Kragthorpe: Jazz shouldn’t have let it come down to this
Published: April 16, 2013 12:22AM
Updated: April 16, 2013 12:37AM
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Kurt Kragthorpe

The Jazz will be able to say they took the race for the Western Conference’s last playoff spot down to the final night of the season.

Sorry, but that’s more of an indictment than an achievement.

Thanks to Monday’s 96-80 victory at Minnesota, the Jazz will play Wednesday at Memphis, knowing they need to win and have the Los Angeles Lakers lose to Houston.

Judging by the Lakers’ recent performance, including Sunday’s win over San Antonio without the injured Kobe Bryant, such assistance is asking a lot of the Rockets. When the Lakers’ Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks are combining for five 3-pointers early in the fourth quarter against San Antonio, there could be only one conclusion: The Jazz are cursed, right?

No. You can blame an NBA conspiracy, the Lakers’ opponents or just plain bad luck for everything that’s transpired in April in damaging the Jazz’s playoff chances. Ultimately, this problem is their own creation.

The Jazz — and those of us wondering if coach Tyrone Corbin and players such as Al Jefferson and Gordon Hayward would have redeemed themselves with another playoff opportunity — likely will lament all of their missed opportunities. They lost games they should have won at Milwaukee, Cleveland and Chicago in early March. They also let tired, beaten-down teams like Chicago, Boston and New York come into EnergySolutions Arena and win at the end of long trips.

It’s true that the Jazz (43-38) would be in the playoffs right now if not for the Lakers’ recent surge, with a series of vintage performances from Bryant and a bunch of narrow escapes. Even before Sunday’s surprising outcome against a Spurs team that gave its best shot, the crusher came when Golden State could not finish off the Lakers after Kobe’s injury Friday. Carl Landry missed an open shot in the last few seconds and Stephen Curry’s near-miracle attempt from deep in the backcourt bounced off the rim.

The reality is that it should take more than 45 wins to make the playoffs in the deep, competitive West, and the Jazz won’t get to that level. Maybe they overachieved last season, but if they could win the equivalent of 44 games in the lockout-shortened schedule, why couldn’t they do more with increased talent?

The Jazz would have welcomed any help lately, but the Lakers have won seven of eight games. They deserved to win Sunday, and they will have earned their playoff spot.

That will mean a first-round series against Oklahoma City — a tough draw for any team, obviously. But to those who wonder about the merits of such an exercise for the Jazz, I point to Corbin, Jefferson and Hayward. Wouldn’t you want to see how these guys perform in the playoffs, a year later? While being swept by the Spurs last spring, Corbin was overmatched by coach Gregg Popovich, Jefferson was overwhelmed by San Antonio’s defense and Hayward shot 18 percent from the field.

How would they respond against the Thunder? We’ll probably never know.

But the consolation is that Wednesday’s visit to Memphis will partially answer that question. Because their contest will end before the Lakers take the court, the Jazz will be competing in the closest thing to a playoff game, with the Grizzlies having something at stake themselves as they fight for home-court advantage in the playoffs. In that context, beating Memphis would be very meaningful

Of course, if the Lakers also win, the Jazz won’t be allowed to feel any genuine satisfaction. And that will be their own fault.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.comTwitter: @tribkurt