Orlando Magic (36-26) at Utah Jazz (33-30)
Even though the Magic are a playoff team, this is almost a trap game for the Jazz. All eyes are on Tuesday’s game vs the Phoenix Suns for the playoff implications but both teams have a Saturday game to get through first. The Suns face off against the Nuggets on ESPN then a few hours later, on the same channel, the Jazz take on the Magic. The bizarre thing about the Nuggets/Suns game is no matter who wins that game, it benefits the Jazz. Provided the Jazz beat the Magic, if the Nuggets win, Utah will be 1 game ahead of Phoenix in the playoff standings. If the Suns win, Utah will be only 1/2 game behind Denver for the #7 seed.
The news that Dwight Howard will miss the rest of the season due to back surgery couldn’t come at a worse time for the Magic or a better time for the Jazz. As good of a defender as Derrick Favors is becoming, he can’t handle Howard and neither can Jefferson or Millsap. With him absent, that also allows the Jazz big men better opportunities on the offensive end of the court. With the inspired play the Jazz showed against Portland, I doubt they’ll take the Magic lightly. They are well aware of what’s at stake and that their playoff destiny lies squarely in their own hands.
Speaking of the playoffs, how exciting and surprising is it that the Jazz are in this situation at all? With 3 games left, all of them at home, they have a very simple scenario open to them to get into the playoffs. Win out, you’re in the playoffs. Yes, there are many other ways they could get in but the simplest of them all is to win these last 3 games. At worst, doing so will get them the 8th seed. At best, they could climb to the #7 seed. There was a point in this season that I was beginning to come to terms with the fact that the Jazz were mediocre and that I may have to start rooting for lottery positioning. Instead, the team has come together and played hard to exceed expectations and land in the thick of the playoff race. After attending that 3OT game vs the Mavericks, I already consider this season a success. With that said, I’ve thrown my emotional caution to the wind and I’m all in with this playoff hunt. I don’t care that the Jazz will lose their 1st round pick if they make the playoffs. I want the young guys to get that experience. I want Al Jefferson to make the playoffs for the first time in his career. I want to take my nephew to a playoff game for the first time. Yes, this preview has shifted far away from the actual game but as a fan I’m allowed to do that to my heart’s content. As long as the Jazz stay focused and take it one game at a time. Is it a cliche? Yes. But stereotypes and cliches become that way for a reason. The Jazz need to win tonight. They need to win Tuesday night. They need to win Thursday night. Just win, baby. Just win.