Separated from the Thunder, Pelicans and Spurs by just one loss in the Western Conference standings, the Utah Jazz came to STAPLES Center on Sunday afternoon hoping to sweep the season series against the Lakers and hold onto their fourth-seed playoff position. In a predictably brutal affair given the extent of the Lakers’ injury list, the Jazz defeated the Lakers 112-97 and clinched a playoff spot in the teams’ final matchup of the season.
Without Lonzo Ball (knee), Brandon Ingram (concussion protocol) or Kyle Kuzma (ankle), the Lakers started Sunday’s game on the wrong side of a 16-4 run before Luke Walton took a timeout to regroup with 6:48 remaining in the first. Led by Josh Hart and Julius Randle, who had 6 and 9 points respectively in the quarter, Los Angeles responded with a 10-0 run and cut the Utah lead to just five at 19-14.
Donovan Mitchell, Utah’s leading scorer in the season matchup against Los Angeles, scored nine points and carried the Jazz to a 30-21 advantage at the end of a sloppy first quarter in which both teams turned the ball over seven times.
Hart and the undermanned Lakers continued to tread water in the second quarter, with the Lakers’ rookie guard dropping nine points to bring his first half total to fifteen. Tyler Ennis, who came off the bench behind Alex Caruso, steadied the offense with solid and much needed point-guard play on the way to a nine-point first half. Jae Crowder, who matched Hart’s second quarter total with nine points of his own, kept the Jazz afloat as Utah entered halftime up 50-44.
The absence of the Lakers’ three essential players became painfully evident as Utah’s go-to man entered the second half in takeover mode. Mitchell, displaying the legitimacy of Rookie of the Year case, torched the Lakers for 11 points on three-of-five shooting in the third quarter to elevate his own scoring total to 23 and push his team’s lead to 15 at 82-67.
Luke Walton took a timeout with 9:30 minutes remaining in the fourth after the Jazz lead ballooned to the then-largest margin of the game at 94-73. Unable to ever recover, the Lakers ended the game with Thomas Bryant, Gary Payton II and Travis Wear on the floor and the scoreboard reading 112-97 in favor of the Jazz.
Hart, the No. 30 pick in the 2017 NBA draft, added another noteworthy game to his rookie resume with 25 points, two blocks and two steals. Mitchell, drafted No. 13 on the same night as Hart, looked as savvy as a ten-year pro with a stellar 28 points, nine rebounds and eight assists.
Utah is now 46-33 on the season and will head to Oakland next for a Tuesday night matchup against the Golden State Warriors. The Lakers, now 34-46 on the year, will next face the 64-16 Houston Rockets on Tuesday at Staples.
All stats courtesy of stats.nba.com unless otherwise noted.