The Jazz are ruining June, but they’re making April appealing.
What once loomed as a lost season, sweetened only by the prospect of two lottery picks in the NBA draft, has turned into a meaningful exercise. After overtime defeats of Minnesota and Golden State and a road win over the Los Angeles Lakers, the Jazz have moved into the Western Conference playoff picture — with help from some major issues affecting the teams nearest them in the standings.
The trouble is the Jazz now stand to lose both of those 2012 picks. Via trade provisions, the Jazz could be frozen out of a deep draft on June 28 if they’re in the playoffs and Golden State drops into the NBA’s bottom seven.
So after all of the issues coach Tyrone Corbin has faced since taking over this team, winning too much is becoming another problem.
"I can’t worry about that," Corbin said, laughing. "There’s a lot of things that come into play, man, but we want to be as competitive as we can be right now. … We play to win games."
And making the playoffs, even if all it means is playing four or five games against Oklahoma City, would do a lot for the Jazz’s development.
The Jazz have their future in place. Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter and Alec Burks have done more in the past two games than I ever imagined they were capable of at this stage, and Gordon Hayward already was emerging.
The absences of Al Jefferson and Raja Bell made more playing time available to the four 21-and-under players (until Friday, when Hayward turns 22) over the weekend, and they responded. Favors’ 23-point, 17-rebound game against Golden State preceded 17-point efforts by Kanter and Burks against the Lakers and Burks’ 13-point fourth quarter.
Some would say those numbers prove that Corbin should have relied on those guys long before now. In reality, their performances validated how Corbin brought them along perfectly during the equivalent of a traditional half-season, and they were ready to deliver.
It’s true that the Jazz barely outlasted a weakened Golden State team and needed Kobe Bryant’s horrible night just to beat the Lakers by four points. Regardless, the Jazz (23-22) have played their way into a position where making the playoffs is almost unavoidable now.
Just look at what’s happening around them. The other four teams competing for the No. 8 spot in the West are troubled. Minnesota lost Ricky Rubio to a knee injury. Houston lost Kyle Lowry to a bacterial infection, and Derek Fisher negotiated a buyout after being traded from the Lakers. Portland has imploded. Phoenix faces a road-heavy schedule.
So the Jazz should make the playoffs, as once seemed unlikely, and lose their own pick to Minnesota via the Jefferson trade. That leaves them with Golden State’s pick, unless it’s in the top seven (after the lottery’s outcome). The Warriors, who visit the Jazz again April 6, have the ninth-worst record and are likely to slide, having traded Monta Ellis. Still happy the Jazz won that game Saturday?
Actually, the Jazz’s resurgence is not disastrous. They still could get Golden State’s pick in 2013. And while it would hurt the Jazz to miss out on this summer’s draft, the benefits of experience for their young players are potentially huge. The playoffs are important to their growth, and so are the April games that would get them there.
"These are meaningful games," said general manager Kevin O’Connor. "The intensity picks up, the quality of play picks up."
The Jazz’s performance level has increased lately, to where they’re jeopardizing their draft opportunities. I don’t care. My advice to them: Keep winning, never mind the consequences.
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