LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles Clippers came up short against the Utah Jazz in Monday’s potential playoff preview in Salt Lake City, falling 114-108, but there was no disappointment in the Clippers’ locker room after the game.
Rather, Doc Rivers’ bunch were confident that the next time that they step foot on the court at Vivint Smart Home Arena, the stakes will be considerably higher.
“It probably will be the matchup [in the playoffs], and it’s going to be a hard one,” Rivers said afterward. “It’s two physical teams, two big teams, two fiery teams. It’ll be a lot of fun.”
The Jazz needed a second-half barrage to erase a Clippers’ halftime lead on Monday as Utah scored 40 points in the third quarter as well as 11 of 12 from three-point range to put Los Angeles a full two games back in the race for the fourth seed. With the victory, the Jazz have the inside track to securing home-court advantage should the teams in the first round of the playoffs next month.
The Clippers still lead the season series with the Jazz, 2-1 and have one final matchup with Utah on March 25 at Staples Center.
“We play them again,” Clippers point guard Chris Paul told reporters after the loss. “So we both got a lot more games. We could drop, they could drop. We could go up. I’m sure ya’ll probably ask that question again when we play them. I don’t know what this means. It means they beat us tonight. They played a good game. They got us, and we’ll see.”
Paul did most of the heavy lifting for the Clippers on the evening with a season-high 33 points and seven assists in his second straight 30-plus point game. When the Clippers lead in the first half, Paul’s ability to push the tempo and force the Jazz out of their defensive sets worked wonders.
However, when the Jazz and their shooters came alive in the second half as the trio of Gordon Hayward, George Hill, and Joe Johnson proved lethal for Los Angeles down the stretch. After conceding 52 percent from the field on Monday night, Paul admitted the Clippers need to tighten the screws on defense—especially before the postseason begins.
“We got to get it together. I’d much rather be playing the right way and be playing consistently on both ends and lose a couple of games but know going into the playoffs that we had our principals, but we’re still working on it,” Paul added. “It sucks, but you got to do it. You got to do it. If were ready for everything right now, then we might be peaking too soon, so hopefully, we get it at the right time.”
With one more game remaining against the Jazz remaining this season and 15 games total left in the year, the Clippers are preparing themselves for their next tussle with Utah.
“It’s going to be a physical series,” Austin Rivers said. “Hostile series. They’re a really good team, got good players. I would imagine that it would be a real physical series. They’re looking forward to it, we’re looking forward to it, but we still have 15 games left. … We have to be ready for that.”