The Utah Jazz's own version of March Madness - 16 games in 28 days - continues this week. For them, the good news is that they are still in the middle of the race for the Midwest Division championship, a game behind the Spurs. On the other hand, they continue with a fearsome schedule through the remainder of the week.
Wednesday at 7 p.m. (MST) in the Salt Palace, the Jazz meet the Boston Celtics. That game will be followed by a Friday home game against Portland and a Saturday contest at Seattle. For those keeping score at home, the Jazz are a combined 2-4 against those teams so far this year.
This week's home contests could hardly be considered a reprieve after seven straight road games. Last week the Celtics and Trail Blazers became the first two teams in the NBA to clinch playoff berths. They have two of the three best winning percentages in the league (Chicago is the other).
Asked about the Jazz's two-game home stand, guard John Stockton laughed. "Basically, you have to treat it like we're on the road. It's not really like going home."
The Celtics have three players among the league's top 10 in field goal percentage (Kevin McHale, Robert Parish and Kevin Gamble). Larry Bird is third in the NBA in 3-point shooting.
As a team, the Celtics are holding their opponents to just .448 field goal shooting, the best defensive effort in the league. They are also the best field goal (.518) and free throw (.830) shooting team in the league. The Celtics have won eight of their last 11 games.However tough this week's games may be for the Jazz, the remainder of their schedule shows they have a respectable chance to stay with the Spurs. Going into Wednesday's contest, Utah has seven games left against teams with .500 or better records and 14 against teams with records of .500 or below.
Meanwhile, San Antonio has 10 games against .500-plus teams and 13 against .500-minus teams remaining. Utah has 12 home and nine road games left; San Antonio 10 at home and 13 on the road.
Also significant is that the Jazz won the season series 3-2 over the Spurs. Should they tie for the division lead, Utah would get the better playoff berth on the basis of winning the season series.
If the Jazz go 16-5 in their last 21 games, they will eclipse last year's record 55-win season.
The above facts were not lost on Karl Malone, who said he wasn't discouraged with the loss to San Antonio Monday night. "It was an important game, but we've got to like the situation we're in. This eastern road swing could have been a disaster for us."
Considering the Jazz went on their last trip without starting forward Blue Edwards - who will be out another week or more with a sprained ankle - the Jazz played surprisingly well.
"We feel confident we're a good team and are playing pretty well," said Stockton.