Utah Jazz: Season hinges on Monday night game
Minneapolis • For the Utah Jazz, it's come to this: A loss Monday eliminates the Jazz from the playoff picture, while a victory keeps fading hopes of a postseason berth alive.
The Los Angeles Lakers beat the San Antonio Spurs Sunday night, dropping the Jazz to 1 Â½ games back for the eighth and final spot in the playoffs. The only way the Jazz can now reach the postseason would be if they win their final two games, in Minnesota and Wednesday at Memphis, and the Lakers lose Wednesday to Houston.
"Backs are against the wall," Mo Williams said. "We still got to go win, obviously we've got to win both games now and we've got to hope for a gift. The pressure, the must-win factor is still there."
The Jazz (42-38) have won eight of their last 10 games, including two on the road. They play the Timberwolves for the second time in four nights after beating Minnesota 107-100 Friday night in Salt Lake City. Center Al Jefferson led the Jazz with 40 points, 13 rebounds and 6 assists in the win.
"If we lose a game like tonight," coach Tyrone Corbin said, "you put yourself pretty much out of it. We've got to make sure we take care of our business."
The Jazz have spent the last several weeks rooting against the Lakers, but L.A. has continued to grind out surprising wins, particularly Sunday against the Spurs. It was their first game without Kobe Bryant, but Spurs' point guard Tony Parker was just 1-of-10 from the field and San Antonio fell apart in the games final minutes.
Williams and Jefferson both said they did not watch the game, despite its huge implications on their season.
"I went to sleep," Jefferson said. "Woke up about 4 this morning, looked at the score, seen that San Antonio didn't help us out."
Now a season could hinge on the Rockets, who play at the Lakers in the second game of an ESPN doubleheader Wednesday. The Jazz and Grizzlies are the first game; meaning, if the Jazz win their next two games, they will get on an airplane Wednesday night not knowing whether they are playoff-bound.
"I just feel like Houston's fighting for something," Jefferson said. "They're trying to get that sixth spot. So hopefully they'll come in and help us."
The Jazz must first dispatch Minnesota, which sounds easy enough. However, the Timberwolves (30-50) have given the Jazz problems this season, although Utah is 3-0 in the series. The Wolves were in a position to beat the Jazz Friday before Jefferson took over. A key factor may be center Nikola Pekovic. The reigning Western Conference Player of the Week has not played in the Wolves' last two games and his status for Monday night is uncertain.
"He's huge for them," Corbin said. "He's a big guy on the defensive end for them, who will be on Al probably a lot, leaning on him with his weight, his size, his strength."
It would be a different defensive look for Jefferson, who on Friday merely had to overcome Greg Stiemsma for arguably the best game of his career.
With or without Pekovic, Jefferson expects the Wolves to change things up Monday.
"I hope they don't do nothing different," Jefferson said. "But I'm pretty sure a smart coach is going to come with a different game plan."
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