Why the Utah Jazz Are Favorites to Finish Second in the West

SALT LAKE CITY - APRIL 23:  Carlos Boozer #5 of the Utah Jazz shoots against Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers in Game Three of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2009 NBA Playoffs at Energy Solutions Arena on April 23, 2009 in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2009 Getty Images (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
Tim PetersonCorrespondent IMarch 31, 2010

In all likelihood, the top-eight teams battling for position in the Western Conference playoff race have already clinched a spot in the postseason.

 

With apologies to Memphis, Houston, and New Orleans, they’ll be watching with the rest of us—as a dramatic finish to the West’s playoff picture is about to unfold.

 

Obviously, the slumping Lakers are still the No. 1 seed in the conference but everything else is still up for grabs. At the center of this compelling chase, is the push for the No. 2 seed in the West.

 

Four teams (Dallas, Utah, Phoenix and Denver) are within striking distance of this coveted landing spot, and with it, will come home-court advantage throughout the first two rounds of the playoffs.

 

For the Northwest Division leading Utah Jazz, they’re openly admitting that being the No. 2 seed in the West, could take them deep into the playoffs. “It’d be huge,” said Deron Williams, via Ross Siler of the Salt Lake Tribune . “We haven’t had home-court advantage yet, besides the Golden State series (2007). That was by luck. We’re a good team. Our crowd’s energy and intensity goes up in the playoffs, it would definitely be to our advantage.”

 

The Jazz have a home record of 31-8, which is third best in the conference behind L.A. and Denver.  However, with just three games left at EnergySolutions Arena the Jazz will have to bank on winning games in hostile territory, if they hope to be the No. 2 seed in the playoffs.

 

As of March 31, Utah trails second-place Dallas by a half game, but the Jazz won their season series over the Mavs, so in the event of a regular season tie, Utah would get the nod over Dallas.

 

The Mavs will be tested at home by Orlando, Oklahoma City, and Memphis, then hit the road for pivotal games at Portland, Sacramento, and the Clippers.

 

If Dirty Dirk's crew can go 4-2 over this stretch, they could conceivably end the drama with a victory at home against the Spurs in the season finale.

 

However, facing four playoff teams over seven games will be a tall-order for the Mavs, who's remaining opponents have a combined winning percentage of (.532).

Only the Denver Nuggets play a more difficult schedule among the four teams in contention for the West's second-seed.

 

As for the Jazz, they’ll have to put together a strong finish of their own to keep pace with Dallas and avoid being overtaken by the suddenly red-hot Suns, winners of nine straight.

 

After the Jazz’s showdown with the Lakers this Friday, Utah will have just three road games remaining (Houston, New Orleans and Golden State), all seemingly winnable games. 

 

Jazz forward Carlos Boozer says the team has had its share of struggles on the road and now is not the time to play backwards. “[We’re a] very good home team” and “at best an average road team in the league. The key is to move up ’til we can’t move up no more.”  

 

Even though the Jazz have a winning record on the road (19-18), Utah must still prove it can finish the regular season on a high note. Last season the team faltered badly, losing to lottery teams at home(Golden State, Minnesota), as they fell to the eighth spot in the West. Eventually getting beat by the Lakers in just five games.

 

Jazz coach Jerry Sloan says the key is consistency, both at home and on the road. Utah can ill-afford another loss like the one it absorbed last week, at Indiana. The Jazz blew a 12-point lead, and allowed Pacers forward Danny Granger to score a career-high 44 points.

 

Utah has been stung this season by some of the league's premier scorers. Both Kevin Durant and Amare' Stoudemire will pay a visit to the Jazz in April, for two monumental contests.

 

Still, one expert says the Jazz won't have to worry about any late-season swoon.

 

According to ESPN.com’s John Hollinger—his latest computer simulations predict—Utah will finish the season with a 54-38 record, one game ahead of Dallas and two games ahead of Phoenix and Denver.

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