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Aaron Falk and Steve Luhm cover the Utah Jazz and the NBA for The Salt Lake Tribune. The Tribune on Twitter - Aaron Falk: @tribjazz, Steve Luhm: @sluhm

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Lakers move past Jazz in playoff chase

On a busy Sunday for the Utah Jazz, their most significant move may have been their exit from the playoff picture.

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The Jazz fell ½ game behind the Lakers for eighth in the Western Conference after Los Angeles won its third game in a row with a 90-81 win over the Chicago Bulls. It's the first time in months the Jazz find themselves outside the top eight of the West.

"We have to try to climb higher," Steve Nash said after the Lakers' win.

The Lakers have won five of their last six games, while the Jazz are flailing. They are 1-7 in their last eight games, and have won just twice since the trade deadline. That day, the Jazz were 30-23, five full games ahead of the Lakers for the last spot in the playoffs.

Since then: Disaster. As we wrote in today's Tribune, the Jazz are starting to seem like a team destined for a lottery pick.

Even if you give the Jazz the benefit of the doubt, it's difficult to see them finishing with a winning record in their remaining games. Of their final 19, the Jazz play nine against Western Conference teams ahead of them in the standings - everyone, in fact, except the Lakers and Clippers. A three-game road trip at Houston, San Antonio and Dallas seems ominous, and then the Jazz play Philadelphia at home their first night back from that trip. The schedule is full of little traps like that. I just took a pencil down their schedule and I'm having a hard time finding more than nine wins for the Jazz.

A more discerning reporter may have a hard time finding that many.

[For those wondering, I have the Jazz winning Monday versus Detroit, against Memphis on Saturday, at Dallas, against Phoenix, against Brooklyn, versus New Orleans, at home against Oklahoma City - hey, they did it once - and in the two games against Minnesota.]

Assuming for fun that the Jazz season goes exactly that way and the Jazz finish 41-41, the Lakers (who are presently 33-31 and against whom the Jazz hold the tiebreaker) need to finish only 9-9 to finish one game ahead of the Jazz.

And for a team that gets two more games against the Sacramento Kings, and others against Washington, New Orleans, Orlando, Phoenix and Minnesota - that isn't so tough to imagine.

Of course, the playoff race doesn't involve only the Jazz and Lakers. Golden State has lost six of eight, but the Jazz are already 2 ½ games behind the Warriors. With the aforementioned schedule, that will be difficult to make up in just 19 games.

— Bill Oram



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