MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Utah Jazz have been playing with a win-or-go-home desperation for the last three weeks. And it’s all come down to one last game.
Al Jefferson had 22 points and eight rebounds to help Utah keep its playoff hopes alive with a 96-80 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday night, setting up one more must-win game in the season finale on Wednesday.
“It comes down to one game now,” Jefferson said. “It’s a big game. The only thing we can worry about is what we can control, going out there and trying to take care of the game, and trying to win, and just leave the rest up to the Lakers, I guess.”
Mo Williams had 15 points and seven assists for the Jazz, who needed a win to avoid being eliminated in the Western Conference playoff race.
To get into the playoffs, the Jazz need to win at Memphis on Wednesday and for the Los Angeles Lakers to lose at home against Houston that night. Utah owns the tiebreaker after beating the Lakers two out of three times this season.
“I guess I have to try and get in touch with Kevin McHale and tell him to handle it for me,” said Jefferson, who played for the Rockets’ coach when both were in Minnesota.
Derrick Williams had 18 points and six rebounds for the Timberwolves, who were missing center Nikola Pekovic because of a bruised left calf.
The Jazz entered the night clinging to the postseason picture, down 1½ games to the Lakers with two to play.
For a team that could have as many as nine expiring contracts this summer, the Jazz are desperately chasing one more playoff appearance. Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Mo Williams and Randy Foye all could be looking for new teams when the season ends, with a bevy of young players waiting to assume larger roles next year.
They’ve won nine of their last 11 games since a four-game losing streak in the middle of last month threatened to bury them.
“Talk about this group of guys, man the character that they have, there was no quit in this group,” coach Tyrone Corbin said. “The guys just continued to work and put ourselves in a position to get back when we were struggling there.”
Utah didn’t play all that well early, but it was just good enough to stay on top of a Timberwolves team that is slogging to the finish of another long season. The Wolves shot just 33 percent in the first quarter, and without Pekovic patrolling the paint they didn’t grab an offensive rebound until late in the third quarter.
A 13-4 run by Minnesota cut Utah’s lead to three points late in the third quarter, but once again the Wolves had no answer for Jefferson. The former Wolf scored 40 against the Wolves in a 107-100 win on Friday night in Salt Lake City and continued to attack the team’s soft middle on Monday night. He scored six straight points after Minnesota’s run to give the Jazz some breathing room again, and they never looked back.
Foye scored 14 points for the Jazz.
“You want to finish up better than that,” coach Rick Adelman said of the home finale. “I know they had something to play for, but it was our last home game. I thought we should have had better effort, but we didn’t.”
The Timberwolves have one game left in what has been a miserable, injury-plagued season. They will enter this offseason as they have every one since 2004 — with a spot in the lottery coming in June and plenty of questions about the roster and who will be back to lead it. Owner Glen Taylor has been mum on president David Kahn’s future. Kahn has a team option on his contract for next season.
Coach Rick Adelman has two years left on his deal, but has considered stepping down to help his wife, Mary Kay, who is being treated for seizures. Her condition caused him to miss 11 games earlier this season. She is due to meet with doctors again shortly after the season ends and Adelman is hoping her condition will continue to stabilize. Before the game, Adelman said he was going forward with the idea that he would be back next season and hoped to have a definitive answer in the next couple of weeks.
“I think what happens with Mary Kay or any of that, that certainly would turn things in a different direction,” Adelman said. “Right now I don’t see that (happening), but I’m going to wait and see until we talk to the doctors and see what direction they’ve decided we need to go at this point. Then we’ll move from there.”
NOTES: Wolves PG Ricky Rubio had a quiet night with six points on 2-for-9 shooting and four assists. … The Wolves finish the season with a game at San Antonio on Wednesday. … It was just the 13th win on the road for the Jazz this season. They’ve won three straight away from home.
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