|Rejuvenated Clippers face struggling Jazz|
SALT LAKE CITY -- Basketball is fun again for the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Clippers have been undermanned at times this season after having multiple key players sidelined with injuries. Los Angeles hasn't made excuses or thrown in the towel during those stretches. Their willingness to keep playing hard has paid off.
Los Angeles enters Saturday's game with Utah as one of the hottest teams in the NBA. The Clippers (23-21) have won six straight games and 12 of their last 15 overall to climb back into the Western Conference playoff picture.
"Everybody is relaxed and happy," forward Blake Griffin said. "We're a close team. This team trusts each other. I think that's what happens when everybody gets a touch, everybody gets a shot, everybody gets involved. It's fun to play basketball this way."
Lou Williams has played a key role in driving success for the Clippers in January. The veteran guard is having his best season, averaging career-highs in points (23.2), assists (5.0), 3-point field goal shooting percentage (.412) and free throw shooting percentage (.912). Over his last 10 games, Williams has averaged 31.0 points and 6.0 assists while shooting 47.6 percent from the field.
Defenses are forced to focus extra attention on stopping Williams and it is opening the door for other players to do big things for the Clippers. In a 109-104 win over Denver on Wednesday, bench players Montrezl Harrell and Wesley Johnson combined for 33 points.
"We can be down 10," Los Angeles coach Doc Rivers said. "We've been down 20. This team has -- I don't know what it is, but they keep playing."
Utah would love to emulate the turnaround that the Clippers have enjoyed. The Jazz (18-27) have been in a freefall since early December. They have lost 16 of their last 21 games -- the latest setback being a 117-115 loss to New York on Friday.
There is some hope Utah can turn it around now that Rudy Gobert is back on the court. Gobert returned to action against the Knicks after missing 15 games with a PCL strain and bone bruise. He scored a season-high 23 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and blocked three shots.
Gobert had some moments of fatigue, but he showed well enough to merit being on the court late in the game and playing 30 minutes total.
"I thought he had some really good moments," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. "Unfortunately, collectively, we didn't on the defensive end in the second half. That cost us the game."
The Jazz and the Clippers split the first two games in their season series. Utah won most recently, defeating Los Angeles 126-107 on Nov. 30. As a team, the Jazz tallied 38 assists and shot 57.6 percent from the field. Alec Burks led the way with a season-high 28 points in 29 minutes off the bench.
Gobert's return could loom large for Los Angeles, who will have a critical absence in the middle. DeAndre Jordan has missed three straight games because of a left ankle sprain and is not expected to be ready to play in Salt Lake City.