Posted April 17, 2012 on AP on Fox
The Utah Jazz are playing with a sense of urgency as they try to make the playoffs - something that was apparent in their last game. Coming off a triple-overtime thriller, the Jazz visit the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday night. With four games remaining, Utah finds itself a half-game behind Phoenix and Utah for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Jazz (32-30) hold the tiebreaker over the Rockets but not the Suns, whom they face next Tuesday. Desperately needing a win after back-to-back road losses, Utah earned a 123-121 triple-OT victory over Dallas on Monday, emerging with the win after blowing an eight-point lead late in regulation. It was the second marathon game in less than a month for the Jazz, who lost in four overtimes at Atlanta on March 25. "Right now we just got to win every game, no excuse," forward Al Jefferson said. "This is a big test for us. We just got to see where our heart is and I know everybody in the locker room wants to make the playoffs. So we are going to fight and we are going to fight 'til the end. That's all we can do." Jefferson led the Jazz with 28 points Monday while matching a career high with 26 rebounds, while DeMarre Carroll had 15 points and six assists in a career-high 45 minutes. While the Jazz were thrilled to come away with the victory, there was a lot to be unhappy about, such as 21 turnovers, a blown lead late in regulation and six missed free throws in the extra periods. Still, coach Tyrone Corbin liked how Utah responded, particularly since it had struggled late its the previous two games. The Jazz went scoreless for nearly five minutes in the final period against New Orleans on Friday and failed to protect a six-point lead in a loss to Memphis on Saturday. "You can't reiterate enough about the character of this group of guys," Corbin said. "We may make some mistakes, but the team is going to continue to fight through." The Jazz have defeated the Trail Blazers twice this season, most recently winning 102-97 on April 2. Portland (28-34) was eliminated from playoff contention following a 125-107 loss at Phoenix on Monday - its third straight defeat and fifth in six games. With LaMarcus Aldridge and Raymond Felton out due to injury, the Blazers also sat Nicolas Batum as they allowed some younger players to get extra minutes. Luke Babbitt scored a career-high 18 points and rookie Nolan Smith added a season-high 14. Portland struggled defensively, though, allowing the Suns to shoot 60.0 percent while scoring 27 points on the fast break. The Blazers are giving up 103.9 points per game this month - up from the 97.3 they are allowing for the season. "It's disappointing," guard Jamal Crawford said of being eliminated from playoff contention. "It's been a trying season but if we could take one positive out of it, it's to see these young guys get better and see (interim coach) Kaleb (Canales) get better each game as well as each of us try to end on a positive note." This is the final home game for Portland, which plays three straight on the road and visits the Jazz to end the season next Thursday. After Wednesday, Utah's remaining games are at home.
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