LOS ANGELES — During the home stretch of this 2023-24 NBA season, the Los Angeles Clippers have been after homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Fighting between the fourth and fifth spot in the Western Conference, it had come down to the last few games of the year, and just a few hours before their game against the Utah Jazz tipped off on Friday night, their fate had not been settled.

It looked like it was going to be a perfect night for another lesson in urgency for the Jazz’s young core.

“It’s gonna be fun for us to feel what a desperate team at a different level plays like,” Jazz head coach Will Hardy said two hours before the game started, “because the Clippers are playing for something.

“Tonight’s game is important to them. It’s going to be another moment of learning for our team. This is a team that’s in a place that we want to get to and we’re about to feel what it feels like to be on the court with a team that’s at that level.”

But, as fate would have it, the Clippers were able to secure the fourth seed in the West before their game against the Jazz even began. With the Dallas Mavericks dropping a game to the Detroit Pistons, Clippers coach Tyronn Lue was able to breathe a little easier and give some of his stars rest.

With Kawhi Leonard watching in street clothes nursing a sore right knee so he can be ready to go when the playoffs start, the Clippers only played James Harden 9 minutes, 58 seconds on Friday night.

Russell Westbrook was on the court for exactly 9 minutes, Paul George for just 8:24 and Terance Mann for 5:06.

“The Clippers pulled the plug at some point on some of their starters,” Hardy said, “so yeah, you obviously don’t get to feel it in the way that we discussed pregame, so then you move on to a different a different message, which is it’s an opportunity for us to play a game, get better, compete and go try to win.

“You know, nobody’s made any excuses for us when we’ve lost, so you play who’s on the floor, play as hard as you can.”

To their credit, the Jazz fought like crazy to get the 110-109 win and they did it despite shooting just 17.1% from 3-point range, in large part thanks to the versatility of Kenneth Lofton Jr., who nearly had a triple-double with 27 points, nine rebounds and eight assists.

But the truth is the Jazz were playing against the deep bench rotation of the Clippers and had to fight their hardest even then to get the win.

The Jazz didn’t end up playing a desperate team on Friday night. Instead, they were playing yet another team that could relax against them and get some of their deeper bench players some run knowing that they are headed to the postseason, a place the Jazz aren’t anywhere close to being.

On Tuesday, when the Jazz faced the Denver Nuggets, Denver head coach Michael Malone fielded questions about playoff rotations and trust in different players at big moments.

On Friday, Lue was discussing priorities over the coming days as the Clippers prepare for a postseason run and on Sunday, the Jazz will play against the Golden State Warriors, a highly decorated and playoff experienced team that is looking well past what the Jazz will bring.

“I’m deeply jealous of everybody that’s preparing for the playoffs right now,” Hardy said. “So are our players. That’s where we want to be...I’ve been in the playoffs. Out of my 15 years in the NBA I think 12 years.

“There’s nothing like it. There’s nothing like preparing for a series, there’s nothing like the chess match that goes on there, the adjustments game to game.”

There’s nothing like it, and the Jazz will once again have to live with watching from home.