After a highly productive Sunday, the Jazz again have positioned themselves to make the Western Conference playoffs.
But they’re not there yet.
The Jazz’s victory at Golden State, coupled with the Los Angeles Lakers’ loss to the Clippers, restored a half-game lead for the Jazz (41-37) over the Lakers (40-37) for the No. 8 spot in the West, and the Jazz own the tiebreaker. The question of the day is whether two more wins — specifically, a home-and-home sweep of Minnesota — would be sufficient for the Jazz.
I doubt it. In that case, the Lakers would overtake them by winning four of their five remaining games: vs. New Orleans, at Portland, vs. Golden State, vs. San Antonio and vs. Houston. Playing mostly at home against opponents with varying degrees of motivation, the Lakers have a decent chance of getting four more wins.
That would mean the Jazz need to do something extraordinary, such as beating Oklahoma City at home Tuesday or winning at Memphis next week, to hold off the Lakers.
The sad thing is that the Jazz are even in this precarious position with four games left. In recent wins at Portland and Golden State, they’ve finally shown the ability to maintain their poise in the fourth quarter and finish games, which they were unable to do on the road for most of the season. They almost blew an 11-point lead Sunday before steadying themselves.
Coach Tyrone Corbin deserves credit for inserting Derrick Favors for a defensive possession against the Warriors, resulting in a blocked shot and a critical stop with a three-point lead in the last minute. Then again, that’s not some revolutionary strategy. Chicago’s Tom Thibodeau and other coaches routinely make such offense-defense changes at the end of games.
Overall, Corbin has managed to keep the Jazz in the playoff picture. I still say that making or missing the playoffs is the line to determine his success or failure this season. Even with their recent surge, the Jazz are still only 11-13 since the All-Star break.
Finishing with 45 wins would be significant, matching the full-season equivalent of last year’s 36-30 record during the lockout-shortened schedule.
Yet even if making the playoffs requires help from the Lakers, Corbin and the Jazz will have accomplished something.