As the Jazz launch their April schedule tonight in Portland, these combinations remain available to them:
• No. 1: Making the playoffs and losing their own first-round draft pick, but gaining Golden State’s pick.
• No. 2: Making the playoffs and losing both draft picks.
• No. 3: Missing the playoffs and keeping their lottery pick, besides gaining Golden State’s pick.
• No. 4: Missing the playoffs and keeping their pick, but losing Golden State’s pick.
My preferred scenario, by far, is No. 1. The more likely projection, as of Monday morning, is No. 4. But they’re all still in play, with the outcome to be determined not much sooner than April 26, the last day of the regular season.
To review: If the Jazz make the playoffs, they have to give Minnesota their 2012 first-round pick, via the Al Jefferson trade. If Golden State’s pick is not in the top seven (after the lottery results), the Warriors must give it to the Jazz, via the Deron Williams trade with New Jersey.
To me, competing in the playoffs — even for only four or five games against Oklahoma City — would be a valuable experience for a young team. And if the Jazz could do that and still have a lottery pick, that would be perfect.
The problem with that combination is the Jazz are slumping and Golden State is crumbling. The Jazz have lost four of five games since winning six in a row, falling below No. 8 Houston in the Western Conference. But the Rockets gave the Jazz some hope Sunday by blowing a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter of an eventual overtime loss to Indiana.
The Rockets, still playing without guards Kyle Lowry (bacterial infection) and Kevin Martin (sprained shoulder), have four straight road games, so the Jazz have a good chance to move ahead of them this week. The teams will meet April 11 at Houston in a key game. Phoenix also is in the picture; the Jazz host the Suns on Wednesday and again April 24.
Meanwhile, the Jazz need Golden State to remain above the bottom seven in the NBA standings. That’s becoming more of a problem, with the Warriors having lost five straight games. They still have the league’s ninth-worst record, but Detroit, New Jersey and Sacramento are capable of finishing ahead of them. Of course, the Jazz can accelerate that process by beating Golden State on Friday.
Tracking these possibilities certainly will make April interesting in Jazzland. But if the No. 2 scenario is the ultimate result, it sure would take the fun out of June.