Utah Jazz at Los Angeles Lakers
When and Where: Sunday, April 7, Staples Center, Los Angeles, Calif., 9:30 p.m. EDT.
The Utah Jazz attempt to continue their late push for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs as they try to extend their season-high winning streak to eight games Sunday night at the expense of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Jazz seek second 50-win season in three years
Utah (49-30) has already wrapped up a playoff berth and is trying to overtake Portland for fourth in the West. The Jazz are one game behind the Trail Blazers with three to play and can claim the No. 4 spot if they finish tied by virtue of a better record versus Northwest Division rivals.
Utah is enjoying its longest losing streak since a nine-game run from March 2-17, 2018, and has won 12 of 13 overall after routing Sacramento 119-98 on Friday night. Donovan Mitchell scored 23 points and rookie Grayson Allen added 19 of his season-high 23 in an 8:49 span bridging the first and second quarters.
It was the defense, though, that gave the Jazz an early boost. They opened the game on an 18-3 tear and held the Kings without a basket for the first 5:23 in racing to a 15-point lead after one quarter.
“I like how we came out defensively,” coach Quin Snyder told the Salt Lake Tribune. “… Everybody guarded early, so I liked that. We built a lead and we were able to continue to play the right way, which was good to see.
Utah has also shot the ball incredibly well during this seven-game run, connecting at a 52.2 percent clip overall and 41.9 percent from 3-point range while averaging 118.6 points. Allen, the 21st overall pick in the draft, has totaled 37 points in his last two games after getting 16 DNPs in the previous 21.
“He did his thing tonight. This is just the beginning. You see the way he’s creating, the way he’s poised; I think there’s a lot more,” Mitchell noted. “The biggest thing we all see is his competitiveness on the defensive end — one possession, maybe two where his guy scored on him. I think he takes pride in that; that’s really where his focus has been. Once you play defense, the offense takes care of itself.”
The Jazz have won 13 of the last 15 games between the teams but did lose 90-83 in their previous trip to Los Angeles on Nov. 23. Mitchell has been hit or miss against the Lakers this season, scoring four and 11 points in two games on 5-of-20 shooting bracketing a 33-point effort in a home win in January.
Utah has won seven of its last nine on the road
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Los Angeles (36-44) will miss the playoffs for a franchise-record sixth straight season after failing to qualify just five times since entering the league in 1948. The Lakers did gain a measure of pride Friday night in beating their Staples Center co-tenants and recording a 122-117 victory over the Clippers.
Alex Caruso, who has been on a two-way contract since the summer before last season, scored a career-high 32 points and has flourished in extended playing time with the Lakers out of the playoff race. He has averaged 12.1 points while shooting 52.3 percent (23 for 44) from 3-point range in his last 16 games and gone 11 for 15 from deep in the last four.
“I’ve been doing this in G League for the last year and a half and I’ve had my coaches down there just tell me to play confident, play the way I do,” Caruso told The AP after the Lakers topped their win total from last season. “I’m finally just finding that groove and I’m confident and I’m comfortable. It’s taken me three years to get to this point out of college.”
Rajon Rondo added 15 points and 12 assists as Los Angeles continues to play out the season without injured superstar LeBron James, who is reportedly trying to figure out how to bring big-name free agents to the Lakers this summer to join him, Rondo, and promising young players Kyle Kuzma and Brandon Ingram.
Caruso had 13 points off the bench in Los Angeles’ 115-100 loss at Utah on March 27, while Rondo was held to three on 1-of-11 shooting.
The Lakers are:
- 0-6 ATS in their last six home games vs. teams with above-.500 road records.
- 2-9 ATS in their last 11 games vs. above-.500 teams.
- 2-6 ATS in their last eight games vs. above-.600 teams.
The Jazz are:
- 10-2 ATS in their last 12 games vs. Pacific Division teams.
- 13-6 ATS in their last 19 games vs. sub-.500 teams.
- 5-0 ATS in their last five road games vs. teams with above-.500 home records.