SALT LAKE CITY — The Jazz have been in and out of the playoffs seemingly every other day. They looked like they could tumble below the Mavericks two week ago, but ultimately have steadied the ship and are actually headed the right way.
With the Jazz's 97-90 victory over the Warriors they are now a half game over the Lakers and with the tie-breaker essentially a game and a half in front. After a loss to the Mavericks two weeks ago it seemed like a three-team race, but as the Lakers and Jazz won the Mavs lost and now it is down to two realistically.
Basically the only spot that will be up for grabs by the end of the week is the 8th seed in the West. The Rockets and Warriors need to win one game to clinch a spot and while there will be some movement the only teams that could be in or out will be the Jazz or Lakers, barring an amazing occurrence.
ESPN's 5-on-5 asked who would be the 8th seed in the West. They had a split of three panelists choosing the Lakers and two for the Jazz. The two that picked the Jazz were the ClipperBlog's D.J. Foster and Washington's, Truth About It's Kyle Weidie.
Foster said that both the schedule and tie-breaker will give the Jazz the final spot. "The tie-breaker belongs to Utah, and the schedule advantage does as well. The Jazz will get Minnesota twice in their final five games, while the Lakers will have a game in Portland on the second night of a back-to-back followed by three straight games against playoff teams."
The tie-breaker belongs to Utah, and the schedule advantage does as well. The Jazz will get Minnesota twice in their final five games, while the Lakers will have a game in Portland on the second night of a back-to-back followed by three straight games against playoff teams.
–D.J. Foster of ClipperBlog
Weidie said, "As much as I don't want to test/deny the Kobe mystique, Utah now has a half-game lead. And while beating the Timberwolves twice in a row as a result of a scheduling quirk will be tough, the Lakers' remaining schedule is less forgiving."
Part of the Kobe mystique might be the current "Lakers Conspiracy" that is being spread around the internet. Or it could just be that he is really that good. The Lakers are still filled with great players who could go off on any given night, but for the Jazz they are having their players hit their stride at the right time.
The Jazz have everyone stepping up lately in big situations. DeMarre Carroll has gone from the bench to changing games. Derrick Favors has improved and stepped up as his minutes have gone up with the injury to Enes Kanter. Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap are facilitating. Randy Foye and Mo Williams are finding their offense from long distance.
Lynn DeBruin of the Associated Press talked about how much Favors has grown in the past two years. Going from a "scared pup" to a pivotal piece in the playoff picture.
"The 6-foot-10 Favors delivered Sunday night, blocking a shot with 40.9 seconds left to preserve Utah's 97-90 road victory over Golden State. The win, coupled with the Lakers' loss to the Clippers, allowed Utah to reclaim the Western Conference's final playoff spot."
Jared Bray a Yahoo! contributor wrote about the three-team race, and as he focused on the Jazz he talked about the three bigs contribution. "Their three bigs, Jefferson, Millsap and Favors, have been dominant on both ends of the floor. In three games this month, the trio has combined to shoot an efficient 61 of 102 (nearly 60 percent) from the field, collect 10 steals and swat 11 shots."
Kanter's loss still hurts, the young center adds a lot of energy, but the shortened rotation has been able to keep hot players on the court.
Bradford Doolittle talked about how much better the Jazz can be with a smaller lineup via ESPN. The Jazz have used upwards of 12 players in a game at any time and now Tyrone Corbin is going down to 8 or 9 players per game.
"Ten players averaged double-digit minutes for Corbin in last year's playoffs. Of course, Utah was swept out of the first round by San Antonio, so Corbin might decide to tighten things up this time around -- if his club holds off the Lakers for the last playoff spot. Alas, depth -- particularly in the frontcourt -- is a hallmark of this year's Jazz roster."
Foye's been able to hit his shots. He has been able to get hot for the Jazz as they make their playoff push. Cody Williams of Rant Sports talked about his last 10 games on fire.
"Over the Jazz's past 10 games, however, Foye has been playing much more like the player that the Jazz need him to be. He has averaged 11.3 points and 2.3 assists over this span. In addition, he has shot 48.8 percent from the field and 46.4 percent from three over Utah's last 10 games, both of which are obviously improved from his season averages."
The Jazz now have a 58 percent chance to make the playoffs according to ESPN's Playoff odds.
Eric Picnus of the LA Times has the Lakers winning four of their last five games. If that is the case the Jazz would need to go 2-2.
The Jazz are back in because of players stepping up and other teams falling apart. Four games between the Jazz and the playoffs. A rough schedule for the Lakers, players stepping up for the Jazz and winning the tie-breaker months ago have the Jazz still fighting for the playoffs.