Timberwolves-Jazz Preview

The Associated Press

The Utah Jazz held the final playoff spot in the Western Conference heading into their last game. They could be on the verge of postseason elimination following their next contest.

Utah will try to prevent that from happening in Friday night's home finale as it opens a stretch of two straight against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

With a half-game lead over the Los Angeles Lakers for the eighth seed, the Jazz (41-38) lost for just the second time in nine games Tuesday, 90-80 to Oklahoma City. The defeat, coupled with the Lakers' victory over New Orleans that night, dropped Utah into ninth.

The Jazz are now a full game off the Lakers' pace following Los Angeles' 113-106 win at Portland on Wednesday.

"We still got a chance,'' point guard Mo Williams said Tuesday after leading the Jazz with 19 points and seven assists. "I'm not sitting here saying it's over. We got three games left. We've got to go get them.''

If the Jazz lose Friday and Los Angeles defeats Golden State, Utah will be one loss or one Lakers win from elimination. However, a Jazz victory and a Los Angeles defeat would put Utah back in control of the race as it's won two of three head-to-head matchups.

The Jazz will try to put pressure on the Lakers, who play later Friday, with a seventh straight home win over the Timberwolves (29-49). Utah, a 106-84 winner Jan. 2 in Minnesota's only visit to Salt Lake City this season, has won nine of 11 in this series following a 97-93 victory Feb. 13.

Still, Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin is not overlooking the Timberwolves.

"They're not going to lay down and let us have it," he said. "... We need to go out and try to win these last three ballgames."

More offensive efficiency would help. Since averaging 108.6 points and shooting 53.0 percent during a five-game winning streak, the Jazz have scored 92.0 and shot 45.4 percent in their last four.

That kind of accuracy from the floor would be a huge improvement for Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio, who has gone 6 of 41 (14.6) during the team's 1-3 stretch. That isn't the only issue for Minnesota, which has surrendered more than 100 points in three consecutive games for the first time since a four-game stretch from Feb. 4-10.

Minnesota lost 111-95 to the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday, allowing them to shoot 57.1 percent while making 38.9 percent itself.

"They were pushing the ball aggressively and they got a lot of points on the fast break and playing quick,'' Rubio said. "We couldn't stop it ..."

The Jazz had trouble slowing down Rubio and Derrick Williams on Feb. 13, with Rubio totaling 18 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds and Williams scoring 24 points with a career-best 16 rebounds.

Utah has a chance to finish with 30 home wins for the first time since going 32-9 in 2009-10.

The Timberwolves, 10-29 on the road, have dropped the first two games of their trip after winning a season-best three straight away from Minneapolis. They'll host Phoenix on Saturday before the Jazz come to town.

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