Sue Ogrocki, AP
SALT LAKE CITY — Suddenly, Utah has become a state full of fans of the Warriors, Spurs and Rockets.
Or, another way to put it, the Jazz and their fans have more reason than usual to root against the Los Angeles Lakers.
If the Jazz are going to make the 2013 playoffs, they'll need a favor or two from their new BFFs from Golden State, San Antonio and/or Houston.
Beat L.A. in exchange for some bottles of fry sauce and Mormon Tabernacle Choir CDs?
If that doesn't happen by next week at this time — at least the "Beat L.A." part — Jazz players will be scattered to multiple vacation destinations and the staff will be thrust into an offseason of uncertainty sooner than anybody would prefer.
"It is the playoffs before the playoffs," Jazz power forward Paul Millsap said. "You never know what (will) happen."
Here's what has to happen for the Jazz (41-38) to leapfrog the Lakers (42-37) and earn their 26th postseason appearance in 30 years:
— If the Jazz go 3-0 against the Timberwolves (tonight at home; Monday at Minnesota) and Memphis while the Lakers go 2-1, 1-2 or 0-3 at Staples Center in their three games, Utah is in the playoffs.
— If the Jazz go 2-1, they need the Lakers to lose at least twice.
— If the Jazz go 1-2, they need the Lakers to fall in three straight.
It's important to remember that L.A. does have a one-game lead but that Utah owns the tiebreaker thanks to its 2-1 season-series advantage.
"We feel like we've got a great chance if we win out," Millsap said.
"We're still alive," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "We're approaching it as if we're going to make the playoffs. We've got to win the rest of our games. We know the importance of every game."
Anyway you break it down, though, the Jazz have to hope for some outside help from their Western Conference foes-turned-friends. If the Lakers go 3-0, the Jazz will be left to go fishing and wishing.
"Best-case scenario, you win out just to win out regardless what happens to them," Millsap said. "We're still fighting for something within ourselves. To win these next three games would be big for us."
It'd only be natural to fight the battle of would'ves, could'ves and should'ves right now.
What if Mo Williams' layup had not rimmed out in his Cleveland comeback? What could've happened if the Jazz had gotten a rebound and not allowed the Bulls to get a last-second win in Chicago?
Oh, and what about that two-point loss in New Orleans, the hard home setback to the Clippers when Chauncey Billups faked the refs into calling a flop a foul or all those road no-shows?
Of course, that game goes both ways.
Utah needed a miracle 3-pointer by Al Jefferson to win in Toronto and it eked out lucky wins in overtime against Indiana and Sacramento and, well, we could play this for a while.
You can't cry over spilled missed opportunities, right?
"We have the last three games that we need to win and that's all that we can control. We take care of our business from there, whatever happens happens," Corbin said. "You'd like to know that you're in it, but we have a chance to get in it, so that's where we are. You can't change that at this point."
Understandably, that didn't stop the Jazz from tuning in to the Lakers' comeback win over Portland on Wednesday night when Kobe Bryant scored 47 points and played all 48 minutes to lead his team past the depleted Blazers.
"I saw some of it," Corbin said, softly and somewhat dejectedly.
"Kobe is a guy who's been around this league forever, who understands these moments, and he relishes in these moments."
Corbin couldn't help but have respect for Bryant's performance, which came on the road and on the second night of a back-to-back.
"When he's in a mode like he is right now, if you like basketball and you like watching guys compete at a high level, you've got to admire what the guy's doing," the Jazz coach said. " It's amazing that he is as competitive and as effective as he is at this age and stage of his game. Good for him. Like or dislike whatever about him, the guy's a true, true competitor and he competes at another level."
Having said that, "Go Warriors! Go Spurs! Go Rockets!"
"You can't go rooting and hoping and wishing that somebody loses to back into it," Corbin said. "Let's handle what we can handle, win our games, and if it doesn't work out that way at least you feel better about what you did."
Millsap said he had to stop watching the Lakers-Blazers game when Portland was up by 10, but an L.A. rally seemed inevitable.
"It's a crazy game that we play," he said. "I kind of figured something like that was going to happen."
Millsap said he wasn't frustrated that Bryant went off. It just happened — and, of course, it happened, he's Kobe.
"He's going to try to do everything himself. He's going to try to put that team on his back and try to will them into the playoffs," said the free-agent-to-be who could be playing his final home game in a Jazz uniform tonight. "Hopefully, he don't do it these next few games."
The Jazz need to channel their inner-Kobe to keep the pressure on the Lakers by toppling the T-Wolves a couple of times, too.
"We can't afford to relax," Corbin said.
Unfortunately for the Jazz, they have to hope that same attitude is shared by the Warriors on the second night of a back-to-back, by a Spurs squad missing Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili and by a Rockets team that might be resting its key players on the last game of the regular season.
"We've got to win out just for us," Millsap said. "Our hopes and dreams are still alive. We've got to still wait to see what happens."
In the meantime, don't be surprised if their cars sport new bumper stickers that read: "My two favorite teams: The Utah Jazz and whoever's playing the Los Angeles Lakers."
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