Jazz head to San Antonio with play-in hopes sagging

Field Level Media

March 28, 2023 at 10:39 pm.

The Utah Jazz still have a chance to earn a spot in the Western Conference play-in tournament, but Wednesday’s road game with the struggling San Antonio Spurs has become a near-must-win situation.

The Jazz (35-40) are in 12th place in the West, 1 1/2 games behind the Dallas Mavericks and two games in arrears of ninth-place Los Angeles Lakers and Oklahoma City Thunder with seven games to play in the regular season. Utah has dropped four straight to fall out of the play-in bracket and can ill afford to lose to San Antonio (19-56), which has been long eliminated from postseason consideration.

After playing the Spurs, Utah’s final six games are against teams that have either clinched a playoff berth or are in position to do so. Wednesday’s game begins a three-game road trip for the Jazz that will be followed by stops in Boston and Brooklyn.

Utah’s most recent game was a 117-103 setback at home to Phoenix on Monday. The Jazz came back from a double-digit deficit to take the lead late in the third quarter before falling apart in the fourth, when they were outscored 33-22.

Lauri Markkanen had 25 points and nine rebounds to lead Utah on Monday, with Walker Kessler adding 18 points, eight rebounds and seven blocks, Talen Horton-Tucker hitting for 16 points and Kelly Olynyk scoring 10.

“You can only control what you can control,” Kessler said. “Understanding that as long as we maintain who we are and not let that discourage us and maintain the character of this team (is what’s important). We show up every night, play our tails off, and never give up.”

San Antonio has also dropped four straight, all on the road. The latest setback in the Spurs’ forgettable campaign was a 137-93 thrashing at the hands of Boston on Sunday, San Antonio’s sixth loss in its past seven outings.

“We played well for about a quarter, but after that, I thought we just gave in,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “I thought we embarrassed ourselves by giving in the way we did. But the Celtics had a lot to do with that.”

Zach Collins led San Antonio with 21 points and seven rebounds in Sunday’s loss while Malaki Branham scored 15 points, Sandro Mamukelashvili hit for 13 and Tre Jones had 11. The Spurs played without starters Jeremy Sochan (sore right knee) for the fourth time in five games and Keldon Johnson, who was out with a right foot injury.

Of those two, Johnson has the best chance of playing Wednesday versus Utah.

San Antonio clawed to within six points early in the third period but that seemed to wake up the Celtics, who finished the period with a 24-11 run and were never again challenged. Boston pushed its lead to as many as 47 late in the game.

“(Boston) caught fire, and we couldn’t recover,” Collins said. “I think we tried to get back into it. Maybe we did give in. We’ve definitely got to watch the film. If you lose by 40 there’s probably a lot of things that went wrong.”

San Antonio has beaten Utah in two of the three games between the teams this season.