With three games left for the Utah Jazz, it’s all about the numbers.
Not Oklahoma City’s shooting percentage Tuesday night, or the tally of Jazz turnovers. Not the number of Jazz players out of uniform, or those not at the arena. Not even the 10 points that separated the Jazz from the Thunder in a 90-80 loss in front of an announced crowd of 19,610 at EnergySolutions Arena.
How many ways can you count to four?
Any combination of Jazz wins and losses by the Los Angeles Lakers that add up to four over the final week of the regular season would mean the Jazz finish ahead of the Lakers, who beat New Orleans on Wednesday, and earn the Western Conference’s eighth and final seed to the playoffs.
The Jazz fell a half game behind the Lakers, who have four games left, two nights after moving back into playoff position with a surprising road win over the Golden State Warriors.
“We’re going to continue to play this back and forth game, I guess,” Paul Millsap said. “But when it’s all said and done hopefully we’ll be there. The schedule favors us, but we’ve still got to go out there and win these next three games.”
Do that — beat Minnesota twice, and close the regular season with a victory at Memphis on April 17 — and the Jazz (41-38) would need the Lakers (41-37) to lose only one. Go 2-1, pray for two Lakers losses.
“You do all of that in your head,” Tyrone Corbin said. “But ... you don’t know what the Lakers are going to do, you don’t know what Houston and Golden State’s going to do. We’re trying to focus on us and where we are and what we’re doing.”
Whether the Jazz, who have won seven of their last nine games, do or don’t make the playoffs remains the last relevant question before they enter an offseason loaded with intrigue. On Tuesday, the Jazz could have done a lot to push that offseason into May.
But with Oklahoma City within range of the conference’s top seed — and a potential first-round matchup with Utah — the Jazz turned in an impressive effort on one side of the ball that they couldn’t match on the other.
On a night the Jazz announced second-year center Enes Kanter would undergo season-ending shoulder surgery Wednesday, Alec Burks missed his second straight game with a sprained ankle and Marvin Williams went home with the flu, the Jazz could have used some good news.
It manifested itself in this: A defensive performance that caused the Thunder to miss nearly 50 shots and shoot 39.5 percent from the field. It was contradicted by their own abhorrent shooting night of 39.2 percent. It made for a plodding, drawn-out affair akin to a dramatic foreign film.
“I thought the fight we had defensively was nice,” Gordon Hayward said. “We just got to be able to execute more offensively, attack them a little more. I thought we played too passively there in the first half.”
Mo Williams led four Jazz starters in double figures with 19 points, while Al Jefferson recorded his 36th double-double of the season with 15 points and 11 rebounds. However, the Jazz committed 17 turnovers, which led to 16 Oklahoma City points.
Asked if the turnovers were due to the Thunder’s defense or were a product of sloppy play by the Jazz, Jefferson said, “They were turnovers, so it don’t matter. They were turnovers that we didn’t need.”
Oklahoma City’s combo of All-Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combined to score 46 points. Power forward Serge Ibaka added 16, including 10 in the third quarter as the Jazz could never quite put together a run.
The Jazz got within four in the final minute, but like throughout the game, Oklahoma City had an answer.
“They got stops when they needed it,” Jefferson said, “and hit big shots when we were making our runs.”
The Jazz have two nights off before hosting Minnesota on Friday, enough time, they hope, for Marvin Williams to get over what ails him and for Burks to get back to full strength.
On what made for late-night TV in Utah, the Los Angeles Lakers overcame a second-half deficit to beat the New Orleans Hornets. DeMarre Carroll prepared to exit the Jazz locker room when that game was at halftime, with the Hornets up four. Carroll said he had no plans to watch the end.
“All we can handle is winning the last three games. If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be, but we really got to take care of our business and we can’t really count on other people.”
Re the Jazz capable of winning their final three games?
“That might be what we have to do,” Hayward said.
O The Jazz fall a half game behind the Lakers for eighth place with three games remaining in the regular season
• Mo Williams leads the Jazz with 19 points and 6 assists, but commits 5 turnovers.
Western Conference playoff race
W L GB
5. Memphis 53 25 41/2
6. Golden State 45 33 121/2
7. Houston 44 34 131/2
W L GB
8. L.A. Lakers 41 37 161/2
9. Utah 41 38 17
10. Dallas 38 39 19