Los Angeles • This season, a shootout hasn’t boded well for the Utah Jazz.
But they waltzed away from Staples Center on Thursday night with a 126-107 victory against the Los Angeles Clippers in hand, getting back to .500 for the season.
The leading man in the blowout was as unlikely as the offensive outburst itself: Alec Burks.
With a season-high 28 points, the sixth-year Jazzman helped compensate for the absence of Rodney Hood and Raul Neto with an offensive game that had surprising polish. He hit 3-pointers, layups, and perhaps most incredibly stayed on his feet.
“The basket started getting bigger and bigger,” he said. “Shots were going in.”
It was an on-court manifestation of a maturity coach Quin Snyder has seen developing for some time as he outplays his old nickname “Houdini.” This Alec Burks isn’t pulling a rabbit out of a hat — he’s made strides to develop a solid all-around game.
“I think he’s become more disciplined in his thought process in, ‘Here’s who I am,’” Snyder said. “Instead of just playing, he’s playing with more of a purpose on offense.”
Facing off last season in a knockdown seven-game playoff series, the Jazz and the Clippers don’t hide secrets from one another — with the spate of injuries, even less so.
For the Clippers (8-12) to win, Austin Rivers and Lou Williams had to have big games — and the Jazz knew it. Rivers in particular has been a thorn lately, averaging just over 15 points per game against the Jazz in the past five meetings.
Said Clippers coach Doc Rivers before the game of Williams and Rivers: “Well obviously those are your two choices. Unfortunately, I’m sure [Quin Snyder] knows as well.”
Despite knowing the question ahead of time, the Jazz couldn’t find the solution: Time and again, Rivers slipped past perimeter defenders and into the lane, tallying a season-best 25 points on 9-for-16 shooting.
Even so, something unlikely carried the Jazz to their second road win of the year: Offense.
Utah’s run of crisp ball movement continued, as the Jazz racked up a season-high 38 assists. They hit from the corner, they hit from under the rim, and the Clippers defense always seemed a step behind.
It ended with seven Jazzmen in double figures, shooting a season-best 57.6 percent from the floor. After a seemingly key moment when the Clippers pulled within one point in the fourth quarter, the Jazz went on a 32-14 run to end the game. Five players finished with at least five assists.
“We’re getting there,” said Jonas Jerebko, who scored 14 points. “We’re just scratching the surface of how good we can be.”
A lot had changed since the two teams last met for a 102-84 drubbing by the Clippers — particularly the eight players from that game who sidelined with injury. But also so much has changed for Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell, who played like a superstar in his second take in Los Angeles.
There were highlights of course — a no-look wrap-around pass to Derrick Favors; five 3-pointers; and the best of all, a sky-high alley-oop dunk with one hand. But Mitchell also brought focus to an offense that has at times lacked connectivity and pop this season, scoring 24 points on 9-for-16 shooting and adding six assists.
“Last time we played them, I had a bad shooting percentage because I forced shots,” he said. “Now I’m just playing in the offense, taking my time.”
With the win, the Jazz remained in the top eight in the Western Conference ahead of facing conference foe New Orleans on Friday night.