By Kate Hedlin
Posted Mar 31, 2012 2:35AM
A week ago, the Los Angeles Clippers were struggling and their coach's job was seemingly in jeopardy.
Now, the Clippers will try to win five straight for the first time in over five years Saturday night when they host the Utah Jazz.
After losing three in a row and failing to reach 100 points in nine straight games, Los Angeles appears to be back on track with four consecutive wins.
The Clippers (30-21) won three in a row by a double-digit margins before slipping past Portland 98-97 on Friday. Chris Paul's driving layup with five seconds left helped Los Angeles match its longest winning streak of the season.
A week ago, there were concerns about the Clippers' attitude and questions about coach Vinny Del Negro's future, but they seem to be focused now. They hold a one-game lead on Dallas for the fourth playoff spot in the Western Conference and trail the Lakers by one game for the Pacific Division lead.
Paul finished with 20 points, 14 assists and four steals Friday, earning his fourth consecutive double-double.
"He's been the difference-maker this year," Blake Griffin said.
Griffin has played just as big a role. He's averaging 21.8 points and 11.0 rebounds during the four-game streak.
Behind their two stars, the Clippers are averaging 99.8 points and shooting 50.5 percent the last three games after scoring 90.3 on 42.1 percent from the field the previous nine.
Saturday concludes a five-game homestand for Los Angeles, which hasn't won five in a row overall since Nov. 2-12, 2006. It has also won six straight at home - one shy of its season high - to improve to 19-8 there this season.
While the Clippers try to keep things going, the Jazz (27-25) find themselves struggling to close out games.
They have lost three of four, including a four-overtime defeat at Atlanta last Sunday to snap a six-game winning streak.
Utah shot 35.2 percent - its second-worst mark of the season - in a 104-103 loss at home to Sacramento on Friday, as Gordon Hayward's driving layup failed to fall in the closing seconds.
"You've got to learn how to play and close out ballgames," coach Tyrone Corbin said. "We've taken some steps forward; we just didn't demonstrate it tonight."
Al Jefferson scored 27 points and Hayward added 19, but Derrick Favors had a dismal night, going 0 for 13 from the field.
The Jazz fell one game behind Denver for the final playoff spot in the West.
Utah has particularly struggled to control the paint the last four games. DeMarcus Cousins had 27 points and 14 rebounds Friday two nights after Boston's Kevin Garnett finished with 23 and 10.
Utah and Los Angeles have split two meetings this season, with the Clippers winning 107-105 on Feb. 1. Paul scored 34 points and Griffin added 31 and 14 rebounds.
Griffin was held to 10 points in the first matchup, which Paul missed with a hamstring strain.
Utah has won its last two visits to Staples Center against the Clippers.
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