Jazz 96, Timberwolves 80

The Sports Xchange
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.
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.
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.
The Jazz were in control throughout the game -- Minnesota's only lead was 2-0 -- but it wasn't until late in the third quarter that Utah finally was able to pull away.
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 fourth quarter, pushing their lead to 20 points in the closing minutes.
That workmanlike effort was on display from the tip. In the opening minutes, Utah played very much like a team that needed to win to stay alive the playoff race. The Jazz jumped to a 16-2 lead start the game and led 26-18 after the first quarter.
Minnesota twice closed within two points of the lead in the second quarter, but Utah scored the final six points of the half and led 49-41 at the break.
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 coach Rick 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.

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