NEW ORLEANS — The Utah Jazz traveled to the franchise’s birthplace to get its most impressive road victory of the season and do something the club never did in its five seasons in New Orleans: clinch a playoff berth.
Ronnie Brewer scored 23 points, and Utah earned a spot in the postseason while completing a convincing season sweep of the New Orleans Hornets with a 108-94 victory on Sunday night.
“It’s a great way to start this road trip, give us a lot of confidence and realize that if we play like that every night, we can beat anybody,” said Jazz guard Deron Williams, who had 21 points and 11 assists.
The Jazz led by 30 in the first half and snapped a three-game skid with its first road victory against a winning team in the Western Conference this season. Utah, which plays at Dallas on Wednesday and at San Antonio on Friday, can only hope it wasn’t an aberration.
It could be that the Jazz simply match up well with the Hornets, having beaten New Orleans by double digits in all three meetings this season. Hornets coach Byron Scott was at a loss to explain why his club hasn’t played Utah close even once.
“Maybe it’s in our head as a team — maybe we don’t think we can beat them,” Hornets coach Byron Scott said. “That’s my conclusion after tonight. … I do know this, if we play them again in a playoff situation and we play the same way in the first half, it won’t be a long series. We’ve got to be a much more physical team.”
David West had 23 points and 12 rebounds for New Orleans, which could have clinched a playoff spot with a victory, but instead lost its second straight game. Chris Paul had 19 points and 12 assists, but also had four turnovers and was limited by foul trouble.
“That’s a tough team,” Paul said of Utah. “They always give us issues. … We need to figure out a way to beat them. We don’t match up well with them, obviously.”
Utah (47-30), seventh in the Western Conference, pulled within a half-game of New Orleans (47-29) for the sixth spot. However, because ninth-place Phoenix (42-35) lost on Sunday, the Jazz can finish no worse than tied for eighth and would win any tiebreaker.
“We’re happy to be in the playoffs, but we’re not happy to be an eight seed,” Williams said.
Andrei Kirilenko, starting for Utah because C.J. Miles was out with a dislocated left index finger, scored 16 points. Carlos Boozer had 10 points and 10 rebounds, and Mehmet Okur scored 18 points.
For a team that had yet to beat a Western Conference playoff contender on the road this season, Utah came out brimming with confidence, perhaps seeking redemption for an unlikely loss at home to struggling Minnesota on Friday night.
Utah outscored New Orleans 41-19 in the first quarter, marking the most points scored by the Jazz or allowed by the Hornets in a quarter this season. Okur had 13 points during those first 12 minutes and Brewer 12, each hitting an array of shots from the paint and the perimeter.
“I didn’t expect to come out and hit 12 points in the first quarter and be overly aggressive shooting the ball,” Brewer said. “I was just trying to play within the flow of the game and tonight it was just going for me.”
Williams had eight assists and seven points in the period, when the Jazz shot 76 percent (19-of-25).
Utah also ignited its transition offense with good defense, forcing six early turnovers. Boozer twice stole the ball from West. Williams tied up Paul near halfcourt. Paul showed his frustration by complaining to officials, who called a technical foul on him.
When Kirilenko sank a 3-pointer to close out scoring in the quarter, the home fans booed, and the Hornets did little to change that in the second period. Matt Harpring’s short hook over Morris Peterson, capped an 8-0 run that put Utah ahead by 30 with 4:24 still remaining in the half.
Soon after, Paul was called for his third foul and came out. Unable to respond with sustained runs, the Hornets trailed 66-39 at halftime.
New Orleans made a bid to climb back in the third quarter, outscoring Utah 37-21 and pulling to 87-76.
Paul scored eight points and set up eight other scores during the period, including an alley-oop lob to Rasual Butler, who finished with 21 points. Peja Stojakovic, playing as a reserve in his second game since returning from an ailing back, added a pair of 3-pointers.
The crowd was back in the game, but not for long. Jumpers by Kyle Korver and Brewer helped the Jazz open the fourth quarter on a 7-2 run. Paul committed his fifth foul on a charge during that stretch and went to the bench, forcing the Hornets to try to chip away at a 16-point deficit without him.
Instead, consecutive fast-break dunks by Brewer made it 100-82 before Paul checked back in with a little over six minutes to go, and New Orleans never got within single digits.
Notes: Utah’s 66 points in the first half also marked the most points allowed in a half by the Hornets. … Utah snapped a three-game road losing streak, improving to 15-23 away from home.