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Jefferson, Hayward score 25 each as Jazz cruise to win over Suns

The SportsXchange

SALT LAKE CITY - The Utah Jazz didn't win style points, but they kept things interesting in the tight race for the final spot in the Western Conference playoffs.

Al Jefferson and Gordon Hayward both scored 25 points, and the Jazz used a big fourth-quarter run to cruise to a 103-88 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday night at EnergySolutions Arena.

Utah entered the fourth quarter ahead 75-71, but the Jazz quickly stormed to a 19-point lead thanks to a period-opening 17-2 burst.

That surge -- and a 28-17 overall fourth quarter -- helped the Jazz reach the .500 mark again at 36-36. It was the second straight win for Utah, which hadn't claimed victories in consecutive games since going on a three-game winning streak in mid-February.

Utah remained one game behind the Los Angeles Lakers (37-35) for the final spot in the Western Conference playoff race. Los Angeles beat Minnesota in a 120-117 shootout.

"The main thing is we won the ballgame," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "We didn't play a great game, but I thought we played well enough to win the ballgame."

Wesley Johnson scored 22 points and Luis Scola had 20 for the Suns. Rookie Kendall Marshall, starting for the first time as a pro, dished out a game-high 13 assists in 34 minutes.

Phoenix (23-49) lost its fourth straight game and for the eighth time in nine outings.

"I thought our young guys fought really hard," Suns interim coach Lindsey Hunter said. "Kendall did a great job of distributing the ball and running the offense. I think this is really his first time playing extended minutes, so I think it got to him. I think he got a little tired."

Utah shot 51.8 percent and had 30 assists, including 10 from Mo Williams. The Suns only shot 44.7 percent.

Jazz starters Paul Millsap and Randy Foye, playing with gastric distress, each scored 12 points. Reserve forward Derrick Favors hauled in a game-high 13 rebounds to go with nine points and two blocked shots.

Jefferson shot 12 of 23, grabbed nine rebounds and also had two blocked shots. Hayward was 9-for-15 from the field, including 3 of 6 from 3-point range. He also had six assists and five rebounds.

"We really focused and buckled down defensively and made their shots all difficult, challenged their shots and executed really well offensively," Hayward said.

The Jazz got off to a strong start, outscoring Phoenix 34-23 in the first quarter. That was the highest-scoring first period of the season for the Jazz, who have struggled to begin games for much of this up-and-down season.

Utah's previous first-quarter high was 31 points against the Clippers on Dec. 3.

The Jazz, who've enjoyed a bevy of good big men all season, suffered a personnel loss in the second quarter.

Backup big man Enes Kanter dove for a ball on the court and took a blow when 7-foot-2, 265-pound Hamed Haddadi came crashing down on him.

Kanter grimaced in pain as he walked off the court holding his right shoulder, which was visibly out of place.

Kanter was diagnosed with a left shoulder dislocation and will undergo an MRI test on Thursday to see if there is any structural damage.

"I'm all right," Kanter said while smiling and wearing a shoulder sling. "I just fell on the ground and the other guy just fell on my arm. It's disconnected, but I'm all right."

The Suns played without starting point guard Goran Dragic, who was held out by the team. He will also sit out Thursday's home game against Sacramento.

"If you've seen him after games, you've seen how he looks like he's been boxing," Hunter said. "I think he's been through a lot this year, little nicks and bruises, but he just fights through it, so I think it's good for him."

Dragic, who leads the Suns in scoring, wanted to go Wednesday.

"If you ask me personally, I would play," he told AZCentral.com. "That's why they (coaches) make the decision."

NOTES: It's worth noting that Phoenix will benefit if the Jazz get the West's final playoff spot instead of the Lakers. The Suns will receive Los Angeles' first-round pick if it's in the lottery. Phoenix will get the Heat's top selection if the Lakers qualify for the postseason. ...The Jazz signed guard Jerel McNeal to a 10-day contract Wednesday. The two-time D-League All-Star was averaging 18.1 points, 5.5 assists and 3.0 rebounds for the Bakersfield Jam. "For me, it's just really exciting and just humbling to be able to come from where I just came from," McNeal said. "And today, this morning, to be in an NBA locker room, it means a lot to me." ... McNeal is the 30th player to be brought up from the D-League to the NBA this season and the 10th player to join the Jazz from that minor league. Guard Travis Leslie of Santa Cruz had a 10-day deal with Utah earlier this month. ... Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan and retired Jazz player Mehmet Okur of Turkey both attended Wednesday's game. ... Rookie Kendall Marshall got his first career start in Dragic's place.
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