Hayward scores 22, Jazz defeat Timberwolves 98-85
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) The pressure was on the Utah to keep pace in the Western Conference playoff race after the Dallas Mavericks beat the Detroit Pistons on Friday night. The Jazz have six games left and can't afford to drop games against teams that have struggled all season.
Gordon Hayward scored 22 points and the Jazz defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves 98-85 to hold on to their place in the standings.
The Jazz (38-38) are tied with the Mavericks for the final two slots and are a full game ahead of the Houston Rockets (37-39).
''We've been in these types of games before, where we didn't come out with the right mindset,'' Jazz guard Rodney Hood said. ''But now we've got those under our belt and we know every game is not going to be a blowout because you think it's going to be a blowout. ... It might be a grind.
''We're playing with urgency. ... It's hard not to (watch what other teams are doing.) But we control what we can control.''
Utah pulled away with a strong start and finish to the third quarter. A rare midrange jumper by Rudy Gobert started a 6-0 run at the beginning of the third and Joe Ingles made a 3-pointer from the corner to cap another 6-0 stretch at the end of the quarter for a 77-68 lead.
The Timberwolves never got closer than nine in the fourth quarter.
''I felt like our team was really ready to play,'' Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. ''Early in the game, I just liked how we were playing in really good rhythm. I think we were focused.
''In the beginning of the second half, we started getting a little separation. We didn't let up.''
Trey Lyles added 18 for the Jazz, and Gobert finished with 10 points and 14 rebounds.
Andrew Wiggins paced Minnesota with 24 points, while Karl-Anthony Towns chipped in 17 and 11 rebounds.
The Jazz closed the first half on a 6-0 run, including Rodney Hood's 3 from the corner at the buzzer, to take a 51-49 lead into the break. Lyles carried the scoring load with 17 first-half points.
''Our guys played hard, I thought they competed,'' Timberwolves coach Sam Mitchell said. ''I thought we made some mental mistakes, but we didn't make shots and that team is long, so you are not going to get a lot of second shots.''
Timberwolves: Minnesota is 5-27 when scoring less than 100 points. ... Zach LaVine was held scoreless through three quarters and finished with three.
Jazz: Derrick Favors did not play due to right knee soreness. Lyles started in his place. ... The Jazz have won nine of 12 with six games remaining.
Snyder explained that Alec Burks has been medically cleared to play, but he must complete a ''performance assessment'' before the team will have him return. Burks has missed 48 consecutive games due to a fractured fibula. The performance assessment evaluates balance, the strength in his legs, shooting, lifting, cutting and other physical details. ''There's a point where it's not wise for him to go out until he's hitting some watermarks,'' Snyder said. ''That's basically the process that we're in the middle of and it's been ongoing.''
SPRINT THROUGH THE FINISH
Mitchell said it's important for his young team to finish the season strong despite their record. ''My whole thing with our guys, it's your character,'' Mitchell said. ''It's about competing. The circumstances should never dictate how you compete. If you're going to be a pro, then pros compete once they walk on that floor. That's what we're trying to teach our guys right now. Don't worry about the circumstances. It's more of a test of your character at this time.
''Everybody's going to find out more about you now than at any time. If you're in the playoffs and things are going well, it's easy to play hard then. But when you're not in the playoffs and you have seven games to go and you're playing a lot of minutes and you're 20 years old, this is the time to develop mental toughness and character. ... If you don't play all the way through you've cheated yourself and you haven't given yourself a chance to be as good as you could be.''
Mitchell lit into his team after it lost by 20 to the Clippers on Wednesday. ''We have pride,'' Towns said. ''We are basketball players and we are men, so we have pride. We had to look ourselves in the mirror after a loss like that and come here ready to play and so we came out and had a great practice, came here and tried to execute the game plan. But, like I said, they hit a lot of shots.''
Timberwolves: host Dallas on Sunday.
Jazz: at Phoenix on Sunday.