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Jazz still in playoff race after beating Wolves

The SportsXchange

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Utah Jazz made sure the race for the final Western Conference playoff spot would go down to the final night of the regular season.

With Al Jefferson scoring 22 points and grabbing eight rebounds and Mo Williams scoring 15, the Jazz defeated Minnesota 96-80 Monday night and moved within one game of the Los Angeles Lakers for the eighth and final spot in the playoffs.

The victory was the ninth in the past 11 games for a Utah team that looked to have little prayer of reaching the playoffs just three weeks ago.

"We put ourselves in a position to have a chance," Utah coach Tyrone Corbin said. "That's all we can do. The work is on Wednesday; we've got to be ready to go."

Because for Utah to reach the playoffs, the Jazz need to win Wednesday night at Memphis and have the Kobe Bryant-less Lakers lose at home to Houston. The two teams would finish the regular season with identical records, but the Jazz would advance to face either Oklahoma City or San Antonio because of a 2-1 season record against the Lakers.

"I guess I have to try to get in touch with (Houston coach) Kevin McHale and tell him to handle it for me," Jefferson said. "And to give me a late birthday present."

So how did the Jazz get to a spot where they can make the playoffs on the last night of the regular season? They started to defend, they started winning on the road and they didn't quit.

"We felt that we had enough games to get back in it, but we would have to win a large percentage of games," Corbin said.

After not winning consecutive road games at any point during the first five months of the the season, Utah has now won three in a row away from home. Now they need to get a fourth road win.

"We will go out there and play as hard as we can and see what happens," guard Randy Foye said. "The first thing we had to do was give ourselves a chance and get the win tonight."

Utah didn't fool around against the Timberwolves and was in control from the tip. While Minnesota's only lead was 2-0, the Jazz didn't fully pull away until late in the third quarter.

The Timberwolves closed within three points, 61-58, when Andrei Kirilenko made a pair of free throws with 2:28 to play in the third quarter. Jefferson answered by scoring six consecutive points during a 10-2 Utah run. When Alec Burks scored the first basket of the fourth quarter, the Jazz led 73-60.

The Jazz didn't let Minnesota back into the game in the fourth quarter, pushing their lead to 20 points in the closing minutes.

Derrick Williams led Minnesota with 18 points while J.J. Barea added 11 on a night in which the Timberwolves played without injured center Nikola Pekovic.

The loss meant that the Timberwolves finished the season 20-21 at Target Center, one victory shy of their first winning record at home since 2005-06. Minnesota closes the season at San Antonio on Wednesday night.

"I'm just disappointed," Minnesota coach Rick Adelman said. "I don't think we came ready to play tonight. We kept cutting it, getting it to two, but they eventually just opened it up. We just didn't have the energy we needed to have."

And, as a result, the Jazz are heading to Memphis with a chance to reach the playoffs.

"It's going to be a great game, a tough game, but we're looking forward to it," Corbin said. "It's what the NBA is all about. Memphis is a great team, they're still positioning themselves for playoff position, we're trying to get in. I hope the guys are excited about it. I'm looking forward to see how they respond."

NOTES: While Monday's game was significant for Utah's playoff hopes, it was simply the final home game in a disappointing, injury-filled season for the Timberwolves. One of the biggest questions for Minnesota is whether this was Adelman's final game leading the Timberwolves. Adelman missed 11 games because of his wife's illness and her health will impact whether he returns. ... While Utah has won only one of three games this season against Memphis, the Jazz enter Wednesday's season finale having defeated the Grizzlies last month. In addition, Utah won a game at FedEx Forum last season. ... Adelman was frank when discussing the future of Derrick Williams, especially when Kevin Love returns from injury. "If he wants to be out there for more than 15 minutes (a night), he has to play (small forward) too," Adelman said. "It depends on how much he grows. He's young, he's 21 years old, but this summer is big for him." Williams has averaged 14.9 points and 6.7 rebounds per game over his past 35 games. ... This was the second time in the past four days Minnesota and Utah played each other. The Jazz won Friday's game in Salt Lake City, 107-100. Jefferson, a former Timberwolves big man, scored a combined 62 points and grabbed 21 rebounds in the two victories over his former team.
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