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Clippers look to take season series vs. Jazz

In a possible first-round preview, the Utah Jazz visit Staples Center on Saturday afternoon to take on the Clippers.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Utah Jazz Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

The Big Picture

We’re officially into the stretch run of the regular season, and your Los Angeles Clippers are about to enter a crucial weekend. That begins on Saturday afternoon when they host the Utah Jazz, who happen to be sitting a half-game ahead of LA for the No. 4 spot in the conference.

This game not only has playoff seeding implications, but tiebreaker implications, as well. Saturday’s tilt will be the fourth and final regular season clash between the clubs, with the Clips currently holding a 2-1 edge. If they’re able to take care of business in this one, the Clippers will hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over Utah.

If the Jazz win this game on Saturday, though, that will propel them to three games up on the Clippers in the loss column. With just eight games left after the Utah game, making up a three-game gap is a tall and unlikely order for the Clips.

On the heels of a trio of easy wins over (what was left of) the Cavs, Knicks and Lakers, the Clippers were beaten in disappointing fashion by the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday night. A loss at Dallas isn’t as bad now as it would’ve been earlier in the season, but dropping winnable games to non-playoff foes at this point of the season is always fairly disappointing.

While the No. 4 spot is very much within reach, the Clippers aren’t exactly safe from falling way down to seventh, either. Entering play Saturday, LA sits just a game up on sixth-place OKC and 2.5 ahead of Memphis. The Clippers do have a favorable schedule from here on out, though, so nabbing that fourth seed is very much within reach.

The Enemy

The Jazz made one trip to Staples earlier in the year to face the Clips, and that one also happened to be a weekend matinee affair. As is often the case with early afternoon games, it was an ugly, slug-it-out showdown that the Clippers won 88-75. That was just the second game of the season, and the Jazz were without leading scorer Gordon Hayward.

Utah hasn’t exactly been in the greatest of form lately, as their most recent win over the Knicks snapped a three-game losing skid. The Clips have had excellent success against the Jazz in recent years, though Utah did come out victorious in their most recent meeting earlier this month.

Utah has a few injury concerns, and they’re most notably without Derrick Favors, who has been slowed all season long by a bone bruise on his knee. Quin Snyder has been doing some shuffling of the starting unit recently without Favors in the fold. Joe Johnson has started a handful of games alongside Rudy Gobert in the front court, but to match up better with a bigger Knicks front line on Thursday, noted hefty Frenchman Boris Diaw manned the four spot.

With the Clippers boasting a formidable front court of their own, Diaw started the aforementioned Jazz win on March 13, as well.

Key Matchup

DeAndre Jordan vs. Rudy Gobert

The Jazz typically get it done with defense, and Rudy Gobert is right at the middle of it. Gobert is a leading candidate for Defensive Player of the Year this season, and the Stifle Tower is having what is easily his finest overall season as a pro. Gobert is averaging 13.5 points, 12.8 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game for the team that ranks third behind San Antonio and Golden State in defensive rating.

Utah’s defensive rating is 102.9 when Gobert is on the floor, but it balloons to 110 whenever he hits the bench. While guys like Gordon Hayward and George Hill are solid individual defenders in their own right, no other player has the same overall effect on how the Jazz play at that end of the floor. Utah’s perimeter guys are more than happy to lead drivers into the lane straight at Gobert.

Rather than chase blocks like Hassan Whiteside or weirdly do the opposite like Andre Drummond, Gobert is smart about picking his spots and won’t often fall for pump fakes. His disciplined approach effectively walls off the rim for opponents.

We know that DeAndre Jordan plays a similar role on both ends of the floor with the Clippers. DJ isn’t as strong an individual defender as Gobert may be, but his presence alone is often enough to scare drivers from trying something they may regret. Gobert’s offensive game is still raw and improving, but Jordan is a vital cog in what the Clips do offensively.

His thunderous rolls to the rim have a way of sucking in the defense, which helps create shooting space for guys like Chris Paul, JJ Redick and (recently, at least) Blake Griffin.

In 10 career head-to-head matchups with Gobert, Jordan is averaging 8.6 points, 11.9 rebounds and 2.5 blocks on 59 percent shooting from the floor. On the flip side, Gobert averages seven points and 7.3 rebounds with just over a block per game on 66 percent shooting against DJ. To be fair, of course, Gobert has only averaged about 21 minutes per game in his 10 showdowns with Jordan and the Clippers all-time.

The Fancy Table

Game Day Song of Choice

The Clips and Jazz will do battle in a potential first-round preview starting at 12:30pm PT. As always, you can catch the game locally on Prime Ticket.