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Utah Jazz are fans of whoever’s playing the Lakers

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz point guard Mo Williams (5) loses control of the ball as Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook (0) follows. The Utah Jazz hosted Oklahoma City Thunder April 9, 2013, at Energy Solutions Arena in Salt Lake City,

By Bill Oram

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Apr 11 2013 02:49PM
Updated Apr 12, 2013 12:00AM

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.

Everyone watches.

"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.

Twitter: @tribjazz

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