With the loss by the Memphis Grizzlies last night, the Utah Jazz have officially clinched a playoff berth. Although the Jazz won the season series with the Grizz, 2-1, there were tie-break scenarios that could have occurred that would have possibly knocked out the Jazz had the two teams finished with the same record along with some other teams. However, that is no longer a concern.
Since the Grizzlies, who are in 9th place in the Western Conference, can win 47 games at most, and the Jazz already have 48 wins, the Jazz are guaranteed at least the 8th spot in the Western Conference, which qualifies them for a playoff spot.
Of course, the Jazz are happy to be back to the playoffs, but there is still more to be accomplished over the next 8 games.
As it stands right now, the Jazz are in 4th place in the WC. Even though they are tied with the Denver Nuggets record-wise, they are seeded lower because of the tie-breaker. If the Jazz want to set up the most ideal situation for a deep playoff run, they need to snatch the division away from Denver by finishing the last 8 games with a better record than their divisional foes. Is that a strong possibility? Let’s see how the last 8 games break down for each team:
NUGGETS - Mavs, Blazers, Clippers, Thunder, Lakers, Spurs, Grizzlies, Suns
JAZZ - Knicks, Warriors, Lakers, Thunder, Rockets, Hornets, Warriors, Suns
If you ask me, this schedule surely favors the Jazz. But, as we saw the other night against the Pacers, there are no free lunches in the NBA. Any team can win on any given night, and you have to bring your A-Game if you want to come out on top. As long as the Jazz play their typical style of basketball for the next 8 games, they should win the division.
Of course, the whole importance of winning the division is that the Jazz would be seeded either 2nd or 3rd (depending on what Dallas does), and they would get to avoid playing the Lakers in the first 2 rounds, if the Lakers do indeed advance.
Some people feel like it doesn’t matter when you play the Lakers. They think, “If you are going to play them at some point, why does it matter what round you play them?” Well, here are two reasons behind my logic:
First of all, by playing the Lakers in the WC Championship, as opposed to an earlier round, there is the possibility that the Lakers are not at full strength. In other words, the more games that the Lakers play, the better the odds are that somebody gets injured. Now, obviously you can’t rely on that to happen, but the odds ARE higher. That is just a fact. And it doesn’t even have to be an injury per se. Just for the fact that the Lakers have to endure 2 rounds of the playoffs, they are not going to be as fresh as they could be. Yes, the Jazz will be at the same disadvantage if that is the case, but the goal is to play the Lakers when they are not at the top of their game. Any way that you can get to play this powerhouse team when they are not at their strongest is the most you can hope for.
Secondly, when a team is in the WC Finals, they will play with added intensity, as the prize is within their sights. This would seem to favor a veteran team like the Lakers, who are the defending champs, but I see it in another way. Because the Jazz would clearly not be favored in the series, they will feel the need to come together as team in order to defeat the mighty giants. In my opinion, if the Jazz have any chance of knocking off the Lakers, they will need to play as a team and have everybody involved. This situation (playing the Lakers in the WC Finals) would force them to do that the most because the NBA Finals would be so close within their reach. They will definitely need Williams and Boozer to be on top of their games, but they will need to get the key plays from AK, Memo, Wesley Matthews, and Kyle Korver, in addition to others, if they want to cause the biggest problems for the Lakers. With that happening, I truly believe that the Jazz could break through and achieve what everybody thinks is impossible; beating the Lakers. Because, if there is one team that has enough grit and character to overcome such a heavily-favored team like the Lakers, it would be this Jazz squad that has overcome so many deficits this season en route to another playoff berth.
But before we get too ahead of ourselves, we need to remember to stay focused on each game as it comes. And with that being said, the Jazz need to make sure to finish out the regular season on a high note, so that they can overtake the Denver Nuggets and hopefully get that ideal situation against the Lakers in the WC Finals. But remember, all of this Lakers in the WC Finals talk is far from a guarantee. They will have to battle some extremely tough opponents just to get to that point. What is guaranteed, though, is the chance to battle those other teams in hopes of being crowned a champion. And that is more than 22 other teams can say right now.