Utah Jazz: Jazz, Lakers battle for pride, pingpong balls
Matt Gade, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — This is the time of year when NBA teams, fans and media eagerly anticipate matchups with important ramifications.
Some teams, like the Phoenix Suns and Memphis Grizzlies, are fighting for their playoff lives.
Some teams, like the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers, are battling for postseason seeding and home-court advantage.
And then there are teams like the Utah Jazz and the Los Angeles Lakers.
Their showdown Monday night is important, but for all of the wrong reasons.
Long eliminated from the playoffs, the Jazz and Lakers both need a loss to improve their NBA draft lottery odds.
As it currently stands, the Jazz have the fourth-worst record in the league. Utah, loser of four straight, is 24-56 with two games remaining in the 2013-14 season. Milwaukee is sitting at the bottom of the NBA at 15-65, followed by Philadelphia (17-63) and Orlando (23-57).
Boston, which has actually won two in a row, and the Lakers, losers of seven straight, are nipping at the Jazz’s heels with 25-55 records.
Which brings us back to this Monday night marquee matchup.
One team (the winner) will boost its pride.
One team (the loser) will boost the amount of pingpong balls it gets on May 20 when the NBA determines its drafting order for the first 14 selections.
The team with the league’s worst record (the Bucks) will have a 25 percent chance of winning the top pick, the second-worst has a 19.9 percent chance and the third-worst has 15.6 percent.
The Jazz will fall somewhere between fourth (11.9 percent), fifth (8.8 percent) and sixth (6.3 percent).
If this draft really is five deep when it comes to superstar potential — Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker (if he enters), Dante Exum and Julius Randle — dropping to the No. 6 spot would put the Jazz in an unenviable predicament.
The Jazz have beaten the Lakers in two of three meetings so far this season, so a Utah win would give L.A. the lottery tiebreaker. A Jazz loss would make it a two-team battle (with Boston) for the fourth spot.
Utah wraps up the season in Minnesota on Wednesday, while the injury-plagued Lakers end that night at San Antonio. The Celtics play at Philly on Monday and host the Wizards on Wednesday.
It’s worth noting that the Jazz will also have the Warriors’ first-round pick, which is currently in the 23rd spot. Utah picked up that asset — and a 2017 first-round selection — last summer by trading for Richard Jefferson, Andris Biedrins and Brandon Rush.
Pride and/or pingpong balls aren’t the only thing on the line for this game.
The Jazz need one more win to avoid ending up tied with the first team in the Beehive State for the worst record in the franchise’s 35-year Utah era. That 1979-80 squad, led by Adrian Dantley and Pete Maravich (for 17 games), finished that campaign at 24-58.
The Jazz have only finished with fewer than 30 wins three times since then. Utah was 25-57 in 1981-82 when Frank Layden replaced Tom Nissalke as head coach during the season; 26-56 in 2004-05 when Carlos Boozer and Andrei Kirilenko had injury-plagued seasons; and 28-54 in 1980-81 despite big seasons by Dantley (30.7 ppg) and Darrell Griffith (20.6 ppg).
Monday's home-finale could also be the final time Tyrone Corbin coaches the Jazz team in Utah. His contract is up after this season, and management hasn’t made an indication of whether it will re-up the longtime Jazzman, who has had a variety of challenges and mix-and-match rosters since replacing Hall of Famer Jerry Sloan midway in February 2011.
Although Utah wants him back, it’s possible this could be the final time shooting guard Gordon Hayward suits up in a Jazz uniform at EnergySolutions Arena. The team’s leading scorer becomes a restricted free agent this offseason.
Veterans Richard Jefferson, Marvin Williams and Brandon Rush will also potentially be wearing Jazz uniforms for the final time at ESA. They’ll all be free agents this summer.
Trey Burke, Alec Burks, Jeremy Evans, Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert and Enes Kanter are the only players with guaranteed contracts with the Jazz for next season.
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