Spurs notebook: Jazz’s Jefferson can’t see any team beating S.A.

SALT LAKE CITY — For three games in the Western Conference playoffs, Utah center Al Jefferson has seen his team beaten every which way, and by a combined 58 points.

Finally, he has seen enough.

Before Sunday’s practice, Jefferson essentially declared the Spurs to be NBA champions-in-waiting.

“I just think we’re playing against a team that is at its peak,” Jefferson said. “I don’t see nobody beating them.”

Jefferson’s comments were striking, considering Utah’s series with the Spurs is still in progress.

Game 4 is tonight in Utah.

Apprised of Jefferson’s prediction after their own practice session at EnergySolutions Arena, the Spurs seemed flattered, but deemed it premature.

“The best team out there won’t be decided for a while yet,” coach Gregg Popovich said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do if we want to be that team, and we’re trying.”

It is a one-game-at-a-time approach echoed by Popovich’s captain, Tim Duncan, even with the Spurs on the verge of sweeping a playoff series for the first time since the 2007 NBA Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Even with the Spurs going 41-7 since Jan. 30.

“We’re still growing a little bit,” Duncan said. “It’s early in the playoffs. We have some ways to go before we can define what kind of team we’re going to be.”

Jefferson thinks he knows the Spurs’ ceiling. Whether he’s correct will be determined over the next six weeks or so.

“Right now, they just playing well, man,” Jefferson said. “I ain’t never seen nothing like this.”

Checkmate for Parker: Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin made his first strategic move of the series in Game 3 when he assigned 6-foot-8 small forward Gordon Hayward to guard Tony Parker for long stretches.

The move might have backfired.

Not only did it fail to faze Parker — who finished with 27 points to raise his average in the series to 24.3 — it seemed to take Hayward out of his own game. Hayward ended with four points and made just 1 of 10 shots.

Parker, meanwhile, pumped in 16 points in the fourth quarter to put the game away.

“He’s kind of seen it all,” Duncan said. “I thought (Hayward) did a pretty good job early on, affecting him with his size a little bit, but Tony figured it out.”

Other ways to help: Manu Ginobili’s shooting struggles continued with a 2-for-6 night in Game 3. Yet he still found a way to contribute to the Spurs’ 102-90 victory with a season-high 10 assists.

“Whether it’s a rebound or scoring or assists, making a steal, he figures out what needs to be done in a game,” Popovich said. “Those 10 assists really helped us.”

Ginobili is still looking for his first made 3-pointer in eight tries in the series, and the 17 points he’s totaled have been surpassed by seven teammates.

As long as the Spurs’ offense is humming — and it’s averaging 107.3 points in the playoffs so far — Ginobili is content to be a setup man.

“The team is playing good offense,” he said. “Tony is taking us where we want to be. There’s no need to force the issue to try to make shots.”


Twitter: @JMcDonald_SAEN

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