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Last year’s playoff roles reversed as sinking Jazz meet Grizzlies

Jan 28, 2022; Memphis, Tennessee, USA; Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson (00) drives to the basket as Memphis Grizzles guard Ja Morant (12) defends during the second half at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

The struggling Utah Jazz will play host to the surging Memphis Grizzlies Tuesday night in Salt Lake City.

Memphis (55-23) comes into the contest having won seven games in a row and has clinched the No. 2 spot in the Western Conference with only four games remaining in the regular season.

Utah (46-32) has lost six of its last seven games to fall into the No. 6 position in the West.

The Jazz’s most recent defeat was another gut punch, in which they held a big lead before wilting down the stretch against the Golden State Warriors. Utah has had a couple of days off since the 111-107 loss in San Francisco.

The Warriors, despite playing without Steph Curry, scored 18 straight points on six 3-pointers to rally past the Jazz. Utah held a 21-point lead in the stunning setback.

It was Utah’s 15th loss this season after leading by 10 or more points.

Jazz star Donovan Mitchell believes the team can still turn things around in time to make some noise in the postseason.

“We have a group of guys — including myself — where it’s gonna feel good when we figure it out,” Mitchell said. “So, we can sit here and feel sorry for ourselves or we can use it as fuel. And I think we have a group of guys who want to do that. Yeah, we messed up. We’ve messed up fourth quarters 14 times, 15 times. How do we respond? How do we adjust? That’s really where I’m at, that’s where we’re at. We’ll figure it out.”

Realistically, the Jazz are fighting with Denver (47-32) for the fifth or sixth seed in the first round, but they’re only 1.5 games ahead of Minnesota (45-34) for the seventh spot, which would require a play-in victory to make the playoffs.

The Grizzlies, meanwhile, are locked into the No. 2 spot, seven games behind No. 1 Phoenix and 5.5 games ahead of Golden State.

Memphis picked up an especially impressive win last weekend, beating the Suns at home 122-114 even though Ja Morant (knee), Desmond Bane (ankle), Steven Adams (calf), Tyus Jones (hand) and Jaren Jackson Jr. (thigh) were sidelined with injuries.

Dillon Brooks led the red-hot Grizzlies with 30 points as his team snapped Phoenix’s nine-game winning streak.

“These are definitely culture wins,” Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins said, “because you’re going up against the best team in the league.”

Jenkins thought it was a statement victory for the Grizzlies, who were eliminated after a feisty showing against the Jazz in the first round last postseason.

“Tonight’s a night where you can put your stamp (on it), and say ‘This is who we are, and we’re going to be here for a really long time,'” Jenkins said after Friday’s victory.

Assistant Darko Rajakovic finished coaching the game for the Grizzlies after Jenkins was tossed in the second quarter with two technical fouls.

Memphis has beaten Utah in their first two meetings this season — 119-118 at Vivint Arena in November and 119-109 at home in January.

–Field Level Media