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Jazz win to keep playoff hopes alive

The SportsXchange

SALT LAKE CITY - Friday night was the Utah Jazz's final home game of the regular season.

But Al Jefferson did all he could to try to prevent it from being the last game he and his teammates will play at EnergySolutions Arena this spring.

Jefferson hit two big buckets in the final minutes of his 40-point night to lead the Jazz to a 107-100 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves.

"I felt like it started with me," Jefferson said. "I felt like, no disrespect to them, that I had the advantage on the block because they were trying to guard me one-on-one."

Trying but not succeeding.

With the Jazz needing a win to remain in contention for a playoff spot, Jefferson had his biggest game in his three years with Utah. The former Minnesota player tied his career-high in scoring on 19-of-27 shooting, grabbed 13 rebounds and dished out a season-high six assists.

"He was dominant and I feed somebody when they're that hot, so that's what I tried to do," Jazz swingman Gordon Hayward said of Jefferson. "They were doing a number of things to try and not let us get the ball there, but we found him and he converted."

The Jazz improved to 42-38 to keep up with the Lakers, who took a 42-37 record into their game against the Warriors on Friday night. Utah owns the tiebreaker against the Lakers and would earn the final spot in the Western Conference playoffs if the two teams end up tied.

J.J. Barea scored 23 points off the bench for the Timberwolves, who dropped to 29-50 but put up a gutsy fight despite being outmanned.

Minnesota played without reigning Western Conference player of the week Nikola Pekovic, who dressed but didn't play because of a left calf contusion. Backup big man Greg Stiemsma started at center.

"Our guys competed tonight," Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman said. "Al Jefferson really got it going and when we doubled him they made threes. They did what they had to do."

Randy Foye and Mo Williams each scored 16 points for the Jazz, who have won eight of 10 games to fight back into playoff contention.

Jefferson gave the Jazz the lead for good at 99-98 after snapping an 8-0 T-wolves streak. He then had another big bucket with 39.3 second remaining. He lost his dribble but then quickly put up a leaner to give Utah a three-point advantage after beating the shot clock.

Williams then hit six free throws down the stretch to clinch the win for Utah.

Things got feisty in the fourth quarter. Derrick Favors, the Jazz's 6-foot-10 backup big man, pushed 6-foot Barea after the diminutive T-wolves guard put his shoulder and elbow in his midsection while he turned around to head downcourt.

Barea plopped onto the court and Favors was called for a flagrant foul.

That sequence shifted momentum Minnesota's way.

Barea hit both flagrant free throws, cutting the Jazz's lead to 97-92 with 4:49 remaining.

Minnesota continued an 8-0 run when Ricky Rubio hit consecutive 3-pointers, giving the T-wolves a 98-97 lead with 3:52 to go.

"I don't think (Favors) did it on purpose, but it happens sometimes in basketball," Barea said. "They called it and it was two free throws for us, so it helped us get back in it, but they did a good job finishing the game."

Jefferson ended the late push by Minnesota, which held a seven-point lead in the third quarter. He gave Utah the lead with 3:35 remaining and then made the critical shot with 39.3 seconds left for a three-point Jazz edge.

The Jazz struggled to get this win despite shooting 58.3 percent. Minnesota only shot 46.2 percent.

The Jazz and Timberwolves play again Monday in Minnesota.

NOTES: Minnesota will honor Adelman for his recent milestone of reaching 1,000 coaching victories before Saturday's home game against Phoenix. "He's a great guy. I played for him and he's a great man to be around," said Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin, who played under Adelman in Sacramento during his 16-year career. "I'm happy for him. It is a great accomplishment in this league. It takes a long, long time and a lot of success to get to a thousand wins." ... Adelman joined Don Nelson, Lenny Wilkens, Jerry Sloan, Pat Riley, Phil Jackson, George Karl and Larry Brown in that elite 1,000-win group. ... Corbin entered Friday's game with 85 career wins as an NBA head coach. Can he see himself reaching 1,000 victories? "We'll keep praying about it and see where it goes," he said ... Jazz reserve center Enes Kanter underwent surgery to repair his dislocated left shoulder Wednesday in Chicago. He is out for the remainder of the season.
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