The Utah Jazz seem to be falling apart, on and off the court.
Likely to be without both of its starting forwards, Utah tries to avoid a season-high fourth straight loss in a matchup with the Los Angeles Clippers.
Though it was widely believed the Jazz would struggle this season after the departures of John Stockton and Karl Malone, they proved the doubters wrong by opening the season 10-6. Many are surprised the team still remains above .500, but that might not last much longer.
“At the start of the year, teams weren’t preparing for us, but now they’ve learned how to play us,” Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said.
Matt Harpring was having a career year with averages of 16.2 points and 8.0 rebounds, but underwent knee surgery last Friday that likely ended his season. Andrei Kirilenko, averaging a team-high 16.3 points and 7.9 boards, has missed the last two games with a sprained ankle and might not return until next week.
Those absences have factored into the Jazz losing a season-high three straight, and the team has been showing its frustration.
In Tuesday’s 96-75 home loss to Denver, Utah guard Raja Bell was angry a layup he made at the end of the first quarter was waved off, and he was ejected for kicking the ball into the stands. Three days earlier in a loss to Cleveland, center Greg Ostertag got into a fight with the Cavs’ Zydrunas Ilgauskas and ended up receiving a one-game suspension.
A loss Friday would drop Utah, which has fallen into last place in the Midwest Division, to .500 for the first time since it was 5-5 in mid-November.
Los Angeles has won just three of its last nine, but is coming off Wednesday’s 106-102 victory over Golden State.
Coach Mike Dunleavy may have put a needed charge into his team with a harsh lecture during halftime after the Clippers had given up 65 first-half points. They allowed 125 in a loss to Sacramento two nights earlier.
“We’re going to lead with our defense,” Dunleavy said. “If guys don’t start defending, they’ll be sitting.”
The Clippers are allowing 98.5 points per game, fourth-worst in the league. They gave up just 37 points and held the Warriors to 14-of-40 from the field (35 percent) in the second half Wednesday.
“Maybe that’s what we needed, that dog to come barking at us,” Clippers guard Eddie House said.
Following this contest, 10 of the Clippers’ next 11 games are on the road, including Monday’s visit to Utah.
STANDINGS (through Jan. 21): Jazz - 7th place, 7 1/2 GB, Midwest Division. Clippers - 4th place, 12 GB, Pacific Division.
PROBABLE STARTERS: Jazz - F Sasha Pavlovic, F Michael Ruffin, C Ostertag, G Carlos Arroyo, G DeShawn Stevenson. Clippers - F Corey Maggette, F Elton Brand, C Chris Kaman, G Quentin Richardson, G Marko Jaric.
TEAM LEADERS: Jazz - Kirilenko, 16.3 ppg; Ostertag, 8.3 rpg; Arroyo, 5.3 apg. Clippers - Maggette, 20.2 ppg; Brand, 12.2 rpg; Jaric, 4.3 apg.
SEASON SERIES: Jazz, 1-0.
LAST MEETING: Dec. 5; Jazz, 86-67. At Salt Lake City, Harpring scored 20 points and Utah held the Clippers to their lowest point total of the season.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Jazz - 4-15 on the road; Clippers - 13-11 at home.
INJURIES: Jazz - F Kirilenko (ankle); F Harpring (knee); C Curtis Borchardt (wrist); F-C Keon Clark (ankle); F-C Ben Handlogten (knee). Clippers - C Josh Moore (back); F-C Olden Polynice (neck); G-F Bobby Simmons (hip).