2017 NBA Playoffs: Utah Jazz vs. Los Angeles Clippers preview, outlook



LOS ANGELES — It’s been 20 years since Karl Malone and John Stockton guided the Utah Jazz to a playoff sweep over the Los Angeles Clippers.

On Saturday, the two clubs renew acquaintances for the first time in the postseason since then in the opening round of their best-of-7 Western Conference series at Staples Center.

The Jazz have captured both previous playoff meetings with the Clippers. In addition to the three-game sweep in 1997 — which initiated Utah’s run to the NBA Finals where they fell to the Chicago Bulls — the Jazz also prevailed 3-2 in a best-of-5 first-round affair in 1992.

However, much has changed since then. For starters, the Clippers have dominated the Jazz recently, winning three of four during the regular season and 18 of the past 20 games.

However, that matters little now.

“Honestly, as I know and you know, it still starts all over, whether you’re playing well or not,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “Saturday, it doesn’t matter if Utah’s been playing great or not or (if we’ve) been playing great or not. It starts all over and you have to be ready.”

The Clippers have been playing as well as any NBA club. They have won seven in a row, including a 115-95 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday that allowed them to claim the fourth seed and earn homecourt advantage.

“I’m sure it will be a hostile environment,” Jazz forward Joe Johnson told the Salt Lake Tribune. “But I think it will be a great lesson for us, especially for a lot of guys who haven’t been in the playoffs, to really see what it’s like to have a hostile crowd against you. We’ve all sat and talked about it, but we really won’t really know and understand until we get in that environment.”

For the Clippers, they hope this year’s playoff experience is better than last year’s. After winning the opening two games of their first-round series against the Portland Trail Blazers, injuries cost them point guard Chris Paul and forward Blake Griffin. That led to the Trail Blazers eliminating the Clippers in six games.

“One thing you learn in this league is to not get ahead of yourself,” Paul told the Orange County Register on Friday. “I understand where our team has been in the past and where I’ve been in the past and stuff like that, but all I can worry about is Game 1.”

The Jazz are returning to the postseason for the first time since being swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the opening round in 2012. To advance this season, they overcame a slew of injuries.

Jazz center Rudy Gobert, who will be locked into a pivotal duel with DeAndre Jordan of the Clippers, believes the series will be a physical one. During Utah’s lone win on March 13, Gobert and J.J. Redick and Paul exchanged words in a sometimes-testy affair. Gobert and Paul were issued technicals.

“Both teams want to win,” Gobert told the Tribune. “We know it’s going to get physical. We’ve got to just keep doing what we do.”



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