Minneapolis • To be continued.
Through 81 games, the latest a workmanlike takedown of an depleted, defeated, lottery-bound team, that’s all the Utah Jazz can ask for.
They defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves 96-80 on Monday, preserving an outside shot at the playoffs.
“The work,” coach Tyrone Corbin said, “is on Wednesday.”
A Jazz win against the Memphis Grizzlies and a Houston Rockets win over the Los Angeles Lakers would catapult the Jazz into the eighth and final seed in the Western Conference. Any other result, and the season will end.
“Somebody’s going to be hurt,” Jazz guard Randy Foye said. “Either us or [the Lakers]. But the only way you can feel good about it is if you give yourself a chance on Wednesday.”
And in order to have a chance Wednesday, the Jazz had to beat the Timberwolves for the second time in four nights. A loss in front of 17,009 at the Target Center would have brought a premature close to the Jazz’s playoff hopes.
There would have been no cliffhanger.
“It was a must win for us,” Mo Williams said, “and we knew that. It’s been must wins the last three weeks for us.”
The Jazz have won nine of their last 11 games, a run of success that belies the peaks and valleys of this season. Before this stretch, they were losers in 12 of 15 games. Injuries sidelined key players for 32 games (Mo Williams) and 10 (Gordon Hayward). Wins on the road were next to impossible.
But starting with a victory over Philadelphia on March 25, the Jazz found a new stride. Their perimeter game began clicking, relieving pressure on center Al Jefferson. The road winning streak is now at three; adding a fourth could dramatically shift perspectives on whether Corbin’s first true first full, regulation NBA season was a success.
His success, and the Jazz’s, is largely tethered to Jefferson’s play. In the Jazz’s 107-100 win over the Timberwolves on Friday, the former T-wolf turned in arguably the best game of his career: 40 points, 13 rebounds, 6 assists.
As an encore, Jefferson led the Jazz once again versus the Wolves, finishing with 22 points and 8 rebounds.
“He didn’t have 40,” Corbin said, “but he carried us. ... He made some great plays.”
The Jazz opened the game with a 16-2 lead and never again trailed, despite the Wolves cutting the lead to 2 in the second quarter and 3 in the third. After the Jazz saw their lead trimmed to 61-58, they ran off a 25-10 run, including a pair of 3-pointers by Foye, who finished with 14 points on streaky — but timely — shooting.
“We’re fighting for something,” Foye said. “It was important for us to finish the game.”
Mo Williams added 15 points, 7 assists and 4 rebounds four the Jazz, while Derrick Favors finished with 12 points and 6 rebounds off the bench.
Whatever celebration there was Monday was brief, an abbreviated sense of accomplishment with Wednesday’s game looming. The Jazz can’t dictate their fortunes; they can win and still miss the playoffs if the Lakers beat Houston.
“We were in a position to control our own destiny,” Gordon Hayward said, “but that time has come and gone. We can control that last game and give ourselves a shot, so that’s what we’ve got to do.”
While it could have been, Monday was not the end. That will be saved for either Wednesday or some date unknown. Monday — April 15, tax day — the Jazz were granted an extension.
Storylines Jazz 96, Timberwolves 80
R Behind 22 points from Al Jefferson, the Jazz beat Minnesota 96-80.
• The Jazz must beat Memphis on Wednesday and the Lakers must lose to Houston for Utah to make the playoffs.
• In two games against the Timberwolves in four days, Al Jefferson recorded 62 points and 21 rebounds.