MINNEAPOLIS -- Maybe it was a case of the euphoria of Tuesday's home victory over Oklahoma City carrying over. Maybe it was the prospect of a weekend of rest waiting just beyond Wednesday's game. For whatever reason, Utah entered its game with the Minnesota Timberwolves at Target Center as cold as the ice outside.
But, to their credit, the Jazz players overcame it. And that's why, after a 97-93, back-and-forth, up-and-down victory over the Timberwolves, the Jazz were so upbeat.
"We started kinda slow," said forward Al Jefferson, who had 20 points and 11 rebounds. "But we got it going, and we made the game count. It was one of those games, but I'll take it any way I can get it."
The Jazz started with 10 first-quarter points on 5-for-20 shooting. They ended it holding dearly to a lead that nearly evaporated in the face of a late run by the Wolves.
But Randy Foye's four late free throws iced Utah's fourth road victory over a Western Conference opponent this season. And that means the Jazz enter the All-Star break with a two-game winning streak, a position in the conference's playoff picture and with expectations of good things to come.
"To finish these last two out with wins? This is great going into the break," Utah coach Tyrone Corbin said. "The guys toughed it out."
Despite double-doubles from forward Derrick Williams (a season-high 24 points and a career-high 16 rebounds), center Nikola Pekovic (19 points, 13 rebounds) and Ricky Rubio (18 points and 10 assists), the Wolves lost for the 16th time in 19 games. And they did it in familiar fashion, using a late run to get close, but not close enough.
"Once again we came back with five minutes to go and played our tails off," coach Rick Adelman said. "Our people need to understand that, with the people we have out, we don't have that big a margin of error. We have to play the game for 48 minutes."
The Jazz (30-24) won the game by dominating in the paint (a 24-point edge in scoring) and getting hot at the right time. Jefferson and Paul Millsap (21 points) kept the Jazz in it early while the whole team helped win it late.
Down 17-10 after a quarter, the Jazz used a 14-0 second-quarter run to get back into the game. But late in the third quarter is when Utah appeared ready to take control for good. Luke Ridnour hit two free throws with 1:52 left to give the Wolves a 61-60 lead. Then, over the next seven minutes, Utah outscored the Wolves 21-6 to take a 14-point lead.
The Wolves had one more run in them. Down 90-77, Pekovic scored, then Williams scored five straight, including a dunk with 1:03 left that cut Utah's lead to 90-84.
Moments later, after Millsap had hit one of two free throws, Williams was fouled shooting a trey and made all three free throws with 19.3 seconds left to cut Utah's lead to two.
But Minnesota couldn't get any closer, as Foye hit four straight free throws down the stretch to keep the Wolves at bay. And he did it in the arena where his career began.
"I'm over that now," he said. "I'm just glad to get the win."
The Jazz figure to get healthier after the break, when Utah might be set for a run.
"We wanted to finish off the first half with a bang," Jefferson said. "Now we get a little rest, and we can come back and pick up where we left off."
NOTES: With the NBA trade deadline nearing, Adelman said he hopes his team looks hard at deals that could make the team better, with an emphasis on long-term improvement rather than a short-term bandage. "I think, when healthy, we have a good core group," said Adelman, adding that shooting and size at guard are priorities. ... Jazz G/F Gordon Hayward missed his 10th game Wednesday with a shoulder issue. He is expected to return to practice after the All-Star break. ... Wolves forward Andrei Kirilenko missed his fifth game with a quad strain but is expected back after the break. Wolves guard J.J. Barea continues to play despite a sprained left foot. But he plans some treatment during the break. "Just got to get through this one tonight," he said before Wednesday's game, "go to Puerto Rico, put it in some hot water, hot sand and I'll be back ready to go."