Utah Jazz ready and excited for their 'now or never' moment in Memphis
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — ESPN has got to be loving its lineup tonight.
Adding a nice dramatic touch to the regular-season finale, the national TV network has back-to-back games that determine the final playoff team in the NBA's playoffs.
If the Utah Jazz beat the Memphis Grizzlies in their 6 p.m. game, it will put pressure on the Los Angeles Lakers to hold off the Houston Rockets in their 8:30 p.m. showdown.
"Big one tonight," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said with a big smile.
A Jazz win and a Lakers loss would put Utah into the postseason for the 26th time in the past 30 years.
Any other combination happens, and the Jazz will be a lottery team for the second time in three years.
"This is it. Now or never," Jazz center Al Jefferson said. "It came down to these last games as far as us and the Lakers. If we want to be in — and we deserve to be there — we have to play like it."
The Jazz come into this elimination game having won nine of 11, including three in a row on the road. That's helped put them back in the playoff hunt after a brutal stretch that included 12 losses in 15 games and nine straight setbacks away from home.
Problem is, Utah is 43-38 and the equally hot Lakers are 44-37. The Jazz own the tiebreaker thanks to victories in two of the three meetings with L.A. this season.
Corbin, whose team won the last game against Memphis in March at ESA, likes the mood of his team heading into this pressure-packed finale.
"We all understand where we are. We all understand the significance of a great performance tonight and how big the game is for us," Corbin said. "Just handling what we can handle and not worrying about what's going on with anybody else, just making sure we take care of our business and play from there."
The Grizzlies (55-26) also have something to play for. Memphis would secure a home-court advantage over the Clippers in the first round if that L.A. team loses in Sacramento tonight.
In other words, the Jazz aren't counting on the Grizzlies to rest their key players ahead of the postseason.
"You have to expect that. That's how you have to approach it," Corbin said. "You can't expect them to come and lay down, and they're not. They have a chance to move up or down or stay where they are."
Added Corbin: "It should be an interesting game. It's a great game to be playing in."
Jefferson absolutely agrees.
"It wears and tears on you, but it's fun," Big Al said. "If you love to compete, if you love the game of basketball, this is where you want it. Either way, whatever happens, I think that we should hold hour heads up high. We put ourselves in a position to make the playoffs, and that's all you can ask for."
More short shots from this morning's shootaround:
— How important is a quick start against this Memphis team?
"It will give you an advantage. It's going to be a fight. We've been up on them here (by) 10 points at halftime," Corbin recalled. "They play such good defense. You've got to expect a 48-minute game with them. If we can get off to a great start, that would be great and get a cushion there. But we've got to make sure we expect to play for 48 minutes in a tough battle."
— Jefferson said the Jazz will try to come out with extra intensity.
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