Besides completing the regular season, Saturday night's Jazz-Golden State game in the Salt Palace was a playoff promotion.
The Western Conference first-round playoff matchup of the No. 2 Jazz vs. the No. 7 Warriors was already set before the game, thanks to Golden State's 139-121 home loss to Denver Friday. That left No. 6 Denver with a one-game lead over the Warriors - and the tiebreaking edge - with one game left and a chance to move up to No. 5 with a win over Dallas Sunday.The Jazz kept Karl Malone out of the season-ending game with a slightly sprained ankle. At halftime, the Jazz retired jersey No. 1 for Frank Layden in a special ceremony.
By losing five straight games before Saturday and finishing seventh in the West, the Warriors were able to avoid meeting Phoenix in the first round. After losing to Denver, several players denied knowing that losing would allow them to face the Jazz instead of the Suns. So did Coach Don Nelson, but he was reportedly unable to keep a straight face when he said that.
The Jazz, meanwhile, are justifiably worried about the Warriors. "We don't match up extremely well against them," said Mark Eaton. "Don Nelson runs a lot of gimmicky stuff that have presented problems for us."
Noted Coach Jerry Sloan, "They have a lot of different problems for us to deal with."
The pairing is a rematch of a 1987 first-round series, in which the Warriors came from 2-0 down to win the last three games. "We have a totally different team, so it really doesn't matter," said Warrior forward Chris Mullin.
Just like the '87 matchup, the '89 best-of-five series opens with Games 1 and 2 in the Salt Palace Thursday and Saturday. The series shifts to Oakland for Games 3 and 4 - probably Tuesday and Thursday - and back to Salt Lake for Game 5, if necessary. The complete schedule will be announced Monday.
The Jazz-Warriors winner will play the Phoenix-Denver/Houston winner in the conference semifinals. If the Suns win, they'll have the homecourt advantage for the second round because of a better regular-season record than the Jazz or Warriors. The Jazz would have the homecourt in the event of a Denver/Houston first-round victory.
The other playoff pairings are almost set. No. 4 Seattle will play No. 5 (Houston or Denver) and the No. 1 Lakers will meet No. 8 Portland or Dallas. For Dallas to reach the playoffs, the Mavs would have to win at Denver today and Portland would have to lose at home to Sacramento.
Same story in the Eastern Conference. The matchups are No. 1 Detroit vs. No. 8 Boston or Washington, No. 2 New York vs. No. 7 Philadelphia, No. 3 Cleveland vs. No. 6 Chicago and No. 4 Atlanta vs. No. 5 Milwaukee. Washington has to win at Philadelphia today and have Charlotte win at Boston to gain the final spot, via a tiebreaker.