It’s the thrill of the chase.
Needless to say, the Utah Jazz would rather it wasn’t this way. They’d much prefer to have already locked up a playoff berth and save their fans and management the hand-wringing that will inevitably accompany the remaining eight games of a bizarre, disjointed season.
But still, in their second annual final-weeks push for the eighth spot, there is a sense of excitement around a team left for dead as recently as a week ago.
“I told the guys the other night, man, if you like to compete,” coach Tyrone Corbin said, “you like to be in these kinds of fights. This is where you figure out where you are.”
Entering Monday’s game against the Portland Trail Blazers, the Jazz (38-36) are in eighth in the West, holders of a tiebreaker with the Los Angeles Lakers by virtue of a 2-1 win in the season series.
In that sense, the Jazz embody another late-season cliché — they control their own destiny. A loss to the Nets on Saturday and the Jazz would have fallen one game behind the Lakers, who won in Sacramento. Similarly, they’d fall out of playoff position with a loss to the Blazers.
“We have to play like if we lose we’re right back out of it,” Gordon Hayward said after the Jazz’s 116-107 win over Brooklyn, “because that’s how close it is. “
The tight race has left fans and pundits studying the remaining schedules of the Jazz, Lakers and Dallas Mavericks, who lurk 1½ games out of eighth.
But the recipe for the Jazz to reach the playoffs isn’t that complicated. Both the Jazz and Lakers have eight games left. If Utah can win as many or more of those than the Lakers — and stay ahead of Dallas — they will sneak into the playoffs for the second straight year.
Emboldening the Jazz’s hopes is the fact they play five of the eight games at EnergySolutions Arena, where they are 27-9.
The Lakers’ schedule has few gimmes. Five of their remaining eight opponents already occupy playoff spots. Four of the Jazz’s final games are against top seven teams: Denver on Wednesday, at Golden State on April 7, against Oklahoma City two nights later and at Memphis to close the regular season on April 17.
There is a precedent for this. Last year, after a 103-98 loss to Memphis on April 14, the Jazz were three games behind Houston in the loss column for eighth. The Jazz ran off five straight wins to close the season and went to the playoffs.
Asked if he felt this year is going the same way, Corbin said yes, with a catch. Last year was the lockout.
“It’s a little different,” Corbin said. “I think the last year was so fast, everything happened so quickly. This is more normal. Although we’re kind of in the same position we were last year and we need to make a run here to stay in the playoffs. But I don’t feel as rushed as I did last year.”
Monday • vs. Portland
Wednesday • vs. Denver
Friday • vs. New Orleans
April 7 • at Golden State
April 9 • vs. Oklahoma City
April 12 • vs. Minnesota
April 15 • at Minnesota
April 17 • at Memphis
Tuesday • at L.A. Lakers
Thursday • at Denver
Friday • at Sacramento
April 7 • at Portland
April 10 • vs. Portland
April 12 • vs. Denver
April 14 • at New Orleans
April 15 • vs. Memphis
April 17 • vs. New Orleans
Los Angeles Lakers
Tuesday • vs. Dallas
Friday • vs. Memphis
April 7 • at L.A. Clippers
April 9 • vs. New Orleans
April 10 • at Portland
April 12 • vs. Golden State
April 14 • vs. San Antonio
April 17 • vs. Houston
Trail Blazers at Jazz
P EnergySolutions Arena
Tipoff • Monday, 7 p.m.
TV • ROOT Sports
Radio• 1280 AM/97.5 FM
Records • Utah 38-36, Portland 33-40
Season series: Jazz 2-1
About the Jazz • Utah snapped a nine-game road losing streak with a 105-95 win over the Trail Blazers on Friday. ... Mo Williams scored 28 points and tallied 6 assists and 5 rebounds against the Blazers. ... Randy Foye tied a 19-year-old team record with eight 3-pointers in Saturday’s win over the Brooklyn Nets. ... The Jazz are in eighth in the Western Conference, thanks to a tiebreaker over the Los Angeles Lakers.
About the Blazers • All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge is out due to a sprained wrist. ... Former Weber State point guard Damian Lillard averages 19.1 points and 6.5 assists per game.
• The Jazz own the playoff tiebreaker over the Los Angeles Lakers after winning the season series 2-1.
• Utah has won four games in a row after suffering a four-game losing streak.
• In 2012, the Jazz won five straight games to close the season and make the playoffs.