Lakers fall to Jazz, hope for help against Pelicans – Daily News

SALT LAKE CITY — Recently in Utah, it’s been less “jazz” and more “funk.”

If the Lakers were going to steal a win off of any of their remaining playoff-bound opponents, the Jazz were an enticing candidate: losers of five straight, including many blown leads, and down 0-2 to the Lakers in the season series.

Without LeBron James and Anthony Davis in the picture, the Lakers (31-45) improved their effort and competitiveness on Thursday night … but it didn’t improve the result.

“A few more stops, a few more threes go in for us,” Coach Frank Vogel said, “I feel like we’re talking about a different night.”

Falling to Utah, 122-109, the Lakers again slipped to even in the standings with the San Antonio Spurs, again on track to miss the play-in tournament by virtue of a tiebreaker. It sets the stage for a critical Friday night game when the Lakers will host the New Orleans Pelicans, potentially with Davis and James back in the fold off the injury list.

“Big game for us,” Lakers guard Russell Westbrook said. “We know that. They know that. Our job is to make sure we show up and be ready to play regardless of who is playing and who’s not.”

Westbrook (24 points) and Dwight Howard (21 points) carried the banner in Vivint Arena on Thursday night. The two former All-Stars put up decent stat lines, shooting a combined 18 for 31 from field, and even put some sweat into the Jazz, closing the gap to one possession four times.

All the same, the Lakers never led. Utah’s Donovan Mitchell was the game’s top scorer with 29 points, while center Rudy Gobert had 25 points and 17 rebounds against the Lakers’ undermanned frontcourt.

Again, the Lakers’ defense faltered, letting Mitchell slither around screens, or allowing Gobert to dunk freely in the paint. Jordan Clarkson (19 points) and Mike Conley (18 points) found plenty of open looks around the perimeter. The Jazz scored at least 32 points in each of the first three periods.

Still, late into the game, tension was thick for the Jazz after blowing a 25-point lead in their last game against the Clippers. The Lakers had a moment they could have seized against a franchise that has lost some confidence recently, after Talen Horton-Tucker sank a 3-pointer that cut what was once an 18-point Utah lead to just 10 with 5½ minutes left.

But on the next offensive possession, Malik Monk rimmed a 3-point attempt at the top of the key. The Jazz set up a pick-and-roll, with Clarkson dishing to a wide-open Bojan Bogdanovic (who just returned from a nine-game injury absence) for a 3-pointer. The six-point swing was the end of any upset dreams for the 13.5-point underdogs.

“We knew if we put some pressure on them in the fourth, they’ve had some issues with closing out games,” Vogel said, clicking his tongue. “We weren’t able to close that gap.”

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