The Utah Jazz could have a nice cushion in their battle for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, but ugly fourth-quarter performances in their last two games have kept that race close.
After blowing double-digit leads in back-to-back losses, the Jazz look to bounce back when they visit the Golden State Warriors on Monday.
Utah (48-28) has been outscored 71-37 in its last two fourth quarters, blowing a 17-point lead in its loss to Sacramento on Friday and a 22-point lead in a 106-103 loss to Seattle on Saturday.
“It looked like we hadn’t played with each other,” coach Jerry Sloan said. “That’s what happens when the pressure gets on you a little bit. We’ve got to learn how to deal with it.”
The Jazz have clinched the Northwest Division title, giving them a top-four seed in the Western Conference playoffs. They will start the playoffs on the road, however, if the Houston Rockets finish with a better record.
Utah helped its cause with a win in Houston on April 1. Since then, the Jazz have lost three straight to give Houston some hope heading into the season’s final days.
Deron Williams had 24 points and 13 assists on Saturday—his 29th double-double of the season—but the Jazz went 1-for-6 with two turnovers in the first five minutes of the fourth quarter. They were outscored 39-16 in the period.
“If you look at the second half, we gave them what they want,” said forward Mehmet Okur, who also had two turnovers in the fourth. “They score every time they catch the ball. We cannot play this way in the playoffs.”
While the Jazz are fighting for home-court advantage, the Warriors (37-40) are trying to earn their first playoff berth since the 1993-94 season. Golden State’s 12-year playoff drought is the longest active streak in the NBA.
The Warriors had won four in a row, but took a step backwards on Saturday, losing to San Antonio 112-99. They are currently in ninth place in the West, one game behind the Los Angeles Clippers with five games left on the Golden State schedule. The Clippers play seven more games before the playoffs.
All five starters scored in double figures on Saturday for Golden State, which struggled against one of the best defenses in the NBA after averaging 118.0 points during its winning streak. The Warriors took a two-point lead early in the second half, before losing for the 19th straight time in San Antonio.
“I’m glad everyone came out and played hard, they gave it all that they could,” said Jason Richardson, who scored a team-high 23 points. “We just need to make smarter decisions. It was just a hard-fought ballgame. It was just one of those games where we couldn’t turn the corner.”
The Warriors should benefit from a return to Oakland, where they are 27-11 this season. Golden State has won seven of its last eight at home, while the Jazz have lost eight of nine on the road.
Utah has a 2-1 edge in the season series heading into Monday’s finale. The Jazz, though, lost their only previous game in Oakland this season, 91-78 on Nov. 25.