SAN ANTONIO Never one known to be at a loss for words, NBA retiree and current TNT studio analyst Charles Barkley the round mound of crystal basketballs was asked during a conference call Tuesday to break down the NBA playoffs.
To no one's shock, Barkley succinctly forecasted that Boston and Detroit will face off in the Eastern Conference finals for what he deemed would be "a monster series."
When it came to the Western Conference, Barkley had plenty to offer.
Narrowing things down, however, was a beast in its own right because even with just one night left in the 2007-08 regular season, the West remains a real mess.
"I can't even really pick a team in the West right now," Barkley said, "because we don't know what the matchups are going to be.
"It's up for grabs right now."
It is. And the Jazz, who close the season tonight at San Antonio looking to finish with 55 victories for the first time since the 1999-2000 season, are right in the thick of things.
"I think realistically, in no particular order, Utah, the (Los Angeles) Lakers and San Antonio are the three best teams (in the West)," Barkley said. "San Antonio and Utah could play (each other) in the first round, so that would eliminate one of my picks."
Then again, Utah could wind up facing either Houston or Phoenix in first-round play.
Even after New Orleans beat the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday night to trim a decidedly long list of scenarios including elimination of the possibility Utah could finish as the West's No. 2 seed and elimination of the possibilities that Utah would open against either New Orleans or Dallas the Northwest Division-champion Jazz still don't know where or against whom they'll be playing when postseason action gets under way this weekend.
It could be at Phoenix (if Utah loses tonight, Houston loses tonight at home against the Clippers and Phoenix wins tonight at home against Portland), or it could be at home against the Suns (if Utah wins at San Antonio and Phoenix loses to Portland).
It could be at Houston (if Utah loses tonight and Houston wins tonight), or it could be at home against the Rockets (if Utah loses at San Antonio and Houston and Phoenix both lose, too, or if Utah and Phoenix both win and Houston loses).
Or, as Barkley said, it could be against San Antonio, and in that case it would be at home (if Utah, Houston and Phoenix all win tonight).
Presented with myriad possibilities prior to practice Tuesday, Jazz starting center Mehmet Okur for one was blown away.
"Dude, I don't want to know," he said. "It's too complicated.
"Dude, you know what we're going to do? We're going to take care of business first. We'll see what happens."
What the Jazz are focusing on, however, is trying to secure homecourt advantage for at least the opening round.
"Well, that's what everybody would like to have," said coach Jerry Sloan, whose club finished an NBA-best 37-4 at EnergySolutions Arena this season but is just 17-23 on the road.
"That's what you play for," Sloan added. "We're in position to try to do that, and it's up to us to take care of business. If we can't do that, then we'll see where we land."
The Jazz can guarantee themselves homecourt for their first series by winning tonight at San Antonio where they have lost 17 straight games, 20 including the playoffs, a futility streaking dating to 1999.
Even if they lose tonight, the Jazz can also get it in a No. 4 vs. No. 5-seed series vs. Houston should the Rockets lose tonight as well.
"We're very good at home, best in the NBA, so obviously we want that," veteran forward Matt Harpring said. "But, with that being said, if we don't get it, it's not the end of the world, either."
Harpring firmly believes the Jazz can emerge from the Western Conference bracket no matter where they start.
Yet he readily acknowledges Utah which advanced to last season's Western Conference finals as a No. 4 seed, only to lose to San Antonio in five games is not exactly alone in that regard.
"I think (the Jazz are more confident than last year), because we've been there," Harpring said. "We've kind of done it, so we know what it takes to get to the level that we want to get back to.
"But the West is so very good, anyone from the first seed to the eighth seed can really create trouble," he added. "Last year, it wasn't really that way, I didn't think. This year, I think, if you're a sixth, seventh or eighth seed, you're thinking that you can win it all, just as well as the first, second or third seed."
Or, for that matter, the fourth.
And if it's Barkley doing the picking even without the benefit of knowing how the pairings will shape up there is little question as to which seed in the West would be the one with which to go.
In Sir Charles' world, it's whichever one the Jazz happen to be assigned."At midseason," Barkley said, "I picked Utah. I still feel pretty good about that pick."
GAME 82 It all comes down to this ...
The Jazz will open the 2008 playoffs at Phoenix if ...
Utah loses tonight at San Antonio, Houston loses at home against the Los Angeles Clippers and Phoenix wins tonight at home against Portland.
The Jazz will have home court against the Suns if ... Utah beats San Antonio and Phoenix loses to Portland.
The Jazz will open the 2008 playoffs at Houston if ...
Utah loses at San Antonio and Houston beats the Clippers.
The Jazz will have home court if ... Utah loses to San Antonio, Houston loses to the Clippers and Phoenix loses to Portland; or Utah and Phoenix win and Houston loses.
The Jazz will open the 2008 playoffs at home against San Antonio if ...Utah wins at San Antonio, Houston wins over the Clippers and Phoenix wins against Portland.
Jazz on the air
Utah Jazz at San Antonio Spurs
AT&T Center, San Antonio
Contributing: Linda Hamilton E-mail: [email protected]
E-mail: [email protected]