Bernier at the same time.
SALT LAKE CITY — An incredible turnaround is complete.
The Utah Jazz clinched an NBA playoff spot with two regular-season games left after beating the Los Angeles Lakers 112-97 on Sunday. It caps an unforeseen rise after the Jazz (47-33) were nine games below .500 in mid-January with a 19-28 record.
“What this group of guys has done — as far as being nine games below .500 and dealing with a lot of adversity and change — I’m really proud of their effort over the course of the season JC Tretter Jersey ,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder told reporters on Sunday.
Now the question remaining is how far can Utah rise?
The Jazz still have plenty at stake when they host Golden State on Tuesday night. Not only can Utah claim the season series with the Warriors with another victory, they can keep hopes for claiming the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference alive. Portland currently leads the Jazz by a game in the race for that seed and the two division rivals face off on Wednesday.
In a real sense, every game still counts for Utah. And the Jazz don’t want to coast into the postseason.
“We want to stay right where we are at, if not, keep going higher,” Donovan Mitchell told reporters on Thursday. “We want to keep working and keep doing what we’ve been doing. If we keep playing like this we’ll be in good shape.”
Since Rudy Gobert returned to the lineup in January after missing 26 games with knee injuries, Utah has turned into a tough customer on both ends of the court. The Jazz rank 13th in the NBA in offensive efficiency (108.5) and lead the league in defensive efficiency (97.9) since mid-January.
Mitchell, who tallied 28 points, nine rebounds and eight assists against the Lakers, has led the way on offense. He is just the fifth NBA rookie to lead his team to the playoffs as the team’s leading scorer Damien Wilson Jersey , joining Carmelo Anthony (Denver, 2003-04), David Robinson (San Antonio, 1989-90), Chuck Person (Indiana, 1986-87) and Michael Jordan (Chicago, 1984-85).
No one needs to remind Golden State how dangerous the Jazz have become as the regular season winds down. The Warriors (58-23) have suffered two straight lopsided losses to Utah and they fell 129-99 to the Jazz in their other visit to Salt Lake City on Jan. 27.
Golden State has limped a bit into the postseason compared to previous years. The Warriors snapped a two-game losing streak with a 117-100 win over Phoenix on Sunday behind 34 points from Klay Thompson. Overall, Golden State has lost nine of its last 16 games and defense has been a primary factor behind the slump.
The Warriors allowed 126 points in back-to-back losses to Indiana and New Orleans. Both opponents lit up Golden State from the field. The Pelicans shot 56 percent, while the Pacers shot 54 percent — including 52 percent from 3-point range.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr publicly criticized his team’s defensive effort after the loss to Indiana and reiterated on Sunday that defense needs to be an area of focus and improvement heading into the playoffs.
“My main message is we’ve got to defend,” Kerr told reporters before Sunday’s win over the Suns. “We’ve got to get back to being a top-five defensive team. I probably chose my words poorly in Indianapolis. When I said they didn’t care Britton Colquitt Jersey , that didn’t mean that they didn’t ‘care.’ What that meant to me was they didn’t box out. They didn’t get in the passing lanes. They didn’t compete at a high level.”
Defense has been questionable in Golden State’s last two losses against Utah.
In January’s loss to the Jazz, for example, Utah shot 50 percent from 3-point range and 58 percent from the field overall. All five Jazz starters have averaged double figures in their last two games against the Warriors — with Mitchell leading the way at 20.5 points to go with 5.0 assists and 3.0 steals.
Nathan MacKinnon and the Colorado Avalanche leaned on their speed to get off to another flying start.
This time, it held up.
MacKinnon scored twice, including one as part of a three-goal first period and another to chase Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne from the game, and the Avalanche beat the Predators 5-3 in Game 3 on Monday night to pull to 2-1 in the first-round series.
Blake Comeau and Gabriel Bourque also scored in a furious opening period that revved up a pom-pom waving capacity crowd. Gabriel Landeskog was credited with an empty-net goal for the Avalanche, who snapped a 12-game skid against the Predators.
”Our guys were energized,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. ”We were on our toes and the aggressors early in that game and it paid off for us.”
Game 4 is Wednesday in Denver.
For a third straight game in the series, Colorado scored first. But the Avs were able to make it stand in this one. MacKinnon and his teammates have been a different bunch at home this year. Their 28 home wins in the regular season was tied for the most in franchise history with the 2000-01 squad that hoisted the Stanley Cup.
”They gained a lot of momentum, used their atmosphere to their advantage and we weren’t able to respond in that first period Joe Namath Jersey ,” Predators forward Ryan Johansen said. ”That can’t happen.”
MacKinnon’s goal at 4:25 of the second period gave Colorado a 4-0 lead and prompted the Predators to pull Rinne in favor of backup Juuse Saros . Rinne allowed four goals on 15 shots.
”We weren’t very good in front of him,” Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. ”I didn’t think we were giving him the support he needed.”
Laviolette wasn’t in a mood to elaborate on what exactly went wrong.
”It wasn’t good,” Laviolette said of the first period.
Any particular reason?
”We didn’t play very well,” he said.
One thing was clear: MacKinnon was as fast as ever on home ice. He led the league in home scoring in the regular season with 67 points.
”He thrives on the energy in the building,” Bednar said. ”He’s just so explosive at home. He’s dangerous every time he touches the puck at home.”
Jonathan Bernier stopped 29 shots on a night when the Avalanche finished 0 for 5 on the power play. Johansen had a second-period goal and Colton Sissons scored another in the third to make it 4-2. Saros was pulled for an extra skater with around 2:20 left and, moments later, Landeskog was credited with a goal after being dragged down on a breakaway. A sliding Landeskog was trying to get the puck over to MacKinnon for the hat trick.
It’s about the only thing that didn’t work out for Colorado.
”We proved to ourselves that we can get a win,” MacKinnon said. ”Hopefully it just snowballs from here.”
Nashville got on the board midway through the second after Colorado was whistled for two penalties on a play, giving the Predators a 5-on-3 advantage. Johansen knocked in a rebound to make it 4-1, but Colorado quelled the other portion of the power play.
Late in the second Jake Rudock Jersey , P.K. Subban and MacKinnon got tangled up near the corner. It led to some pushing and shoving with both getting holding penalties.
Simply playoff hockey.
”Anytime you play the same team over and over and over again you start to really dislike each other,” said Austin Watson, who added a late goal. ”It’s good battles, good intensity out there and it’s fun hockey.”
It didn’t take long for Colorado to get on the board with Comeau scoring 1:50 into the game and on the team’s second shot. The Avs beat Rinne on their opening shot in each of the first two games.
Shortly after Bourque tipped in Patrik Nemeth’s shot, MacKinnon scored with 1:53 remaining in the first when he took a pass from Landeskog, used a burst of speed to get free and beat Rinne with a wrist shot.
The last time the Avalanche played at the Pepsi Center it was also desperation time. They beat St. Louis in a winner-gets-into-the-playoffs season finale.
NOTES: Nashville LW Viktor Arvidsson nearly had a goal in the first when he and the puck crashed into Bernier at the same time. The puck slid in, but the officials waved it off due to goaltender interference. … F Filip Forsberg had an assist on Johansen’s goal to become the Predators’ all-time postseason points leader (29). … A Nashville fan threw a catfish onto the ice. … Avs D Samuel Girard missed a second straight game with an upper-body injury. … D Nikita Zadorov celebrated his 23rd birthday. … Broncos LB Von Miller showed up wearing a No. 58 Avalanche jersey.
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