NEW ORLEANS — By this morning, Bourbon Street is a blast from the past. The party that was New Orleans is packed, prepared to move on next year to Phoenix. The NBA All-Star Game break is done, and it's back to the business of basketball.

For Jazz players, that means refocusing on a Western Conference playoff race that was one of the talks of the town as the league celebrated with its annual showcase game here over the weekend.

Such also is the case for the West's All-Stars, not all of whom — because of such of crowded field in the conference — may be able to advance their teams to postseason play.

Some seem safe.

But with just eight playoff spots available, others from among a group of contenders that includes Phoenix, San Antonio, Utah, Dallas, New Orleans, Denver, Portland, Golden State, Houston and the Los Angeles Lakers will not be.

"Who's gonna not make it? I don't know," Jazz point guard Deron Williams said. "We're gonna make it. That's all I'm worried about."

Williams, in fact, already is thinking about late April/early May — and whom the Jazz might see in the opening round of the playoffs.

"There definitely are matchups that you'd more like others," he said. "There are teams that you struggle against."

And many of those teams are bulking up for the run, via trade.

The Los Angeles Lakers recently added Pau Gasol, Phoenix got Shaquille O'Neal, Utah added a piece in Kyle Korver, Dallas has been working on trying to get Jason Kidd.

With Thursday's NBA in-season trade deadline looming, others may soon do the same.

New Orleans coach Byron Scott said the chances that the Hornets will make a move are "50-50."

"We might do something before the deadline and we might not," said Denver All-Star Carmelo Anthony, whose Nuggets have been tied to trade rumors involving Sacramento's Ron Artest. "If we don't, I'm going to roll with what we've got. Right now, I love the team we have. I think anything we get will be a plus."

No wonder a wild race is expected, right down to the finish.

"It's going to come down to the last game of the season, I can tell you that," Anthony said. "Every team in the West has a chance to make the playoffs."

That's an overstatement, of course, but reality suggests that several from the conference can be considered bona fide title contenders.

Williams and All-Star teammate Carlos Boozer have their favorites, should it not be the Jazz.

"I always put San Antonio up there, just because they're reigning champs," Williams said. "They beat us pretty bad last year (in the Western Conference finals). And come playoff time, they just know how to get it done.

"They're well-coached, they don't mistakes," he added. "They don't beat themselves. They make you beat them, and that's hard to do."

Boozer's choice is centered more on sentiment than analysis.

"After the Utah Jazz, if we don't win it, I would like to see KG (Kevin Garnett, of the Boston Celtics) win it, because I'm a crazy KG fan," he said. "Growing watching him, playing against him — he brings it every night. Always passionate about the game. He's one of those guys that, as a basketball fan, you want to see win.

"But that," Boozer hastened to add, "is only if we get eliminated — and we're not going to be eliminated."

Boozer, whose Jazz head into Tuesday night's home game against Golden State having won 12 of their past 13, spoke with supreme confidence.

Williams, though, was a bit more grounded.

"It's too close to tell right now," he said when pressed about which contenders might be eliminated. "We have another bad stretch like we did in (a 5-11) December, it could be us."


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