“In order to be the man, you gotta beat the man.”
That is a quote that was made famous by one of my all-time favorite wrestlers Ric Flair (who I met in an airport once, by the way). So why am I bringing this quote up now?
With last night’s loss by the Utah Jazz, the Jazz assured themselves of the toughest possible road that was available to them heading into last night. By not locking up the Northwest Division and securing the 3rd seed in the Western Conference, the Jazz will now be the “road team” in any round of the playoffs that they play in. And not only that, but the Jazz will have a considerably tougher road if they want to even get to the Western Conference Finals.
Had the Jazz locked up the 3 seed, they would have had the fortune of playing the Portland Trail Blazers, a team that they swept in the season series 4-0. Not to mention the current health concerns of their star guard Brandon Roy.
Instead, the Jazz will now have to play against a Denver Nuggets team who beat them 3-1 in the season series (by the way, Billups and Anthony each missed 2 of those games together. Denver won once and lost once.) They always have trouble guarding ‘Melo and Chauncey Billups, and they should cause a lot of problems for Utah. Beating Denver would certainly be an accomplishment, and their future opponents would definitely respect the Jazz more if they beat Denver rather than Portland.
If the Jazz make it to round 2, they would probably have to face the LA Lakers. Obviously, I don’t need to explain how the Lakers have owned the Jazz this season en route to a 4-0 season series sweep (including a win without Kobe to end a 9-game winning streak). They are the defending champs, and until somebody knocks them off, the title still belongs to them. They have way too much length for the Jazz to compete with, and I can’t see any way short of a miracle that the Jazz could beat this team 4 times in a 7-game series.
Of course, there is always the possibility that the Oklahoma City Thunder knock off the Lakers, and then they would be Utah’s opponent. But they too have caused problems for the Jazz this season. The Thunder won the season series 3-1, and it could have very easily been 4-0 had the refs made the correct call on Durant being fouled. It would be nice to see AK get to guard Durant as I think he gives the Jazz the best chance to slow down the Durantula. Nonetheless, the Thunder would be a very tough team to beat despite their inexperience. And, of course, if they beat the Lakers (which is the only way they would play the Jazz), then they would have shown more than enough maturity to be successful in the playoffs.
Either way, if the Jazz can survive the first round against Denver, they will have a nightmare match-up waiting for them in round 2.
Had the Jazz been in the other side of the WC bracket, round 2 would have featured either the Dallas Mavericks or the San Antonio Spurs. Yes, both teams are very good, and they do deserve credit for having wonderful seasons. However, the Jazz posted a 6-1 record against these two teams this season, and it would have been a lot more favorable of a match-up. Needless to say, if the Jazz beat the Suns last night, their road to the WC Finals would have been a lot easier.
But, of course, because the Jazz could not take care of business last night, they will have to go through the toughest possible path if they want to make it to the promised land. And if they want to be THE team (man), they are definitely going to have to beat THE team (man) along the way.