They have not gone 4-0 against any team this season.
Jazz vs. Timberwolves
P At Target Center
Tipoff • 6 p.m. MDT
TV • ROOT Sports
Radio • 1280 AM, 1600 AM, 97.5 FM
Records • Jazz 42-38, Timberwolves, 30-50
Season series • Jazz, 3-0
Last meeting • Jazz, 107-100 (Friday)
About the Jazz • They have won eight of their last 10 games. ... In that span, C/F Derrick Favors averaged 11 points, 9.4 rebounds and 2.2 blocks. ... C Al Jefferson is their top scorer (17.7). The only time in franchise history a Jazz player averaged less and led the team in scoring was 2003-04 (Andrei Kirilenko, 16.5 ppg).
About the Timberwolves • They are 4-4 in April. ... They come off a 105-93 win over Phoenix. ... G Ricky Rubio had 24 points and 10 assists against the Suns. ... In his first season with Minnesota, Kirilenko averages 12.6 points and 5.6 rebounds. ... G Luke Ridnour is the only player on the roster who hasn’t missed a game.