Jazz put Clippers on brink of elimination in playoff race

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Donovan Mitchell scored 19 points, Rudy Gobert had 15 point and 10 rebounds and the Utah Jazz beat the Los Angeles Clippers 117-95 on Thursday night for their fourth straight victory.

Derrick Favors scored 16 points, and Jonas Jerebko and Alec Burks each had 13.

The Clippers were playing for their playoff lives but the Jazz displayed the intensity and urgency from the opening tip and never trailed. L.A. trails eighth-place New Orleans by 2 1/2 games with just three to play.

The Jazz have pole position for home-court advantage in the Western Conference playoffs – win out and they will host at least the first round, an almost inconceivable notion before they went 27-5 the last ten-plus weeks.

Austin Rivers led Los Angeles with 19 points, and Montrezl Harrell had 17.

Clippers, who shot just 3 for 17 from beyond the arc, have lost three of four and have nearly been eliminated from the postseason.

The Jazz put the game away a 9-2 run early in the second half and led by as many as 30 in the fourth quarter.

The Clippers had trouble staying with Utah’s multiple screen-and-roll actions and seemed to be chasing the ball all game.

Utah claimed the season series 3-1.

TIP-INS

Clippers: Tobias Harris got a technical with 5:58 left in the second quarter for arguing. … Danilo Gallinari missed his fourth game in the last six with a sore right hand. … The Clippers failed to reach the 100-point mark for just the second time in their last 12 games.

Jazz: Rubio, who missed the Memphis game with a sore left hamstring, scored nine points in the first quarter but did not return as his leg tightened. … Jae Crowder also left the game in the first quarter after getting poked in the eye. … Gobert got a technical in the second quarter. … Mitchell had scored at least 20 points in his last 10 games but sat the last 14 minutes of the blowout.

GOOD FROM DEEP

Ingles became the first Jazz player to make 200 3-pointers in a season after hitting a jumper from beyond the arc in the opening minutes of the second half. The Aussie forward is fourth in the league in 3-point percentage at 44.2 coming into the game. Mitchell, who is six behind the all-time rookie record for 3-pointers made, has the second-best mark at 179 and counting. Both passed the 178 that Randy Foye made in the 2012-13 campaign.

UP NEXT

Clippers: Host Denver on Saturday.

Jazz: At Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday.

Report: Utah’s Thabo Sefolosha to have season-ending knee surgery

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The Basketball Gods have had it in for the Jazz this season. After losing Gordon Hayward in free agency last summer, Utah has battled a lot of injuries, most notably a couple of knee injuries to center Rudy Gobert.

Now this: Thabo Sefolosha appears done for the season after injuring his knee against the Hornets on Friday, Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports reports.

The veteran swingman has been solid mostly off the bench for the Jazz this season, averaging 8.2 points per game, shooting 38 percent from three and playing solid defense in 21 minutes a night. On a Utah team that just cannot afford more injuries this will hurt.

Expect Jonas Jerebko and Joe Johnson to get more run with Sefolosha out.

 

 

Nikola Jokic gets ejected after Flagrant 2 elbow to Jonas Jerebko’s face (VIDEO)

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We’ve talked quite a bit lately about how NBA officials seem to have a kind of unspoken point of emphasis when it comes to giving out ejections this season.

But on Tuesday night, the players did themselves in at no fault of the officials.

First, we saw Kris Dunn and Khris Middleton tackle each other in Milwaukee, leading to their ejection. Then, we saw Nikola Jokic give Jonas Jerebko an NFL-style swim move that juuuuuuuust missed.

Early in the fourth quarter of Tuesday’s game between the Utah Jazz and the Denver Nuggets, Jokic was coming down the floor on offense. Jerebko ran into him slightly near midcourt, and once he turned around Jokic decided to retaliate with an elbow to the face.

Video of the incident was just plain dumb:

NBA officials reviewed the play and assessed Jokic a Flagrant 2 for unnecessary and excessive contact. That foul also earned Jokic an ejection, and he finished with 13 points, seven rebounds, and five assists.

Denver beat Utah, 107-83, but it’s possible we see a suspension for Jokic given how hasty he was in letting his emotions get the better of him as he dropped a flying elbow on a fellow player.

All eyes on Derrick Favors as Jazz begin life without Rudy Gobert

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The departures of Gordon Hayward and George Hill were supposed to set Derrick Favors up for more opportunities with the Utah Jazz. That wasn’t consistently so through the first 12 games of the season, but there’s no question the eighth-year big man will now have to shoulder more responsibility on both ends of the floor.

The Jazz will experience life without Rudy Gobert for the next month with the second-team All-NBA center out with a bone bruise in his right leg.

“I’m excited about it,” Favors said. “It’s a new challenge. I get to be a big part of the offense now. A big part of the defense, too. It’s a big responsibility, but I’m ready for it.”

Favors is now the starting center, sliding over from power forward. Thabo Sefolosha started against the Nets at power forward and Jonas Jerebko got the start against the Timberwolves.

Gobert was averaging 13.9 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game. Favors had 24 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks against the Nets, but nine points, 10 rebounds and one block against the Timberwolves.

The Jazz were already struggling with consistency as a roster and now they’re without their centerpiece – the defensive player of the year that’s the focal point of one of the league’s top defenses several years running. The 7-foot-1 Frenchman’s rim protection allowed defenders to be aggressive on the perimeter knowing Gobert had their back.

The Jazz will be smaller with the 6-10 Favors in the middle and a combination of Sefolosha, Jerebko, Joe Johnson, who’s currently out with a wrist injury, and Ekpe Udoh at power forward. Coach Quin Snyder can go even smaller with Joe Ingles at the four in certain lineups. That could result in more switching or other nuances defending the pick-and-roll.

“Our margin for error gets a little bit slimmer,” Snyder said. “Our team will adjust. That’s all you can do. Every substitution pattern changes the makeup of the team. Some more dramatically than others. Obviously, Derrick playing with Thabo or Joe Ingles at the four, there’s a different style of attack. It’s something that Derrick’s capable of doing and doing well.”

There will be adjustments offensively, also, as Gobert had improved as a finisher around the rim and is one of the best rollers to the basket in the pick-and-roll. The lob had become a staple of the offense.

Favors is averaging 11.2 points, 5.4 rebounds and 0.6 blocks this season – improvements from his injury-riddled 2016-17, but still a step back from the previous three seasons. He has improved his range and has some of his athleticism back after knee and back injuries, but he still hasn’t been as effective. Opinions range from Favors just not being the same player anymore to his numbers being affected by decreased playing time with fewer opportunities.

Offseason acquisition Ricky Rubio has struggled as the starting point guard and his 3.9 turnovers per game are the eighth-most in the league. He’ll have to develop chemistry with Favors.

Snyder said they have to sometimes wrestle with Favors to get him to roll.

“It’s something different because at the four I’m so used to popping out to the free throw line, or beyond 3-point line, while Rudy’s in the paint,” Favors said. “Now my main job is to roll to the basket, roll in the paint, try to draw a lot of attention so guys can get open on the corner three or perimeter. It’s definitely something new this season that I have to get used to, but I’m ready for it.”

The Jazz are dealing with a plethora of injuries again after Favors, Hill, Rodney Hood and Alec Burks all missed significant time last season. Dante Exum (shoulder surgery) is out for the season and Johnson (wrist) should be reevaluated soon.

Gobert said this won’t change any playoff expectations for the team.

“It’s frustrating for sure,” Gobert said. “We know that every game matters. At the same time, I think it’s just going to make us stronger. I’m confident the team can win without me. The only thing I can do is make sure I do everything right and when I come back, I’m stronger and I’m ready to help the team out.”

 

Sleeper teams for each conference in 2017-18 NBA season

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Eastern Conference

Charlotte Hornets

The Hornets finished a disappointing 36-46 last season, but they were never as far off as it appeared. Despite that dismal record, they still outscored opponents, and point difference tends to better predict future success than record.

Charlotte’s big problem last year was center depth. The team went 3-17 without Cody Zeller.

The Hornets corrected – maybe overcorrected – that by trading for Dwight Howard. Howard will start over Zeller for now, and there’s certainly value in having both players provide depth. But Zeller has proven to be the effective fit in the starting lineup. If Howard’s ego allows a move to the bench, Charlotte is definitely better off with that option in its back pocket. If not, this could get tricky for Steve Clifford.

I’m not sure whether Nicolas Batum‘s injury makes the Hornets more or less of a sleeper. They’re obviously worse without him, but a couple-month absence isn’t nearly enough to write them off. The setback might help them fly further under the radar.

Batum’s injury will put more pressure on Michael Carter-Williams, Julyan Stone and Malik Monk to cobble together effective point-guard minutes offensively and defensively when Kemba Walker sits. That was another, smaller, sore spot last year.

Still, Charlotte is well-coached with a fairly cohesive rotation full of players who’ve developed chemistry together. The Hornets are a highly likely a playoff team, not the borderline outfit many have treated them as. After all, they play in the East.

Western Conference

Utah Jazz

The Jazz will feel the loss of their second-best player.

That’s right. Second.

Rudy Gobert was Utah’s best player even before Gordon Hayward left for the Celtics. Gobert is appropriately touted defensively, the best traditional rim protector in the game right now. But he’s quietly an offensive force – a screener, rebounder and finisher.

The Jazz will miss Hayward, to be sure. But much of that is long-term. The 27-year-old will remain in his prime for multiple years and would’ve pushed Utah’s ceiling much higher.

This season, the Jazz rebounded with enough veterans – Ricky Rubio, Thabo Sefolosha, Jonas Jerebko and Ekpe Udoh – to fortify a deep rotation. The newcomers and returning players like Joe Ingles and Joe Johnson just know how to contribute to winning.

Regression to the mean would make Utah healthier than last season. Rodney Hood and Derrick Favors can take steps forward, though Favors is a tough fit with Gobert. First-round Donovan Mitchell looks like a steal.

For too many, last year was the baseline, and Hayward is simply being subtracted. Make no mistake, his offensive creativity will be missed. But this team should take steps forward in other facets and remain elite defensively behind Gobert.

The middle of the Western Conference is tough, and the Jazz are by no means a playoff lock. But they have the talent and savvy to at least hold their own in that very competitive environment – even without Hayward.