Clippers hoping to end road trip on high note vs. Jazz
Though it is the end of a five-game, 11-day trip for the Clippers, they are not dragging wearily to the finish line of the journey.
They are relatively fresh because of the frequent days off between games, which the Clippers all agree is a positive because they will be facing a stout opponent in the Utah Jazz on Monday night in a game that is of equal importance to both teams.
It’s not lost on the Clippers that even though this game is in February, it’s an encounter that has potential playoff implications in April.
The Clippers are the fifth-seeded team in the Western Conference, a half-game behind the fourth-seeded Utah Jazz.
L.A. won the first meeting at Staples Center on Oct. 30 and would like nothing better than to beat the Jazz again to get the upper hand in what could determine which team has the home-court advantage if the two were to square off in a first-round playoff series.
“They are a really good team,” Blake Griffin said Saturday night in Charlotte. “We played them early on when they had some injuries, but that’s a team you’re going to see in the playoffs, more than likely. (Clippers Coach) Doc (Rivers) said that earlier in the year when we played them. I think it was like our second game of the year. He said that before that game.
“And as it stands now, we definitely will. So it’s important just to have a strong showing and finish out the trip strong and keep playing the way we have.”
The Clippers started slow on this trip, losing at Boston and Toronto.
But the Clippers recovered with wins at New York and Charlotte.
Now it’s a real possibility the Clippers can go 3-2 on the trip.
“That’s our focus,” Austin Rivers said. “We want to make this trip into a positive trip. We won two in a row. That’s good momentum to finish up before the All-Star break. We’ll have our full team right after that. So we’re trying to finish out this thing strong.”
Utah is stocked with talent.
So the challenge for the Clippers will be to deal with Jazz players such as All-Star forward Gordon Hayward, 7-1 center Rudy Gobert (who has a 7-9 wingspan), point guard George Hill, Joe Ingles, Alec Burks, Derrick Favors and the rest of the talented and deep squad.
“Utah is a heck of a team,” Austin Rivers said. “They’ve become one of the premier teams in the league. I think everybody saw it coming with all those pieces that they have — Gordon Hayward, Favors, Burks, Gobert, Ingles. They have solid players. George Hill probably has been the difference for them this year, I think in my opinion. So, they’re a good team.”
The Clippers had just one back-to-back set on this trip.
Otherwise, they had a day off before playing the Knicks, two days off before facing the Hornets and a day off to prepare for the Jazz.
“It’ll be nice to get a win,” Doc Rivers said. “It’s going to be hard. They’re sitting there waiting for us. At least we get a day off again, which is great. And I like the way we’re doing this trip, going back West, so that’s good for us, too.”
AT UTAH JAZZ
When: Monday, 6 p.m. PST
Where: Vivint Smart Home Arena.
On the air: TV: Prime Ticket; Radio: 570, 1330.
Records: Clippers 33-21; Jazz 34-21.
Records vs. Jazz: Clippers 1-0.
Update: The Clippers have owned this series as of late, having defeated the Jazz 16 of the last 17 games. But the Jazz have the top defense in the NBA, holding teams to a league-best 96 points per game. Center Rudy Gobert leads the league in blocked shots (2.5) and is fifth in rebounds (12.6). All-Star forward Gordon Hayward leads the Jazz in scoring (22.6).
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