Is it really all that important for the Utah Jazz to reach the NBA playoffs?
I pose that somewhat rhetorical question because, really, let's face facts: The Jazz are fighting like crazy to try and earn what, exactly?
Eighth place in the final Western Conference standings.
And just what does that get them? A first-round playoff matchup with the best team in the West, either the San Antonio Spurs or Oklahoma City Thunder.
Realistically, that would mean a series that, at best, might go five or six games, but most likely wouldn't go Utah's way. And, at worst,?it could very possibly wind up being a repeat of last year's abrupt postseason exit, when the Jazz got swept out of the playoffs by the Spurs in four games.
So, I must ask again, is it really all that important for the Jazz to reach the playoffs?
Well, head coach Tyrone Corbin certainly thinks so, for a variety of reasons — as a reward for his team's hard work, as a sign that they're making progress and moving forward, for the continued development and improvement of his players, and for the invaluable experience that playing in the postseason can have on a player's long-term growth.
And he's downright adamant about it.
"It just shows your work, I mean, where you are," Corbin said following Friday night's victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves. "You play to have a chance to win a championship, and if you don't get in the playoffs, you have no chance to win a championship.
"And depending on where your development is, we're in a position to make the playoffs and want to do everything we can right now to make the playoffs, and it's just important for all the work we put in."
Some folks will say the Jazz would be better off finishing out of the playoff picture and moving into the NBA lottery.
But in an NBA Draft which most folks are sizing up as one of the weakest in years, with very few immediate impact players or difference-makers, having an extra first-round pick — the Jazz will receive Golden State's selection as well as their own — might not be all that productive in Utah's bid to improve.
Corbin said people who might pooh-pooh Utah's eighth-place finish and a subsequent first-round exit aren't close enough to the situation to realize just how an important a playoff berth would be to his team.
"They're not working like these guys are working," he said. "If that's the case, then that's the case, but you want to make sure you give yourself a chance to be in it while you're in it, and the experience it gives you, the experience of going forward, of what it's like to be in the playoffs.
"So I think we're doing everything we can now to make it. If we don't, then we'll deal with that. If we do, we'll be ready for that experience."
The Jazz coach also denied that last year's four-game series spanking by the Spurs was not beneficial to his team.
"I think last year was great," Corbin said. "I think last year just being in the playoffs gave us a feel for the difference in the playoff level and how you have to compete at that level.
"Even though we played a great San Antonio team and didn't win a game, I thought the experience of going, so as you talk guys through things, they have the live experience they can fall back on. And I think that goes a long way toward the development of the team and of young guys especially."
With two games to go in the regular season, Utah still trails the Los Angeles Lakers by a game but, if the two teams wind up in an eighth-place deadlock, the Jazz would go to the playoffs by virtue of holding the tiebreaker over L.A.
The Lakers rallied for a victory over Golden State late Friday night in game in which longtime L.A. superstar Kobe Bryant tore his Achilles tendon.
(Rumors that the fiercely competitive Bryant will still attempt to play in the Lakers' last two regular-season games while wearing a knee-high walking boot and using a crutch have not yet been confirmed).
Bryant's injury might help the Jazz reach the playoffs, be it by his absence on the court or by the fact that losing their best player might serve to take the heart and soul out of the Lakers for their last two games.
Regardless of what transpires over the next few days, though, there are plenty of reasons why reaching postseason play would benefit the Jazz.
It would not only reward them for their hard-working efforts this season, but would also show that they have not digressed after making the playoffs last year.
With a current roster filled with at least eight free agents, the fact that the Jazz got to the playoffs might make Utah a more desirable destination for potential free agents looking for someplace to land this summer. Most players don't want to go somewhere if it appears there's little chance of winning there.
You always want to maintain a culture of winning, of being a possible playoff contender every year, instead of becoming a perennial also-ran franchise with a bleak future like the L.A. Clippers were for so many years, or like the Toronto Raptors are now.
With 26 playoff berths over the last 30 years, the Jazz have certainly established themselves as a perennial winner — a proud accomplishment for a small-market franchise.
Reaching postseason play helps the bottom line — playing at least two additional home games definitely helps the front office in terms of profit-loss margin.
And, finally, it'd just be real sweet to beat the Lakers out of a playoff spot, especially after they loaded up with big-name acquisitions Dwight Howard and Steve Nash during the last offseason. What's more, the Lakers knocked the Jazz out of the playoffs for three straight years from 2008-10, so the Jazz definitely owe 'em.
So, at last, is it really all that important for the Jazz to reach the playoffs?
Well, all things considered ... yes — it most definitely is.
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