So it comes to this.
The Jazz play their 82nd game of the year tonight. So does every other team in the NBA. And nobody knows if this will be it for the 2012-13 Jazz or not. In someways I feel legitimately optimistic that things will go their way. In other ways I am doubtful.
Memphis is a monstrously good defensive team, and their best will defenders go up against Al and Mo ... the guys who we all know will take the most shots. At the same time, they are a meh offensive team, and they didn't seem to really try their best to win game number 81. Home court might be at stake for them, and playoffs are definitely at stake for the Jazz.
It's so interesting to look back on the season now. One more win in the first 81 would totally change the feeling of tonight's game. As would one more loss.
So you look back at that 0-4 road trip, with absurdly close losses to Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Chicago--and shake your head, wondering about what might have been had just one little lucky break gone our way. Or you can look at an 3OT win in Toronto thanks to Al's miracle 3, or the #MoLo moment of the season: the home win against San Antonio--and then you feel lucky you're at this point at all.
In the end, I believe most bouts of good and bad luck even out over the season. We all expected our team to be slightly above .500, and it's going to end up slightly above .500. We had talent on the team, but also imbalance, and some ... I'm trying to be nice here ... interesting choices regarding lineups and playing time.
And amid all the highs and lows, it all comes down to a road game in Memphis.
Based on the last game, I don't know how many of the Grizzlies' starters will play more than 24 minutes. In an almost sublime contrast, I do know that Al Jefferson, Mo Williams, Paul Millsap, and Randy Foye will each play at least 319 minutes apiece. Some things are just destiny.
* * *
It's funny ... I keep having this impulse to write this preview as an obituary. A final shout out to team 2012-13. But we don't know if it's over tonight. In fact, there's a reasonable chance that it's NOT over after tonight. That tonight will be just the beginning of a little hurrah into the playoffs.
And that's a funny feeling, I realized. We don't have final games like this very often. Nobody does. 99% of the time, you already know that the season's over or that the playoffs are coming. Sure seeding is at stake at times. And sometimes homecourt. But that's small-time compared to what we get last night: playoffs or bust. Even the Jazz recent #8 seeds (last year and 2009) didn't involve any last-day-of-the-season mysteries.
It's pretty much exactly like riding Puff at Lagoon when you forget: Have I gone around the circle three times already or only two? And as you near the loading area you don't know whether to brace yourself for the stop or just shout in wondrous joy that you get another 30 seconds.
Okay, so it's pretty much nothing like riding Puff at Lagoon. But they have something in common: ultimately, no matter the outcome—playoffs or bust; stop or one more go around—you end up a bit surprised.
So let's enjoy the game, and for everything afterward ... well ... come what may.