With three games left in the NBA season, the Utah Jazz are still in doubt as to whom they will be meeting in the first round of the NBA playoffs. As was the case last year, it could go down to the final day.
But things are gradually coming into focus. Portland has already locked up the No. 1 spot in the Western Conference playoffs. The L.A. Lakers are certain to be the No. 3 team. Other than that, the picture is still fuzzy.That may be cleared up considerably tonight. The Jazz tip off in the Salt Palace at 7:30 against the Seattle SuperSonics, while Midwest Division leader San Antonio plays at Houston.
"What you want to do is finish as high up as you can and hopefully get the home court advantage," said Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan. "But if you start looking at teams you might play and deciding who you'd like to play - and you get that team - it adds fuel to the fire."
The conference playoff format goes like this: The top team in the conference - regardless of division - is seeded No. 1, and plays the No. 8 team. The winner of the other division is then seeded No. 2. The remaining teams are paired according to their final record. The pairings are 1 vs. 8, 2-7, 3-6 and 4-5.
The tie-breakers go in this order: head-to-head competition; winning percentage in conference; winning percentage in division; winning percentage of conference playoff teams; point differential in games against the other team; best point differential in offense and defense.
In case of a tie with San Antonio or Houston, the Jazz would be the higher team, because the Jazz won three of five games against the Spurs this year and, though they tied with Houston (2-2), they have a better conference winning percentage.
Considering the above, the Jazz still stand a chance of being the top team from the Midwest Division and earning the No. 2 seed in the playoffs. Utah plays Seattle tonight, the Lakers on Saturday and at Golden State on Sunday. San Antonio, leading the Jazz by a game, has Houston, Denver and Dallas remaining. The toughest job is that of the Rockets, who trail the Jazz by a game and San Antonio by two. Their schedule includes games against San Antonio, Dallas and Denver.
The way the standings are now, the Jazz would end up fifth in the West, playing the No. 4 Phoenix Suns. However, Phoenix only leads the Jazz in the standings by 11/2 games after the Suns' victory over the Clippers Wednesday night. Should they end up tied, Utah would get the higher seed - and the home court advantage - by virtue of a better conference record. The Suns have games against Seattle and Portland.
If the games were played today, here are the pairings in the West, with the higher-seeded team holding the home court advantage: Portland (No. 1) vs. Seattle (No. 8); Phoenix (No. 4) vs. Utah (No. 5); San Antonio (No. 2) vs. Golden State (No. 7); and the L.A. Lakers (No. 3) vs. Houston (No. 6).
If Utah wins the Midwest Division, though, it would trade places with San Antonio, and end up playing Golden State or Seattle, and have the home court advantage.
In the East, as of Wednesday, the pairings had Chicago (No. 1) vs. New York (No. 8); Milwaukee (No. 4) vs. Philadelphia (No. 5); Boston (No. 2) vs. Indiana (No. 7); and Detroit (No. 3) vs. Atlanta (No. 6).