To quote a Robert Lund Utah Jazz parody song from the 90s and a Metta World Peace post-free-throw confession, “I love basketball!” And I love it even more when there’s trash talk and on-court beefs involved. If you don’t love trash talk, go read this Grantland article and then come talk to me.
Being the on-court beef and trash talk lover that I am, you can imagine how thrilled I was when Chris Paul and Rudy Gobert got into it at the end of the last game 12 days ago. Paul even called out Gobert post-game because “he talks a lot.” Mylo captured all the great moments and Twitter’s reaction in Downbeat #2053. It’s worth revisiting.
Needless to say, I’m pumped for this game and I’m salivating over the prospect of a 1st round best-of-7 series between these two teams. While it’s not a lock that these two teams will be the 4 & 5 seeds in the Western Conference, it is the most likely scenario at this juncture. The winner of Saturday’s game will own the season series tiebreaker and claim the 4 seed (and home court advantage) should both teams end with the same record. Fivethirtyeight.com’s current playoff predictions have the Clips and Jazz both finishing at 49-33.
Given the high stakes surrounding Saturday’s game, everything about this game already feels like a playoff game. Because it determines home-court advantage in the likely playoff pairing, I would argue that this game is weighted more heavily than any single game in the potential 1st round series save a game 7.
Perhaps, just as important as securing the series tie-breaker, the Jazz need to win this game to show they can win a game when they absolutely have to. The Jazz had some terrible losses at the end of last year in games that they absolutely needed to win. One home game, in particular, to a Clippers team resting their stars that ended up being the difference between the Jazz making or missing the playoffs.
Gobert is on record this year as stating that the team feels like they can play with any team. Now is the time to show that. A Jazz-Clippers match-up in the playoffs is probably the most difficult potential 1st round match-up for the Utah Jazz. The Clippers match up well against the length of the Jazz. Not only would a 1st round victory be a great milestone for the young team but could also give them enormous confidence heading into a 2nd round match-up that is likely to be the Warriors.
There is a lot of basketball to be played between now and the playoffs. But this game is the closest thing you will get to playoff basketball. Enjoy it.