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NBA Playoffs 2016: Utah Jazz need to finish strong, earn playoff berth

Let's do this!

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

The Utah Jazz are where they weren't supposed to be. Ravaged by injuries all season long to Dante Exum, Alec Burks, Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert and others the team was not supposed to make the playoffs this year. Of course, at full strength, this Gordon Hayward team no doubt should have. A trade deadline deal that brought back his NCAA running mate Shelvin Mack has helped correct the trajectory of this team, while young studs Rodney Hood, Trey Lyles, and Raul Neto have been balling this year. If the season ended today they would make the NBA Playoffs. Sadly, the season doesn't end today -- and the team will have to work hard to deserve a spot.

Utah has prevailed this season no matter what, but over the last 10 games they lost to the teams we expected them to, and beat the teams they must -- including a triumph against the Houston Rockets in their gym to tie the season series between the two. The Jazz thumped the Milwaukee Bucks, Minnesota Timberwolves twice, the Phoenix Suns twice, and put down a near-historic beatdown of the Los Angeles Lakers. Five game remain -- five tough games.

It starts tonight with a home game hosting our older brothers, the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs have 64 wins this season and could fight hard to overtake the Golden State Warriors, but why? Furthermore, they are 11.5 games ahead of the #3 team, the Oklahoma City Thunder. There really is nothing to play for tonight, and in fact, helping Utah win helps determine that the Spurs will play the Jazz in the first round. They lost to Utah years ago in a similar situation in the lockout shortened year (one where the Jazz last made the playoffs). There's no Boris Diaw tonight. And even if the Spurs are pulling punches, it's not going to be an easy game.

Next on the schedule are the Los Angeles Clippers. They need to reintegrate Blake Griffin as much as possible before the playoffs start -- and he will get his minutes. Though, if you watch the standings the Clippers also don't have much to play for. They have secured their playoff tickets, and they are comfortable ahead of the Grizzlies / Trail Blazers, and have little chance of catching the Thunder. Also like the Spurs this is going to be a tough game -- and they may want revenge for that time earlier in the season when Hayward dropped 33 on them in their own gym.

The middle game is a roadie against the Denver Nuggets. Denver is in the lottery, again, and may want to slow things down a bit with their tempo and intensity. After what could be two losses in a row this will be a must-win for the Jazz. Not much else needs to be said. Utah has done a great job over the last 10 games to focus and make sure the games they should win actually become wins. I hope they can keep that focus over the next few weeks as well.

Especially not when the season could hang in the balance of this game, the Utah Jazz hosting the Dallas Mavericks on April 11th. This game determines tiebreakers and more. Win and the Jazz are pretty much in. Lose and that could be the season, and the difference between 82 games and at least another four more. This game will be the second game of a back-to-back (though flying from @ DEN to UTA isn't that bad), and the third game in four nights. It's also the same situation for the Mavs, who play the night before on the road at the Clippers. Both teams could be less rested than normal.

The last game of the season is the last game of Kobe Bryant's storied career, in LA, in front of all of his adoring fans. It will be an emotionally charged game where all the stops will be pulled to let him end his career on as high a note as possible, one last win. It's not going to be easy for the Jazz to win this one. But they should be motivated to do it. It may be the final game that puts Utah in the playoffs.

If Utah wins 2 of the next 5 then they have a chance to make it. If they win 3 of the next 5 they make a good case for earning it. If Utah wins 4 of the next 5 then they not only claim the spot in the Western Conference playoffs "regardless," but they also make a statement.

Back in the sweet summer days of a healthy Dante Exum I felt like this team would win 45 games. They can at best reach 44 wins if they go 5-0. A 42 wins season would be nothing to laugh at, especially not with the challenges this team faced. And being -3 wins off of the preseason prediction (before all the injuries) would be amazing.

The Jazz have a chance to make this a memorable regular season. But I believe they want more. They want the Playoffs. Do they win enough to make it? What do you think?