April 14, 2017

LOS ANGELES (AP) The Utah Jazz are back in the playoffs after a five-year absence. The Los Angeles Clippers are looking to make a deep run for the first time in franchise history.

Their opening-round matchup beginning Saturday night in Los Angeles offers contrasting styles, with the patient Jazz making multiple passes to set up their offense, and the Clippers eager to run their opponent out of the gym.

Both teams finished the regular season with 51-31 records. The Clippers earned the No. 4 seed and home-court advantage by virtue of winning the season series 3-1. All but one of the games was decided by double digits; the lone Jazz win came in Utah by six points.

The teams met twice in the preseason, too, making them very familiar with each other.

''We can't do nothing to trick them, and vice versa,'' Chris Paul said Friday.

The Clippers start the playoffs as the NBA's hottest team, having won seven in a row and 11 of 13. Their mark of 14-2 was the best to begin the season, too.

''We're peaking at the right time,'' backup guard Jamal Crawford said. ''To me, this is more impressive than when we went 14-2. At that point, there was no adversity. This year, we faced some adversity and we bounced back.''

The Clippers survived a combined 42 games without injured Blake Griffin and Paul, going 19-23 in their absence. With the exception of reserve guard Austin Rivers, they have everybody healthy.

''They're playing as well as anybody in the league right now,'' Utah coach Quin Snyder said. ''The reality is you're going to get punched during the course of a series. It's more a question of how you respond to that.''

The biggest question facing the Clippers is whether they can advance beyond the second round for the first time in franchise history. Griffin, Paul and DeAndre Jordan are in their sixth season together trying to make it happen.

Coach Doc Rivers bristles at others' focus on past failures.

''I hope our goal is not to get past the second round,'' he said. ''That's such a shallow goal to me. Who wants that? I hope our goal is far bigger than that.''

Here are some things to watch during Game 1 at Staples Center:

BLENDED JAZZ

The Jazz added playoff veterans Boris Diaw, George Hill and Joe Johnson to surround young talent Rudy Gobert, Gordon Hayward and Dante Exum. They've blended into a tough defensive unit, with Gobert protecting the lane and Hayward the perimeter. ''It kind of reminds me of San Antonio,'' Paul said.

MEN IN THE MIDDLE

Gobert squares off against Jordan in the middle. At 7-foot-1, Gobert has a couple inches over the 6-11 Jordan. Their regular-season numbers are comparable: Gobert averaged 14.0 points, 12.8 rebounds and 2.6 blocks, while Jordan had 12.7 points, 13.8 rebounds and 1.7 blocks. Jordan shot a career-high 71 percent from the floor, joining Wilt Chamberlain as the only players in NBA history to top 70 percent in a season. ''They are both dominant defensively, and they both cause havoc offensively that you don't see with rolls to the basket,'' Rivers said. ''Gobert is going to be a key figure, and we are going to have to do a good job on him.''

PACE OF PLAY

The Jazz chew up most of the shot clock on offense. The Clippers are speed demons looking to score quick, easy baskets. ''We've got to be ready to play 24 seconds of defense and then end the possession with a rebound,'' Jordan said.

Look for Paul to keep the Clippers focused on forcing the tempo and pushing the ball. ''When teams miss, we get out in transition and that's when we're at our best,'' he said.

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