LOS ANGELES (AP)—The Utah Jazz spoiled Elton Brand’s return.
Karl Malone scored 25 points and Matt Harpring had 17 as the Jazz blew a 15-point lead before beating the Clippers 95-89 Tuesday night for their 21st victory in the last 24 meetings between the teams.
“We’re very confident that if we play our style of basketball and execute and trust each other, we can beat anybody. It’s been proven throughout the course of the season,” guard Mark Jackson said. “The problem is, when we don’t do that, then anybody can beat us.”
Brand, the Clippers’ leading scorer and rebounder, returned to action after missing 18 games with a stress fracture above his right ankle. Brand, who helped the Clippers end a 26-game winless streak against the Jazz in Utah earlier this season, finished with 12 points and 13 rebounds in 31 minutes.
“It’s been the worst, sitting there and watching, because I wanted to be out there playing,” Brand said. “I was happy with my performance, but we didn’t get the win. We didn’t run our sets and we missed free throws.”
John Stockton had 12 points and 10 assists, helping lead the Jazz to their seventh win in eight games.
Utah is sixth in the Western Conference playoff race, 1 1/2 games behind Minnesota and a full game ahead of the seventh-place Lakers.
“We’re not there yet. We’ve still got eight games left, so we’ll see,” Malone said. “We just have to execute, stay within our stuff, do what we’re supposed to do as a team and believe in each other, and then we’ll be fine.”
Corey Maggette scored 16 of his 23 points in the third quarter but could not prevent their Clippers’ 23rd loss in 29 games and ninth straight home loss to the Jazz. Their last two “home” wins against them were at the Pond at Anaheim. They haven’t beaten the Jazz in Los Angeles since Dec. 30, 1996.
“I think other teams know that everyone on this team has a lot of capability and talent. We just have to learn to play as a collective group,” Maggette said. “This year, because of a lot of things that went on, we didn’t get a chance to do that. But you still can’t come in here and take us lightly, because you never know. We could have a good night. But it just so happens that we had a lot of bad nights this year.”
Lamar Odom, who had only four points in 29 minutes on 1-for-12 shooting, sank two free throws, and Miller’s layup put the Clippers ahead 86-85 with 1:10 to play. Stockton regained the lead for Utah with a 15-footer.
The Jazz made it 89-86 when Harpring sneaked behind Brand, stripped him of the ball and went the length of the court for a layup.
“It was huge,” Malone said. “I told Matt they’d run the play for him, and I knew for a fact that he wasn’t going to pass. He wasn’t going to score. Sometimes, when a guy gets in that comfort zone, they’re not going to pass and they don’t see the guy coming from the weak side. And Matt was able to time it just right and steal it.”
After Sean Rooks made one of two free throws at the other end, Malone’s 15-footer helped seal it with 17 seconds left.
Melvin Ely opened the scoring with a short hook shot, and the Clippers didn’t lead again until there were 10.5 seconds left in the third quarter.
Maggette drove on Greg Ostertag and tried a slam-dunk, bouncing the ball off the rim. But the Utah center was called for a foul and Maggette sank both free throws for a 66-65 lead, completing the Clippers’ comeback from a 15-point deficit early in the second quarter.
“It didn’t happen in a blast. I mean, it happened kind of gradually,” Stockton said. “They did a nice job of making shot after shot, getting a good look at the basket every time, as we weren’t. We were turning the ball over andwere a little disjointed.”
Jackson turned 38 on Tuesday—but he’s still only the third-oldest player on the Jazz behind Stockton, 41, and Malone, who turns 40 in July. “It’s strange. But at the same time, it says a lot about guys who take care of themselves,” Jackson said. “I dreamt, quite honestly, of making an impact and hanging around. But it never crossed my mind that I’d still be playing 16 years later and counting. It’s an incredible blessing, and I’m truly grateful for it.” Jackson was scoreless with five assists. … The Clippers were 4-14 during Brand’s absence. “I’ve tried for the last week and a half to get back, but I knew I was coming back because I felt good,” Brand said. “It’s not really that big of a deal, but I definitely owe it to the fans that come out and support us. I mean, I might look good in my suits, but they’re not coming to the game for that. The organization pays you big dollars, so if you’re notinjured, you should play. And I’m not injured.”