Monday night's game between the Utah Jazz and the Los Angeles Lakers is significant for an unusual reason.
Such a matchup would have playoff implications in years gone by. Home court advantage could have been on the line. Sadly, both the Lakers and the Jazz are as far from playoff contention as they can be. They currently sit at No. 15 and No. 16 in the West, respectively.
No, Utah and Los Angeles aren't racing for the top at the Jazz' final game at EnergySolutions Arena this season. Instead, they're racing for the bottom for a better chance at getting an elite player in the 2014 NBA Draft.
Who would have thought both the Jazz and the Lakers would be in this position? Not too long ago, it was considered a disappointment for either team not to get home court advantage for at least the first round of the playoffs. Now, the Lakers are 25-55 while the Jazz are 24-56.
And there are some Jazz fans who will be rooting for the Lakers on Monday night.
It's a world turned upside down.
The reason some Jazz faithful want their team to lose is so that the Lakers don't dip below Utah in the final standings. Even a tie in the final standings with the Lakers would lower Utah's chances of picking up Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins or Joel Embiid.
Currently, the Jazz have the fourth worst record in the NBA behind Milwaukee (15-65), Philadelphia (17-63) and Orlando (23-57). Boston and Los Angeles are just above the Jazz at 25-55. If the season were to end before Monday's games, the Jazz would have 11.9 percent chance at the first pick and a 37.8 chance for a top-three pick.
Should the Jazz beat the Lakers, they would fall to a three-way tie for the fourth worst record if the Celtics also lose to the 76ers. The worst-case scenario as far as the lottery goes would be for the Jazz to also beat the Timberwolves while the Lakers lose to Spurs and the Celtics fall to the Wizards. That would push the Jazz up to the sixth worst record. In that case, Utah's chances of getting the first pick would fall to 6.3 percent, while the odds of a top-three pick would fall to 21.5 percent.
That's a significant difference.
As it stands, the Jazz can mathematically tie or pass Orlando for the third-worst record if the Magic beat either the Bulls or the Pacers or both. However, the chances of Orlando beating either team are too remote to take into serious consideration. So, the Jazz can realistically finish anywhere from fourth-worst to sixth-worst.
The Jazz control their destiny. They can simply lose vs. the Lakers and Timberwolves to clinch the fourth-worst record. There are some subtle and not-so-subtle ways that Utah can make sure it loses its final two games.
But should the Jazz intentionally throw those games?
Intentionally losing any game runs against the competitive spirit that makes sports fun. What kind of message would throwing games send to the Jazz players? Such a move would signal to the players and coaches that they're so bad it's worth tossing a game or two to increase the odds of a high lottery pick.
That's not the best way to build loyalty.
Besides, the Jazz need to convince their young talent to stay for as long as possible so they can build a playoff-calibur team around a top lottery pick. It doesn't do much good for the Jazz to get a top-three pick only to have young players such as Trey Burke jet as soon as they can become free agents.
Speaking of Burke, he's already spoken out against tanking to Jody Genessy: "We play hard, practice hard every single day. Why would we want to go out there and try to lose? Wherever we do land in the lottery, that will be great for us, but to try to tank games and lose games, I think, is just absurd."
So, is intentionally losing the Jazz' final two games and adding tension to the locker room really worth better odds of getting a top lottery pick? What happens if the Jazz do finish with the fourth-worst record only to drop to the No. 7 pick in the lottery? While that scenario has only a 1.2 percent chance of happening, it's possible. After all, there would be a 62.2 percent chance the Jazz won't be in the top three even if the team throws its remaining two games.
At any rate, it makes Monday's game between the two worst teams in the West interesting.
Lafe Peavler is a staff sports writer for the Deseret News. Follow him on Twitter @LafePeavler.
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