Wow. It all comes down to this. The truest form of reality television that exists is sports. The NBA is going to give us our fill tonight. Drama, intrigue, suspense, action, panic, heartbreak! Everything “non-scripted television” tries to do will be on full display tonight in Memphis, Tennessee and Los Angeles, California. Maybe the basketball gods told ESPN this at the beginning of the season, but what a doubleheader to end the season. Jazz-Grizzles 6 PM followed by Lakers-Rockets at 8:30 PM (all times referred to are Mountain). After all the ups and downs that both teams have gone through this season, the final night of the year will determine both teams playoff hopes. Most of you have probably read about the playoff possibilities ad nauseum so it can be stated as simply as this. It’s win or go home, especially for the Utah Jazz.
The Jazz have to win. Plain and simple. If they lose they’re done, and I don’t want that to happen. I want to be watching basketball until 11 o’clock tonight. The Jazz need to make the playoffs to further along the development of their young players so they are better prepared to take on the leadership roles awaiting them next season. I want to see Gordon Hayward redeem himself from his 18% shooting performance against the Spurs last season. I want to see Derrick Favors wreck havoc on opposing bigs for 30+ minutes. I want to see Alec Burks make opposing benches look silly. I want to see Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson prove their worth and lead this team to victory. The Grizzles will give the Jazz all they can handle in the 1st half. If the Jazz can take a lead to the locker room I expect the Grizzles starters to take the second half off. This would give the Jazz their 44-38 record, basically the same as last year’s 36-30 record, and a chance to get in. If they do get that 8th seed, winning a game or two against the Thunder would show me this team is moving forward in a positive direction.
The Los Angeles Lakers have to win……kind of. If the Jazz lose to the Grizzles, the Rockets game becomes a positioning battle. If the Jazz lose and the Lakers beat the Rockets the Lakers claim the 7th seed and a date with the Spurs. If the Jazz lose and the Lakers lose, LA stays in the 8th spot and plays the Thunder in the 1st round. If the Jazz win however, this game becomes a must win in order for LA to stay in the playoffs. If the Jazz win and the Lakers lose, season over. To add insult to injury, The Lakers’ lottery pick would go to Phoenix thanks to the Steve Nash sign and trade deal this past offseason. No playoffs. No lottery pick. An injured Kobe. Not a great scenario for the Lakers. I fully expect them to be playing with a must win attitude no matter the outcome of the Jazz game.
As for the Rockets and Grizzles they also have playoffs implications they are playing for but the urgency the Lakers and Jazz will be playing with will be much more intense. If the Grizzles’ win, their slim hopes to grab the 3rd seed in the West remain in tact. If the Rockets win, they solidify themselves as the 7th seed and a meeting with the Spurs in the 1st round. This is the match up I believe they prefer especially with Manu Ginobili’s injury. Yes the Spurs just signed Tracy McGrady who averaged 25 points per game in China this year but he has a lot to prove that he can still do that in the NBA. I don’t think the Rockets want any part of the Thunder. That’s a lot of pressure to put on James Harden to play against his former team only one season later. The Rockets will be much more motivated than the Grizzles tonight.
As I have said before, I reserve the right to be wrong, but I think the Jazz will win. If getting the 3rd seed was that important to them, Memphis would not have played their starters only 24 minutes a piece in their last game. I think Memphis will rest their starters in the 2nd half and the Jazz will win by 8+. I think the Rockets win a very intense, playoff type game in LA that will go down to the wire or into overtime. I haven’t been this excited for a long time to watch a non-Jazz basketball game. This is what NBA basketball is all about, win or go home.