The Jazz would love to find out if they can play defense in the air.
Never in franchise history have the Jazz faced an in-or-out playoff scenario on the final day of the regular season. Like everything else involving this team, it’s more complicated than simply having the Jazz win at Memphis tonight. They also need the Los Angeles Lakers to lose to Houston, creating a tie for eighth place in the Western Conference. The Jazz own the tiebreaker, having won two of three games vs. the Lakers.
So the Jazz will be aboard their charter flight home when the Lakers are playing, while desperately hoping Houston can help them. Of course, that game will become meaningless to the Jazz if they’ve lost to Memphis.
You could make a case that neither the Jazz nor the Lakers deserve to make the playoffs, based on their body of work. Not long ago, each team was below .500. Then again, you could consider both teams worthy, having played some of the best basketball in the NBA lately.
So let’s just say the team that gets the playoff spot will have earned it. What I like about tonight’s games is all four teams have incentive.
Memphis is competing for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, which would require a Grizzlies victory and a loss by the Los Angeles Clippers at Sacramento. That possibility is enough reason for Memphis to give full effort.
No matter what happens in Memphis, Houston needs to win to avoid falling to the No. 8 seed in the West, behind the Lakers. The Rockets then would have to face Oklahoma City in the first round.
The Jazz would welcome that opportunity. While there’s no guarantee that a win will get them into the playoffs, this game offers its own level of intrigue. I’m eager to see how coach Tyrone Corbin and any number of players perform in this context. Whether or not this is their last appearance together, tonight’s game is a career checkpoint for Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Gordon Hayward, Mo Williams and everybody else.
If the Jazz win, they’ll create some great programming for ESPN and five hours of agonizing for their fans. The network is televising both games, although some of the drama of the second contest would be lost if a Memphis win already has sent the Lakers into the playoffs. The Lakers and Rockets would be playing just for seeding.
The irony of the Jazz’s quest is that last year, when they qualified in the second-to-last game, they would have benefited by failing to make the playoffs. They would have retained a draft pick that instead went to Minnesota via the Al Jefferson trade.
This year, they’ll move into the lottery if they miss the playoffs. But that likely will mean a jump of only a few spots in the draft order, unless they’re lucky.