Los Angeles Clippers Head to Utah In Pivotal Late Season Matchup

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - JANUARY 20: Lou Williams /

While the Los Angeles Clippers fight to keep their Western Conference Playoff hopes alive, they head to Utah to take on the Jazz in a must win game.

The Clippers (42-36) were able to stave off slipping out of the playoff race for one more day. The team used a 41-point fourth quarter to overcome a deficit that had gotten as high as 19 to claw out a win against the Spurs (45-34) in Los Angeles on Tuesday. Tonight, the Clippers travel to Salt Lake City to face the 4th seeded Utah Jazz (45-33) in yet another make or break game.

The Jazz have been on an incredible run since being left for dead in mid-January, winning 24 of their last 31 games. Playing a throwback style of basketball, the team has risen to second in Defensive Rating and third in Opponent’s Points Per Game. Offensively, the Jazz rank near the middle of the pack, landing at 20th in Points Per Game and 16th in Offensive Rating, while operating at a pace that is only faster than three other teams in the league. The Jazz force opposing teams to work every second of the shot clock both offensively and defensively, hoping to grind out wins with effort and intelligence rather than overwhelming talent alone.

Rudy Gobert and Rookie of the Year candidate Donovan Mitchell have been the main reasons for the team’s resurgence. Since Gobert’s return from injury on January 19th the Jazz have outscored opponents by nearly 10 points per game, with Gobert averaging 14.8 points on 63.2% shooting, 11.6 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks per game with an overall plus-minus of +9.8. Gobert’s defensive impact has vaulted him into the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year, even though he will only have played 56 games by the season’s end.

Over the same stretch, Mitchell has been the team’s main offensive focus, averaging 21.8 points on almost 19 attempts per game. Over his last 10 games however, Mitchell has averaged nearly 25 points per game on almost 22 shot attempts. In the three losses over that stretch, Mitchell has struggled shooing, hitting just under 36% of his attempts overall and 26% from three. It will be essential for the Clippers to make things difficult for Mitchell tonight if they want to overcome the defensive presence of the Jazz. In both victories against the Clippers this season, the Jazz were able to score 125 points or more with Mitchell averaging 23.5 points per game, shooting 50% from the field and 43.7% from deep.

The Jazz currently lead the Clippers in the season series 2-1, with all match-ups coming before the Blake Griffin trade. While the Jazz hold a three-game lead over the Clippers, any opportunity to tie a season series with a team in front of them in the playoff picture is one the team cannot afford to miss. The Clippers have a better division record than all of the teams they are trying to catch in the playoff race, which is the next tie-breaker in the event of a season series tie. While they will once again be without Danilo Gallinari, the team will hope that their “next man up” mentality will continue to carry them.

The Clippers simply cannot have another slow start tonight, especially against the second rated defensive team in the league. For the rest of the season, the Clippers will need a combination of luck and strong play to find their way back into the playoffs. A win against the Jazz would work wonders for the team’s (and the fan’s) confidence in their ability to do so.