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Kragthorpe: Jazz reach 82-game finish line healthy, happy

Published April 13, 2017 6:20 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Jazz's best regular season in seven years ended dramatically, weirdly and successfully.

Fans stood and cheered wildly Wednesday night as a Jazz lineup of Shelvin Mack, Danté Exum, Jeff Withey, Trey Lyles and Alec Burks closed a 101-97 victory over San Antonio at Vivint Smart Home Arena.

Jazz coach Quin Snyder's strategy disregarded any hope that the Los Angeles Clippers might lose to Sacramento and concede home-court advantage in the Jazz-Clippers playoff series that starts Saturday. When I asked Snyder if he was willing to live with the possibility that his team and the Clippers both would lose, he said, "Yes."

Snyder never would have forgiven himself — and nobody else would have, either — at the end of this injury-cursed season if one of his mainstays had been injured in the fourth quarter. Sacramento was hanging with the Clippers in the second quarter in Los Angeles, as of the Jazz-Spurs conclusion. So Snyder potentially could have looked silly by allowing the Jazz to lose this game after Spurs coach Gregg Popovich went deep into his bench in the fourth period.

Snyder, as always, could see only a bigger picture. "The primary thing for us is to be healthy," he said.

And to further justify his approach, the Jazz won. This stuff was entertaining, I'll say that much. Down the stretch, the Jazz twice traded 3-pointers with the Spurs' Davis Bertans, as Mack and Burks hit clutch shots. Exum's steal, Bertans' two misses with open looks and a couple of free throws enabled the Jazz to finish in style.

The Jazz (51-31) tied for the NBA's fifth-best record this season, the only trouble being they're merely the No. 5 seed in the Western Conference and will open the playoffs in Los Angeles. The Clippers' victory over a depleted Sacramento team cemented the first-round schedule, via a head-to-head tiebreaker.

Honestly, the Jazz couldn't have asked for any more help from the Kings, who staged a historic rally to beat the Clippers in Los Angeles in late March. For those who wondered why Sacramento would rest some players as a non-playoff team in the final game, well, the Jazz did the same thing with Gordon Hayward two years ago.

So in their quest to earn the No. 4 spot, the Jazz could blame only themselves for falling short. The consolation is the Jazz will have the least disadvantage of any team that is opening the playoffs away from home. The Jazz and Clips posted identical records of 29-12 at home and 22-19 on the road. Those home/road differentials are shockingly low for 51-win teams, based on the NBA's historic numbers.

What's lost is the opportunity for the Jazz to open a first-round playoff series at home for the first time since 2001 and to host Game 7, if the series comes to that. Asked about playing in Salt Lake City, Chris Paul told the Orange County Register, "Tough environment. Can't imagine what it's like in there during the playoffs, but we'll see soon enough."

That'll be next week, actually. This weekend would have been more fun if the Jazz and Clippers were starting the series at Vivint. But what's another week, after the Jazz went four years without staging any playoff games here?

The encouraging news is that the Jazz are getting better, just in time. They've held this season together to a remarkable degree amid the injuries, responding well to the mixing and matching Snyder has had to do.

"Our guys have been very open-minded and allowed me to try to make adjustments without ever questioning anything, which is huge," Snyder said before the game. "Not everything you do is going to be right."

Snyder took the correct approach in Wednesday's fourth quarter, even if the Jazz had lost. Just the same, the Clippers probably did him a favor by winning.


Twitter: @tribkurt






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