There are certainly people who had worse nights Saturday than the Los Angeles Clippers. You'll just have to turn to the obituary section to read about them.
Not only did the Clippers get stomped by the Utah Jazz, 105-83, they had to outscore the Jazz bench 33-24 in the fourth quarter to get that close. They also got to watch as the locals celebrated Tom Chambers' 20,000th career point and the first 56-win season in Jazz history.Apparently, the Jazz learned something from their humiliating 18-point loss to the Clippers two weeks ago. In that contest, several Clippers caused defensive problems for the Jazz. This time, the only Clippers who had decent nights were the guys so far down the bench they probably weren't in the game films.
"They jumped on us and didn't let us up this time," said Clippers coach Bill Fitch. "I really thought that the first 15 points, OK, we can do it again, we can hang around and at least make life miserable for them. But it wasn't to be."
The Clippers were held to 35-percent shooting. Their starting five hit 15 of 46 shots. Guard Terry Dehere, who made a series of Jazz defenders look bad in Anaheim, was stuffed and stifled, making 5 of 15 shots.
The Utah offense was as impressive as its defense. The Jazz shot 59.6 percent through three quarters, at which point coach Jerry Sloan emptied his bench. None of the Utah starters played in the fourth quarter; guard Jeff Hornacek, suffering from the flu, was sent home early.
"It was a great warm-up game for them," Fitch said. "There's the difference between one team getting ready for the playoffs and the other one getting ready to go home."
"You can tell they're getting ready for the playoffs," said Clippers guard Pooh Richardson.
Even though this was "just" the Clippers, it was an impressive pre-playoff performance, easily the Jazz's best all-around effort in several games.
"Our main goal right now is to get some momentum going into the playoffs," said Utah's Karl Malone. "Everybody played hard."
The only letdown occurred in the fourth quarter. Trailing 81-50 to start the period (after having been behind by as much as 38), the Clippers' reserves outscored their Utah counterparts 30-14 over the next nine minutes. But the Jazz bench turned that around some in the final three minutes, led by nine points from 12th man Bryon Russell.
Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said he was disappointed with his bench's execution.
"We couldn't get it across halfcourt half the time, and when we did we stood and watched one guy hold the ball," he said.
The highlight of the game occurred in the second quarter. Two minutes into the period, Chambers entered the game for Malone. He hit a 19-footer on Utah's next possession, then two minutes later scored on a layup and free throw. On the Jazz's next trip downcourt, he took a pass from Stockton for another layup and 20,000th career point. Fitch then conveniently called timeout, allowing a brief recognition and standing ovation for the Jazz veteran.
"I made my first shot and Stock was looking for me like I was Karl Malone," Chambers said. "He always said that he wanted to be in the game when I got it."
Fittingly for someone who has scored as many big baskets as Chambers, the milestone was reached at an important point in the game. When he came in, the Jazz led by six, 29-23. From that point, Utah went on a 24-9 run to effectively put the game out of reach.
"I was hoping that it wouldn't be during garbage time," Chambers said of his milestone basket. Then he added, "It felt good to get it over with. It was kind of stressful there for a couple of games."
The key to the Jazz's offensive success was getting the ball inside. They outscored the Clippers 30-6 in the paint in the first half, and for a change it wasn't just Malone doing the damage. Ten Jazz players scored in the half.
Besides the victory, the best thing about this game was that it gave the Jazz starters some rest. Malone, who might have stayed on the floor and got his first triple-double (he finished with 21 points, 17 rebounds, seven assists), said it didn't bother him to miss that opportunity.
"I wasn't bored," the Mailman said. "I can entertain myself pretty good on the bench."
As for the Jazz's history-making 56th win, Malone said, "It's great to get those things, but we have out minds set on one important thing."
Only three other Jazzmen posted double figures, as everyone but James Donaldson (who didn't shoot) scored. Stockton totaled 11 points, 13 assists. Chambers finished with 15 points, six rebounds. And John Crotty pitched in 12 points.
Four Clippers scored in double figures, led by Eric Piatkowski (5 of 12) and Dehere, with 13 each.
The Jazz next play Tuesday night in Minnesota.