SALT LAKE CITY –
There are plenty of reasons for the Jazz to want to be in the playoffs. For instance, the growth factor. Nothing makes young players such as Derrick Favors and Alec Burks mature faster than line-of-fire training. There’s also the pride factor. Don’t laugh. With the egos NBA players have, do they really like being laughed at?
Also there’s the free agent factor. With potentially 10 free agents this off-season, there are selfish reasons to play well in April, too.
But one big drawback to making the playoff is this: the inevitability of it all.
There’s still San Antonio or Oklahoma City, waiting.
Like a business trip to Fargo, you’re not going anywhere, once you reach your destination.
“Only thing we can control,” said Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin, “is what we do.”
So apparently the Jazz aren’t going to wrap this up early — if at all. But realistically, a win on Tuesday — instead of a 90-80 loss to Oklahoma City — would have been an unexpected gift. As it is, they’ll have to continue sweating out the postseason race.
The loss to the Thunder wasn’t for lack of effort on the Jazz’s part. It was a lack of people, both in uniform and out. No Enes Kanter, no Marvin Williams, no Alec Burks — none of whom dressed due to sickness or injury. Plus, there was no Russell Westbrook or Kevin Durant, either.
Utah doesn’t have one of those, much less two.
So the Jazz will need to grind out their final three games. Asked if there’s anything about this year’s team that reminds him of the ones he played with in the 1990s, coach Tyrone Corbin said: “Well there’s the toughness. We had two guys — Karl and John — who were together so long that we built everything around those guys. This group has found a way every night to stay together and rally around each other, all 13 14 15 guys on roster. Which is great for this group. They just have to make sure they stay together and anything can happen.”
“Anything” might be exactly what needs to happen.
If there were any plans for the Jazz to quickly claim a playoff spot ahead of the Lakers, those faded early. Not that the outcome was decided. The Jazz trailed by just six with nine minutes remaining and four with 23 seconds to go. But free throws by Durant and a steal and dunk by Westbrook finished the suspense.
Realistically, the Jazz lost in the first half, when they needed to get a commanding lead. It’s bad policy to try beating Durant and friends down the stretch. But in the first 24 minutes the Jazz couldn’t have found Texas on a road map. They shot just 35 percent. The only thing that worked in their favor was Oklahoma City shooting nearly as poorly (38 percent).
But 17 total turnovers doomed them against a team that could win the NBA title.
Underscoring the disappointment for the Jazz was the long-range worry of a playoff match-up. By losing, they allowed the Thunder to inch closer to the top seed in the Western Conference. If the Jazz were to make the playoffs, they might end up right where they left off on Tuesday, wondering how to match up against a team that is tall, athletic and motivated. Had Utah won, it would have almost surely locked up a playoff spot, but it also would have helped ensure that the Jazz play the San Antonio Spurs in the first round — a team that wiped out the Jazz in four games in last year’s playoffs.
It’s probably best the Jazz just don’t overthink this. Otherwise, they might start thinking like this: Why not save some expense and just tank it right here? It’s not like the Jazz could beat either San Antonio or Oklahoma City in the postseason.
Why not just say enough already?
Because it’s never good policy to plan on winning by losing.
You want to make the playoffs so that you’re a playoff team, not a playoff no-show.
The best plan is to keep swinging and let the schedule-makers sort things out.
You beat Minnesota twice — which the Jazz should — and hope for a win over Memphis. Get in the playoffs, then deal with the problems. (Utah is 2-5 combined against San Antonio and Oklahoma City this year.)
Too bad for the Jazz that both options are issues they have little time, or ability, to solve.
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