SALT LAKE CITY – While the Wolves speed toward their summers, they are making some sort of history along the way.
Their 120-113 loss to the Utah Jazz on Friday night was their 22nd time this season — and second in as many nights — in which they built a double-digit lead only to lose.
No NBA team has done that in the past two decades, but the Wolves did so Friday. They built an 11-point, second-quarter advantage, then saw Jazz men Gordon Hayward and Joe Johnson, to name two, shoot their team back into contention.
Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said before the game he will study this summer how his team let so many such leads get away this season. Friday, the answers rested in their defense — or lack thereof — against a team that alternately went big with Rudy Gobert and just-returned Derrick Favors and then spread the floor with Johnson as a small-ball, floor-stretching power forward.
Utah lapped the Wolves in three-pointers made 14-7, a 21-point differential, and shot 60 percent from the floor and 56 percent from three-point range.
An All-Star reserve this season, Hayward made four three-pointers, scored a career-high 39 points and twice pushed the Wolves away when they drew within a point in the game’s final two minutes.
Hometown fans chanted “MVP, MVP” at him late in the game. He has no chance of winning, but their enthusiasm signals how he has elevated his game for a 49-30 Utah team bound for the playoffs, and possibly home-court advantage in the first round.
“It’s not only what he’s doing for himself,” Thibodeau said. “More importantly, it’s what he’s doing for his team. He has lifted this team to an entirely different level.”
Johnson made four threes himself in a 22-point, 33-minute performance.
Leading by those 11 points midway through the second quarter and again by eight early in the third, the Wolves trailed by eight points with 5½ minutes left. They still positioned themselves to win by pulling within a point three times after that, getting repelled finally when the Jazz scored the game’s final six points over its last 90 seconds.
The Wolves were playing their fourth game in five nights, in three different time zones, in a week that included a home victory over Portland on Monday night and a loss at Golden State nearly 2,000 miles away and only 26 hours apart.
“We fought,” Wolves forward Andrew Wiggins said. “We’ve been playing a lot of games, a lot of travel. It’s difficult, but we fought. Everyone’s tired, but what we’re feeling now the whole NBA is feeling.”
Hayward’s 14 fourth-quarter points ensured the Wolves head to Los Angeles for Sunday’s game against the Lakers winless on a four-game trip that ends there. Three games remain in the season.
After the Wolves lost a 15-point lead and the game Thursday at Portland, big man Karl-Anthony Towns called that tendency “something we’ve definitely got to fix next year.”
Thibodeau said he will be asking what went wrong: An inability to get through the start of fourth quarters when his starters need a rest? His young players not yet knowing how different fourth quarters are in a NBA game? A defense that isn’t good enough yet?
“If you have big leads going late into the game, there obviously were a lot of good things happening to build those leads,” Thibodeau said before the game. “Then you have to ask yourself: Why did we lose those leads? … I have some good ideas.”
• Favors (knee bone contusion) returned to action for the first time since March 6 and played nearly 17 minutes, just in time for the playoffs. But Jazz point guard George Hill (groin strain) missed his fifth consecutive game.