Tom Smart, Deseret News
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Al Jefferson turned 28 years old 3 1/2 months ago. His big day was Jan. 4, to be precise.
While his playoff-hungry team is in full better-late-than-never mode, the Utah Jazz center would happily accept a belated offering from an old friend.
"It's all about Houston," Jefferson said. "I guess I need to try to get in touch with (Rockets coach) Kevin McHale and tell him to go and handle that for me, give me a late birthday present."
That present from the man who coached him at Minnesota would be a victory by the Rockets over the Lakers late Wednesday night at Staples Center.
But before you correct Jefferson, yes, he does realize that it really isn't all about Houston.
In order for that Rockets-Lakers game to be relevant for Utah's playoff fate, Big Al and his Utah teammates have to get some winning work done in Memphis.
The Jazz (43-38) trail the Lakers (44-37) by one game in the chase for the final postseason berth in the Western Conference. For the Jazz to make the playoffs for the 26th time in the past 30 years, two things must happen: Utah has to win and the Lakers must lose.
Convenient for NBA fans, those two games just so happen to be an ESPN season-finale doubleheader. Utah and Memphis tip off at 6 p.m. followed by the Rockets-Lakers showdown at 8:30 p.m.
Inconvenient for the Jazz, they'll be 34,000 feet above the middle of the United States flying home from Graceland while Houston and L.A. play their game in Tinsel Town.
"We've got one left and we need some help," Jazz point guard Mo Williams said. "We just got to go out and take care of our business and sit back and get some good news on the plane."
Because the Jazz beat the Lakers in two of three meetings this season — the Kobe Bryant version of the Lakers, mind you — Utah owns the tiebreaker and would be pitted against No. 1 seed Oklahoma City in the first round if that two-fold, good-news scenario plays out.
"I love my chances. I think we're playing well right now, playing well enough to win on the road," Jefferson said. "Memphis is a good team, but I love my chances going in. We've just got to take care of our business and everything else will work itself out."
Jefferson isn't the only one who (jokingly) is asking for favors.
Lakers big man Pau Gasol contacted Memphis standout center Marc Gasol and asked his younger brother for some long-distance help.
"I told him to please go out there and compete and try to win the game," Pau told the Los Angeles Times. "He said, 'We'll see,' because (Monday) night they played the starters 24 minutes (in a win at Dallas). They probably play the same the next game."
Wednesday's game isn't as important for Memphis to win as the Jazz, but the Grizzlies do have something play for. If the Clippers lose and Memphis wins, Tennessee's team would end up earning home-court advantage against Chris Paul's club.
Giving the Jazz a bit of hope, Houston also has something on the line. The Rockets would slip to the No. 8 position out West with a loss to the Lakers, so it'd be advantageous for Houston to win and avoid that dreaded opening-round pitting against Oklahoma City.
If nothing else, a Jazz win would create some late-night sports drama and make the NBA regular season meaningful to the final minute.
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