Jazz Edge Lakers In Defensive Battle

Facing the league’s top defense, the Lakers couldn’t manage many points but they did give themselves an opportunity to win.

However, Los Angeles froze up in the third quarter and went scoreless for six minutes straight, as Utah took advantage for a 96-88 victory.

“I was actually happy to see us not let that end our night,” head coach Luke Walton said. “Because a lot of times throughout this year, when that happens we start trying to come back with hero shots on offense and not trusting each other.

“That’s what actually happened during the run, but we were able to come back and get back to the way we were staying in the game early.”

Indeed, the Lakers (16-34) clawed their way back into it despite trailing by 14 early in the fourth quarter. Shortly after, L.A. scored eight unanswered points to cut Utah’s lead to 80-76 with five minutes remaining.

Despite Jordan Clarkson providing 10 of his 16 points in the final period, the Jazz (30-18) answered the Lakers’ offense from that point forward to complete their first sweep of the purple and gold in franchise history.

“When teams get up like that and you get down, it takes a lot of energy to fight back,” Clarkson said. “You still got to have that push to end to finish those games.”

Lou Williams led the Lakers with 20 points but the main battle took place in the paint, where the Lakers’ centers, Timofey Mozgov and Ivica Zubac, squared off with Defensive Player of the Year candidate Rudy Gobert.

Gobert — who leads the league in blocks while ranking second in field goal percentage and fifth in rebounds — uncharacteristically struggled from the field, going 3-of-6. However, he was a terror on the boards and defense, collecting 13 rebounds and six blocks.

Meanwhile, Mozgov had nine points and nine rebounds in 17 minutes, while Zubac continued to impress now that he is getting consistent minutes.

The rookie — who thrives in pick-and-rolls — put up a career-best 16 points and 10 rebounds for his second straight double-double.

”I feel like I’ve come around a lot,” Zubac said. “I can do a lot to help the team and I am trying to do my best. But it’s not good if we don’t get a win. It doesn’t feel right. Whatever I do, it doesn’t feel right if we lose.”

The loss may have felt even stranger considering the Lakers shot 2.2 percent better than Utah’s 40.7 percent clip from the field.

However, the Jazz also hit 24 free throws, doubling L.A.’s total.

“Defensively, I thought we gave a great effort,” Walton said. “Statistically we did a lot of things that we could have won the game on. The only only thing that killed us was the free throws. … It’s really a big part of where they got the separation on us.”

Utah knocked down seven of its foul shots during their third-quarter surge.

Mozgov dunked to hand the Lakers a 56-52 lead halfway through that frame, but they missed their next 11 shots.

The Jazz took advantage by rolling off 16 unanswered points, seven of which came from Gordon Hayward, who dropped 24 total just hours after learning that he was named an All-Star for the first time in his career.

Tarik Black (four points, two rebounds) started in place of Julius Randle, who sat out due to a viral infection. … Jose Calderon (zero points, one assist) started for D’Angelo Russell (MCL sprain, strained calf). … The Lakers have four days off before their next game on Tuesday. … An audience of 19,911 sold out Vivint Smart Home Arena.