Utah Jazz want to win, but risk losing picks in process

By Lynn Debruin

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, April 5 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Utah Jazz center Al Jefferson (25) reacts to a call during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Phoenix Suns, Wednesday, April 4, 2012, in Salt Lake City. The Suns won 107-105.

Jim Urquhart, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — Conspiracy theorists might think the Utah Jazz have an interesting dilemma Friday night against Golden State.

A Utah win will knock the Warriors farther down the standings while keeping the Jazz within striking distance of postseason play — scenarios that could leave the Jazz going from two possible lottery picks in June to none.

Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor doesn't care.

He wants the win.

"We're not playing that game for that draft pick, and this organization and this ownership has never done that," O'Connor said. "We're going to try to win the game, try to make the playoffs. That game, that draft pick, means nothing."

The first pick in question, Golden State's, is one Utah obtained as part of the Deron Williams trade a year ago.

The pick is Utah's this year unless the Warriors — currently holding the NBA's ninth-worst record (21-32) — finish in the bottom seven. If the Warriors fall that far, Utah would get the pick next year, or the following season depending upon Golden State's finish.

Utah would lose its other first-round draft pick automatically to Minnesota if the Jazz make the playoffs.

Fine, O'Connor said.

"If we don't get it, we owe it to Minnesota and it's for (acquiring center) Al Jefferson," he said referring to a 2010 trade for Jefferson, who leads the team in scoring and rebounding. "It's worth it."

Of course, the Jazz will need to start games faster than they have in recent weeks, and learn to close them out.

After winning six straight last month, including two in overtime and victories over the Los Angeles Lakers, Oklahoma City and Denver — all three playoff teams at this point — the Jazz (28-27) have dropped five of their last seven.

That includes a quadruple overtime loss in Atlanta on March 25, a one-point loss at home March 30 to Sacramento and Wednesday night's nail-biter against Phoenix. The Suns held on for a 107-105 win Wednesday thanks to a pair of clutch shots by perennial All-Star Steve Nash in the final 14 seconds.

The Jazz loss enabled the Suns to leapfrog them in the Western Conference playoff race.

Phoenix is now in ninth place, one game behind Houston and Denver, while the Jazz are in 10th just 1 ½ games out of the eighth and final playoff spot. Yet because so many teams are bunched up, the Jazz are just three games behind Memphis — currently the West's No. 5 seed.

The Jazz have 11 games remaining, and could make up ground quickly, with four against teams below them in the West — Golden State, New Orleans and Portland (twice). The Jazz also close out the regular season with four of five games at home, where they are still 19-8 despite a few recent blown opportunities.

The Suns and Nuggets arguably have tougher closing schedules.

The Jazz, however, go forward without a true All-Star, unless you count slam dunk champion Jeremy Evans, who rarely plays.

Instead, to reach this point, they have relied on a mixture of castoffs, inexperienced youngsters and underrated big men like Paul Millsap, who has 56 points combined the last two games playing both small and power forward.

Jefferson said he has heard some compare this team devoid of stars to an AAU squad. But he called it an honor to play with a group of guys who remain unselfish and genuinely like each other.

O'Connor still believes in them.

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