Paul Millsap watched until he couldn’t take any more. Circumstances and Kobe Bryant have made the Jazz and their supporters fans of whatever team the Los Angeles Lakers are playing.
On Wednesday, it was Portland. It was Portland by 8 at halftime. Then it was Bryant once again taking over in the second half, scoring 47 points and never leaving the game in the second of a back-to-back. The Lakers (42-37) won, 113-106.
“Kind of figured something like that was going to happen,” Millsap said.
A Portland win would have been a huge boost to the Jazz’s playoffs hopes. But now the Jazz (41-38) are a full game out of the No. 8 seed, a chase that requires Los Angeles loses at least one of its last three games for Utah to make the playoffs. So every game, be it Lakers or Jazz, now plays out like the final three holes of Sunday at the Masters.
“I saw some of it,” Tyrone Corbin said of Wednesday’s Laker win. His voice fell off like the slide of a blues trombone.
This is not ideal for the Jazz. They know they could have shot up a playoff spot with wins in any number of close games earlier in the year, when the focus was not so intense and the stakes so acute. If Gordon Hayward were fouled in Milwaukee, if Mo Williams made a layup in Cleveland or Marco Belinelli missed a 3-pointer in Chicago, things could already be settled.
The Jazz no longer control their own destiny. If the Lakers match the Jazz’s record over the final three games, Bryant and the Lakers will earn the eighth seed. If the Lakers lose and the Jazz win out, say, it’s Utah’s spot.
“We do what we need to do and win our share of games,” Corbin said, “and we’ll see what happens from there. We can’t go in rooting and hoping and wishing that someone else loses to back into it.”
Waiting for the Lakers to lose has been an exhilarating, debilitating, emotional affair. Bryant has played through injuries to keep the Lakers in playoff position. However, the Lakers have a far more daunting schedule — Golden State, San Antonio and Houston at home — than do the Jazz.
It starts for the Jazz Friday at home against Minnesota, and wraps up with games at Minnesota and Memphis.
“We feel like we’ve got a good chance to win out,” Millsap said. “We feel like we’ve got a really good chance.”
Bryant is the variable. Or is he is the constant?
The 34-year-old has played more than 40 minutes in six straight games. In each of those games, his scoring output has increased, building up to Wednesday’s 47-point outburst.
“If you like basketball and you like watching guys compete at a high level,” Corbin said, “you gotta admire what the guy’s doing. ... It’s amazing that he is as competitive and as effective as he is at this age, the stage of his game. Good for him. The guy, like or dislike, whatever about him, the guy’s a true competitor and he competes at another level.”
That’s fine with the Jazz. As long as that level is not the playoffs.
Timberwolves at Jazz
O At EnergySolutionsArena
Tipoff • Friday, 7 p.m.
TV • ROOT
Radio • 1280 AM, 1600 AM, 97.5 FM
Records • Jazz 41-38; Timberwolves 29-49
Season series • Jazz lead 2-0
Last meeting • Jazz, 97-93 (Feb. 13)
About the Jazz • They have won seven of their past nine games. ... They have won nine of their last 11 against Minnesota. ... In the past four games, G/F Gordon Hayward averages 17.7 points. He’s made 13 of 29 3-pointers. ... In two games this season, their bench has outscored the Timberwolves’ non-starters, 98-39.
About the Timberwolves • They have lost six straight in Utah, going back to the 2009-10 season. ... In two games against the Jazz this year, they are 7 for 39 from the 3-point line. ... F Andrei Kirilenko, who spent a decade in Utah, averages 12.3 points and 5.7 rebounds in 32.2 minutes. ... G Ricky Rubio has made 3 of 31 shots in the past three games.
• If the Jazz win their final three games, they need the Lakers to lose at least once in order to reach the playoffs.
• The Jazz are 2-0 in games against Minnesota, their opponent in the next two games.
• The Lakers close the season with Golden State, Houston and San Antonio at home.