With 10 games left in the regular season as of tonight's EnergySolutions Arena 7 o'clock tipoff, Utah Jazz players are an optimistic bunch, saying it's realistic that they can win all 10 of them.
"It's possible. I don't see why (not)," said Deron Williams with a good point to back him up: "We've been on a 10-game winning streak before. We only have that many games left," he said at Thursday's practice.
And that 10-game win streak started Jan. 18 in ESA, 106-88, against the same Los Angeles Clippers who are Utah's opponent tonight. The Clips, however, returned the favor in Staples Center 114-104 on Feb. 22.
"Yeah, they took it to us the last time we played them, and we haven't forgotten that," said Carlos Boozer, who also sees 10 as an achievable number. "Why not? I think it is," he said. "If we bring the same kind of effort we have on a daily basis, we have a chance to win every night. Most games we have a chance to win."
In a Western Conference race for playoff positions that is so tight it's almost un-handicap-able, it might take the Jazz those 10 wins to get any better than the fourth-seed status they have now, and just a few losses could drop them out of the postseason altogether. Getting home advantage would be a big prize for Utah, which at 31-4 has the NBA's best home record and one of the poorest road records (16-21) of the Western Conference contenders.
Utah is three games out of first and just three ahead of ninth place in the Western Conference. Only eight make the playoffs.
How tight is the race?
Well, current No. 1 seed New Orleans has the most opportunity to gain ground since it has 12 games left, more than any of the top contenders, two more than the Jazz. But eight of those games are on the road, though that bothers the Hornets less than several other teams since their 22 road wins is second-best of the eight clubs that have playoff status if the season ended today. Their next five games are in Eastern Conference cities often a good thing, except the first three are at Boston, Toronto and Orlando, among the East's elite.
The Los Angeles Lakers, who fell to the three seed Wednesday night with a home loss to the Charlotte Bobcats, have the fewest games left of all the contenders, nine, but only four are against teams that would be playoff-bound. Six are at home, but the Lakers, who have the best road record (25-13) of any of the West playoff likelies, have not played especially well at home lately, such as on Wednesday night.
Former Jazzman Derek Fisher told the Los Angeles Times, "We seem to fail to utilize our home court and our fans, which we were able to do through most of the season. We don't seem to come out with the focus and commitment we need to have on our home court."
Houston, the current No. 2 seed, has 10 games left, like the Jazz and fifth-seeded San Antonio, but it only has two at home, where it is 28-10. Then again, the Rockets only play four teams currently ticketed for the playoffs.
Utah and San Antonio both play six teams that are likely to be playoff-bound, and the Hornets have a high of seven of them.
Nobody seems to have any real advantage in scheduling down the stretch in the West, so, says Jazz center Mehmet Okur, "We just want to go out there and win all 10 games. We want to finish the season strong. We just want to play hard because every game is a playoff game right now."
Sophomore guard Ronnie Brewer is a little more cautious. "We want to win every game, but we play some tough teams," he said. Still, "I think 10-0 (is realistic) if we play our best basketball, and we have our confidence going into every game."
"Anything's realistic," said Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, who related how when he was a young player and his team lost the first game of its season of about 78 games, the general manager told the club it had another 77 or so to go. "I was disappointed we'd already lost," Sloan said.
"I think that's the way you try to approach it, that you're going to try to win every single game."Otherwise, you start giving yourself leeway to fail when you say you've got to win four out of six or five out of seven or something like that. I think the idea is to go win and see where you are."