What ever momentum was gained from Utah’s 140-139 overtime win over MVP candidate Kevin Durant and Oklahoma City was quickly squandered by the Jazz—thanks to a forgettable blowout loss in Houston on Wednesday.
From here on out the Jazz must sweep their three remaining games, to even think about securing home court advantage in the first-round of the NBA playoffs.
Because of Utah’s 113-96 loss to the Rockets, the Jazz dropped from No. 2 in the West, all the way down to fifth. Combined with a surprising Nuggets comeback win over the Thunder and its 98-96 win at home over the Kobe-less Lakers. And suddenly its the Denver Nuggets who have control of second place, in the volatile Western Conference playoff race.
Adding insult to injury, Denver has a full-game lead over the Jazz in the Northwest Division. If Utah fails to win the division and winds up tied with the Mavs, then under the NBA’s tie-breaking system, Dallas would win the tie-breaker as Southwest Division Champions.
Utah’s mission is to win out while hoping Denver, Dallas and Phoenix all unexpectedly drop two more games in the final three or four games.
Jazz coach Jerry Sloan isn’t ready to throw in the towel on his team just yet.
“I’m not going to cover’em up with dirt,” Sloan said, via The Salt Lake Tribune . “This team has done pretty well.”
Considering the personnel moves that have been made—which undermined the team's depth—Sloan is correct in not giving up the ship. This team was once outside of the playoff cut (19-17) and has battled back.
Since January, the team has gone 32-11, making it possible to climb right back into a fiercely tight playoff race.
But can this Jazz team finish what they started?
Gaining the second or third seed in the West would allow the Jazz to avoid the Lakers in the second-round. Heck, even dropping to sixth would be a better alternative then the team’s current position of fifth.
Obviously, Utah must win tonight in New Orleans, who will be without point guard Chris Paul. The Hornets spark-plug tore a ligament in his right middle finger and is out for the remainder of the season. If the Jazz can get it done tonight, then they’ll have ample time to rest before playing its final road game of the regular season,Tuesday night at Golden State.
Deron Williams, who set a career high with 42 points against Oklahoma City, was lifeless at Houston—scoring just 12 points in the Jazz’s crucial loss
“We can’t worry about one [game], because we’ve got more games to play,” said Willaims.
More games indeed. And they’ll have to play without Andrei Kirilenko, as he remains sidelined with a strained calf muscle and center Mehmet Okur is questionable with left Achilles tendonitis.
With the Nuggets in control of their own fate, positioning for the third-seed is still up for grabs. The Jazz will have the inside track on this spot if they win out, and both Dallas and Phoenix split its final four games.
Meanwhile, the Suns are at the Thunder tonight, and then return home to host Houston on Sunday and Denver on Tuesday. However, Phoenix and 36-year-old Steve Nash will be at a disadvantage for Wednesday’s showdown at the Jazz, as the Suns will be playing in a back-to-back situation to end the regular season, and most likely settle the playoff race in the Wild, Wild West.