Jazz clinch playoff spot in crowded Western Conference
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Quin Snyder wasn’t too concerned about the pressure of a win-and-in situation for his Utah Jazz.
“I’d rather have that pressure than the alternative,” the coach said.
Now, he and the rest of the Jazz can rest easy.
Donovan Mitchell scored 28 points to help Utah clinch a playoff berth with a 112-97 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday.
Utah is the fourth team in the crowded Western Conference to lock up a postseason spot, with five teams still in the running for the other four positions before the regular season ends Wednesday. It’s Utah’s second straight playoff appearance, even after star small forward Gordon Hayward left last offseason for a free agent deal with Boston.
“It’s a great feeling to have that,” Mitchell said. “But at the same time, we got two more games left and want to stay where we’re at.”
Mitchell also had nine rebounds and eight assists, and Joe Ingles had 22 points on 9-of-12 shooting along with 10 assists. Jae Crowder added 18 points off the bench.
Josh Hart had 25 points for Los Angeles, which has lost six of eight. Julius Randle had 17 points and seven rebounds.
A basket by Royce O’Neale put Utah up 98-76 in the opening four minutes of the fourth quarter. The shot marked Utah’s largest lead of the game.
Utah held Los Angeles to only 40 percent for the game, including 5 of 25 from 3-point range.
“They’re long, clog the paint, close out great off of drives,” the Lakers’ Julius Randle said. “They’re tough.”
Mitchell threw a full-court pass to a streaking Ingles for a layup and a 66-56 lead with 5:44 remaining in the third. Utah led 82-67 when O’Neale made a 3-pointer with 2.2 seconds to go in the quarter.
Tyler Ennis made a scoop shot that pulled Los Angeles within 32-30 during the second quarter, but Utah regained a 12-point lead with help from two 3-pointers by Crowder. The Lakers closed the half on 6-2 run and trailed by only six.
The Jazz started the game on a 7-0 run and extended the lead to 19-4 with Mitchell’s 3-pointer in transition. Los Angeles answered with a 10-0 spurt and closed within four with less than two minutes left in the first quarter.
Jazz: Beat the Lakers 117-110 on April 3. ... Five players scored in double figures. ... Derrick Favors had 10 points and 13 rebounds.
Lakers: Three of the five starters did not make a field goal in the first half. ... Kyle Kuzma did not play due to a mild left ankle sprain.
ENNIS THE MENACE
Ennis had a career-high 22 points. He shot 9 of 18 from the field, made three steals and played 28 minutes off the bench.
“Basketball kind of rewards you when you come out and play hard,” Ennis said. “That’s what I tried to do the whole game. Whether shots are going in or out, I just try to keep going.”
Ennis’ previous high was 20 points.
Ricky Rubio played 18 minutes and had nine points, two assists and two steals for Utah. He was listed as questionable before the game due to hamstring soreness that forced him out of Thursday’s contest against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Rubio didn’t play in the second half, but Snyder said he was the key for Utah to start the game.
“I thought he stabilized us at the beginning of the game,” Snyder said. “I think his presence on the court was really important. His leadership is one of the reasons we’re where we are.”
Rubio had 31 points, eight assists and six rebounds in the game on April 3 against the Lakers.
Mitchell, on the full-court pass he made to Ingles in the third quarter: “That’s just my baseball and soccer background coming back.”
Jazz: Host Golden State on Tuesday.
Lakers: Host Houston on Tuesday.
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