It's crazy to think that there are just four days left in the regular season. With all the teams involved in different playoff and draft scenarios for the Jazz, I find it helpful to make myself a guide of games I need to be tracking -- and I thought I'd share. It's likely a rambling mess -- but I swear, there's an easy-reference schedule at the bottom.
The reason for all the preface before the schedule is to detail how high the Jazz can climb in playoff seeding, and how high/low/non-existent that Warriors draft pick can be.
First for the Jazz is its own playoff destiny -- win and you're in. To make the final playoff spot, we know that Utah needs to beat Phoenix. If the Jazz beat the Suns tomorrow, it's playoff time, as the Jazz would be two games ahead of Phoenix with one to play. The Rockets are now a non-factor. The worst the Jazz can do with the Rockets is tie, and the Jazz have the tiebreaker.
If the Jazz qualify for the playoffs, how high can they climb seed-wise? 7th. While the Jazz can tie Dallas, the Mavs hold the 3-1 series tiebreaker there -- which is too bad, because Dallas has one game left, on the road against an Atlanta team playing for home-court advantage in the first round. Too bad the Jazz can't benefit from that.
But, our Jazz can also tie Denver if the Nuggets lose their final two. The Jazz hold the tiebreaker there, so that could give them the 7th seed. You can argue that the 7th seed and playing OKC is preferable to playing the Spurs. (I would argue that -- the Spurs won the conference while playing their stars as few minutes as possible and even randomly sitting them on certain games. That team is good.)
So for playoff implications, it's all about the Suns and Nuggets.
As for the draft, Golden State has been tankalicious -- until last night, when Charles-freakin-Jenkins, my man from Hofstra, played all 48 minutes, scored 24 and dished 9 assists, and led the Warriors back from down 16 at the half to beat Minnesota. That one win drastically improves Utah's chances of keeping the Warriors' pick. GSW sits at #8 in straight draft order -- remember, top 7 and they keep the pick -- but are just one game removed from Cleveland, Toronto, and New Jersey. In other words, the Warriors are one game removed from the 5th pick. The 5th spot is deadly, it would mean three teams behind them would have to win the lottery to move GSW out of the top 7, as close to a statistical impossibility as you can get without it truly being impossible.
Detroit is one game "back" of GSW at #9. To keep things easy, we want all these teams to lose (not truly possible, as Toronto and NJ play each other. The helpful scenario there is detailed below in the schedule.) If all these teams lose out, the Warriors stay static at the 8th spot, unless they win out and Detroit loses out, meaning GSW moves to the 9th spot. Not preferred, but not that terrible -- you'd rather have the 9th pick than no pick at all. The "lowest" the GSW pick can go is 9th (pre-lottery, of course). Minnesota is two games "back" of GSW but only plays one more game.
The Warriors finish with the Hornets and the Spurs. A GSW win against the Hornets isn't unreasonable, though they have played better with Eric Gordon. The game against the Spurs is the final game of the season. Root for the Spurs to win (they also play Phoenix) and to have clinched the 1-seed by then, giving them no reason to play starters -- and we'll see if the Warriors can steal one.
And remember: all non-Warriors teams surrounding them are trying to tank, too.
So for draft purposes, watch Cleveland, Toronto, New Jersey, Detroit, and San Antonio. And the Warriors, of course. (We root for Detroit to lose in case CLE/TOR/NJ don't cooperate, in which case we hope Detroit can move back "ahead" of Golden State.)
Also remember that final standings aren't "final" for the draft. Even if GSW finishes 7th, the draft lottery can still bump them out of the top 7. But finishing 8th or 9th is much, much more preferable.
Here's a schedule to reference so you can keep track of it all each night. The teams we -- well, I don't want to boss you around. I mean if you're a Jazz fan, it should be "we" -- the teams for whom I will be rooting to win are in bold. These are all the games to track. All times MT, national TV games noted.
Detroit @ Indiana - 5:00 pm
Philadelphia @ New Jersey - 5:30 pm
Cleveland @ Memphis - 6:00 pm, NBA-TV
Toronto @ Milwaukee - 6:00 pm
Portland @ San Antonio - 6:30 pm
Philly clinches a playoff berth with a win, Memphis is still gunning for home-court advantage in the first round. Both of those are good things.
Phoenix @ Utah - 8:30 pm, TNT
New Orleans @ Golden State - 8:30 pm
Washington @ Cleveland - 5:00 pm
Denver @ Oklahoma City - 6:00 pm
San Antonio @ Phoenix - 8:30 pm, ESPN
Phoenix will not only be on a back-to-back, but, hopefully after Utah beats them and ends their playoff hopes PLUS against a Spurs team who should be playing to clinch the 1-seed. Again, this matters for the Spurs' game at Golden State on Thursday.
Portland @ Utah - 6:00 pm
Cleveland @ Chicago - 6:00 pm
New Jersey @ Toronto - 6:00 pm
Denver @ Minnesota - 6:00 pm
Philadelphia @ Detroit - 6:00 pm
San Antonio @ Golden State - 8:30 pm, TNT
On New Jersey vs. Toronto: If both NJ and TOR win or lose Monday, it doesn't matter who wins this game. But if one of them wins on Monday, we want that team to lose this game.
And again, hopefully GSW is playing a Spurs team that is resting starters after clinching the 1-seed.
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I noticed as I compiled this schedule, of the games that are clear (NJ/TOR match not included) we are rooting for the home team in 11 of 15 games. So there are lots of good elements that shape these final four days if you are a Jazz fan.
Cross your fingers, say your prayers, wear your lucky shirt/jersey/hat/underwear, summon the powers of Jobu - whatever it is you do, happy rooting. Go Jazz!