The young, inexperienced Utah Jazz heard plenty of reasons why they wouldn’t make the playoffs, but none of the doubts resonated.
After wrapping up the Western Conference’s final postseason berth in their most recent contest, the Jazz seek a season sweep of the disappointing Portland Trail Blazers when the teams conclude the regular season Thursday night in Salt Lake City.
Half of Utah’s current roster is age 26 or younger, including four who are not older than 21, and leading scorer Al Jefferson hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2005. Jefferson scored 18 points and grabbed 16 rebounds in Tuesday’s 100-88 win over Phoenix, helping the Jazz (35-30) secure a playoff berth after a one-year absence.
“It’s good to make people eat their words,” Jefferson said after Utah’s fourth straight win. “That’s what we did. Now it’s time to go and shock the world.”
Jefferson missed part of the second half after suffering a gash over his left eye, but he returned to record his fourth straight double-double. He hasn’t played in the postseason since he was a rookie with Boston.
“Seven long years, seven long years since I’ve been in the playoffs,” Jefferson said. “It’s a great opportunity. A lot of people counted us out. It’s a great group of guys and everyone on our team deserves it.”
Paul Millsap had 26 points and 15 rebounds for Utah, which hasn’t played a postseason game under a coach other than Jerry Sloan since 1988, when Frank Layden was at the helm.
Before Tyrone Corbin leads the Jazz into the postseason, they’ll look to sweep the four-game season series with Portland for the second time in three years.
The Blazers (28-37) are finishing a tumultuous season during which they fired coach Nate McMillan, lost LaMarcus Aldridge to injury, waived oft-injured former No. 1 overall pick Greg Oden and dealt with the retirement of former All-Star Brandon Roy.
Interim coach Kaleb Canales may only have one game remaining to lead the Blazers, who are 8-14 since he took over for McMillan on March 16.
Portland will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2008 and enters its finale having lost a season-high six straight following Monday’s 124-89 defeat at conference-leading San Antonio.
Wesley Matthews, who averaged 9.4 points in his rookie season with the Jazz before signing with the Blazers prior to last season, scored a team-high 24 on Monday and seemed to imply this season can’t end soon enough.
“If we knew we were going into the playoffs, of course we’re going to keep playing,” Matthews said. “But now, short-handed, nine players - I’m never going to say I’m looking forward to not playing basketball. But the season’s winding down for us and we got one more left.”
Matthews has averaged 28.0 points in the last two meetings with Utah, but the Blazers lost both at home.
Portland now looks to avoid being swept by the Jazz, who won 112-91 behind 27 points from Devin Harris in the most recent meeting April 18. Millsap keyed Utah’s first two wins in the season series, averaging 25.0 points and 13.0 boards.
The Jazz have won 17 of the last 21 meetings at home.