SALT LAKE CITY — At this point of the season, the Utah Jazz know they can’t afford to lose games in which they’re favored if they hope to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2012.
They acted like it in the second half Friday night.
Gordon Hayward scored 22 points and the Utah Jazz overcame a sluggish first half for a 98-85 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves.
“We’re playing with urgency, not just because of the playoff race but because we just want to win,” Jazz shooting guard Rodney Hood said. “We want to play well. If we play well and play hard, we can live with the results.”
The Jazz (38-38) played without starting power forward Derrick Favors (knee), but his replacement, Trey Lyles, had one of the best games of his rookie season. Lyles scored 17 of his 18 points in the first half to help keep Utah in the game.
“He stepped up earlier in the year when Fav was out and played extremely well,” Hayward said of the 20-year-old power forward from Kentucky. “I thought tonight it was the same thing. He really took advantage of the opportunity and got us going early and kept us in the game.”
All five Jazz starters finished in double figures. Rodney Hood finished with 17 points, Shelvin Mack added 16 and Rudy Gobert contributed 10 points and 14 rebounds.
The win kept Utah in a tie for the seventh playoff spot in the West with Dallas, which won at Dallas earlier in the night.
“I thought we competed. I thought we made some mistakes, but they made shots,” T-Wolves interim coach Sam Mitchell said. “Their team is long. You aren’t going to get a lot of second shots. They are long. They are big. They are physical.”
Andrew Wiggins led all scorers with 24 points and Karl-Anthony Towns chipped in 17 points and 11 rebounds for Minnesota.
The Timberwolves took a six-point lead in the second quarter, but the Jazz played well going into the half. Utah seized a 51-49 halftime lead thanks to a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Hood.
The Jazz steadily pulled ahead of the Timberwolves (25-51) in the second half thanks to a stingy defensive effort. Minnesota only scored 36 points in the final two quarters.
This was the Jazz’s second win over the Timberwolves in a week. Utah won at Minnesota to wrap up a five-game road trip last Saturday night.
“Obviously when you’re desperate for that position in the playoffs, you play a little harder,” Towns said. “We came out and tried to do the best we could gameplan-wise. We played well. We passed the ball around well tonight, but they were hitting shots.”
The Jazz shot well from the field, hitting 38 of 72 (52.8 percent) but again struggled from the free-throw line. Two nights after missing 16 of 29 free throws in an overtime loss to Golden State, Utah only made 14 of 23 from the line.
Minnesota, which shot 44.3 percent overall, only made 6 of 10 foul shots. The T-Wolves only hit 2 of 11 3-pointers in the second half after sinking in 7 of 12 in the first half.
Two other Timberwolves scored in double figures. Nemanja Bjelica had 15 points and eight rebounds and Shabazz Muhammad added 10.
Lyles finished one point shy of his career-high 19. He only scored one point in the second half.
NOTES: Jazz PF Derrick Favors missed his 18th game this season after suffering a right knee injury in Wednesday’s loss to the Warriors. Favors experienced soreness in the knee and didn’t return after the middle of the third quarter in the overtime game. … The Jazz were 8-9 without Favors in the lineup coming into Friday’s game. … SG Alec Burks’ fractured left fibula has fully healed, Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. However, the Jazz’s athletic sixth man is still rehabbing to ensure that he’s working through a process of regaining balance, strength, speed, jumping ability and the ability to play competitively in five-on-five situations. “There’s a jump between being OK and healed and being able to compete at a high level,” Snyder said. … The Timberwolves have been eliminated from playoff contention, but interim coach Sam Mitchell believes games against teams in the postseason hunt will help his young team for the future. “Even though we aren’t going to make the playoffs, this is how it’s going to be to play on the road if you are playing in a playoff game,” Mitchell said. ” … Until we get that opportunity, we have to use these games to draw from that, learn from it and soak up this experience.”