There’s one week left in the NBA season — and one last pause before the final sprint.
With the NBA taking Monday off to give the NCAA Championship game a chance to rule the day, now is a great time to evaluate where the Utah Jazz stand in the Western Conference race, and what possibilities remain for their seeding and playoff opponents.
Phoenix and Memphis have clinched their seeds at No. 1 and No. 2 respectively, as have the Clippers at No. 8. But spots 3-7 are truly up in the air, and we’ll see some critical games — and almost certainly some shenanigans — as teams fight to determine their seed.
How the Western Conference playoff race breaks down
• The Golden State Warriors currently stand in third place. This week, they play the Lakers at home, then the Spurs and the Pelicans on the road.
• Just one game behind the Warriors are the fourth-place Mavericks. They play the Pistons on the road, then the Blazers and the Spurs at home. However, they own the tiebreaker on the Warriors, should they slip.
• Two games back of the Mavericks, and three games back of the Warriors, lie the Denver Nuggets. They play three home games to end the season: the Spurs, the Grizzlies, and the Lakers.
• In sixth place, the Jazz are a half game behind the Nuggets. They face the Grizzlies, Thunder, and Suns at home, then play the Blazers on the road to end their season.
• Finally, the Timberwolves are in seventh, 1.5 games back of Utah. They play the Wizards, Spurs, and Bulls, all at home.
Could the Jazz still have home court in the first round?
From a Jazz perspective, they need help to earn home-court advantage in the first round: They’d need multiple losses from both the Warriors and the Mavericks to be able to get there. Frankly, given the ease of those two teams’ schedules, that’s very unlikely. The Jazz are overwhelming favorites to begin the playoffs on the road.
The Jazz do, however, control their destiny for the No. 5 seed. If they win out and the Nuggets do too, the two teams would be tied. But the Jazz own the tiebreaker on the Nuggets, thanks to winning all four games against them this year. There’s an argument to be made, though, that avoiding the No. 5 pick might be best for the Jazz, if they’re interested in avoiding the Phoenix Suns until the Western Conference finals.
That’s probably premature thinking, though — the possibility still remains that the Jazz miss the playoffs entirely, though it’s a remote one. The Jazz need just two combined wins of their own or losses from the Timberwolves in order to assure avoiding the play-in contest. Given that the woeful Thunder and Blazers remain on the Jazz’s schedule, they should be able to clinch a playoff spot.
But if they were to fall to the play-in tournament, the slate would be a tough one: a matchup against the Clippers in the first play-in game — one that the Jazz very well could lose again. After a loss, they’d face one of the Spurs, Pelicans, or Lakers for the right to make the playoffs at all. All three of those teams have had surprising wins against the Jazz in recent months, and another would send the Jazz home for the season.
What do the statistical models say?
All in all, the overwhelming likelihood is that the Jazz will be in the fifth or sixth slot come next week. Fifth looks most likely by the models that study it, though they don’t take into account teams potentially choosing to tank the games to get their preferred seed.
Who are the Jazz most likely to play?
With that also likely comes a matchup against the Warriors or Mavericks in the first round, starting on the road. That series would begin on either April 16 or 17.
All that being said, the team says they’re not especially focused on where they end up — just righting the on-court ship by the time the important games do come around.
“We don’t want to be playing in the play-in tournament, but we’re not really looking at (the seeding),” Jordan Clarkson said on Monday. “We know that between the three and six is up in the air, but we’re not really worried about standings.”