Utah Pulls within 1/2 Game of Lakers for Final Playoff Spot
Former Timberwolves player Al Jefferson set a career high with 40 points and saved the Utah Jazz’s season when he fought through a double team by Ricky Rubio Greg Stiemsma, and pulled up to hit a jumper with one second on the shot clock and 40 seconds on the game clock to give Utah a 101-98 lead. The Jazz is now within ½ a game of the Lakers for the final playoff spot and owns the tie-breaker with just the following games left to play:
||(1-2 vs. Jazz)
||(2-1 vs. Lakers)
|Fri, Apr 12
|Sun, Apr 14
|Mon, Apr 15
|Wed, Apr 17
The Lakers, who were named after Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes when they played there in the 40s or 50s, were rooting for the current Minnesota team to win either Friday night in Utah, or Sunday when Utah heads to Minnesota. They almost got it as point guards Ricky Rubio and JJ Barea rotated to spur a 23-8 run that included scoring 11 points early in the third quarter without missing a shot to take a 65-59 lead.
With the Jazz only 20 minutes from being virtually eliminated by dropping to 1 ½ games behind the Lakers with just two games left to play, Paul Millsap saved the Jazz on defense to allow Jefferson’s offensive heroics. Millsap rejected the Timberwolves’ next two shots, both short jumpers from Derrick Williams. It was a rough few minutes for Williams, who in between having those two shots rejected fouled Jefferson on the way to the hoop to create a 3-point play and pull the Jazz within 67-64.
Minnesota did open up one more big lead at 75-68 with just under four minutes to go in the third quarter, but Jefferson took over for the rest of the quarter. He went to the hoop to cut the lead to 75-70, then on the next trip drove to the hoop and fired out to Randy Foye, who hit a 25-foot 3-pointers to make it 79-73. That assists was one of his season high six assists, and he also grabbed a season high 13 rebounds in addition to the career high 40 points.
Jefferson grabbed an offensive rebound and laid it in to cut it to 79-75. Then with 1:06 to play he hit a six-foot jumper to cut it to 81-80, grabbed a Minnesota miss with 46 seconds left in the third quarter, and then hit a jumper with 30 seconds to finally put the Jazz back on top 82-81 at the end of three quarters. Minnesota has won only two games all season in which they trailed after three quarters.
The Lakers game started during the Friday game. The Jazz win puts the pressure on the Lakers. If the Lakers beat Golden State Friday night they would keep a one-game lead with two home games left. If not, the two teams would be tied but Utah would have the head-to-head tie-breaker based on beating the Lakers two out of three games this season.
All other 15 playoff spots have been determined, with teams simply jockeying for position. Magic Johnson predicted this week that the San Antonio Spurs would lose to the Lakers if they ended up as a No. 1 seed and the Lakers made the playoffs as the No. 8 seed. The Spurs will have a chance to help keep the Lakers out – but whether or not they are resting starters for the playoffs remains to be seen.