This is it. Now or never. It came down to these last games as far as us and the Lakers. If we want to be in — and we deserve to be there — we have to play like it. —Al Jefferson, Utah Jazz center
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — ESPN has got to be loving its lineup tonight.
Adding a nice dramatic touch to the regular-season finale, the national TV network has back-to-back games that determine the final playoff team in the NBA's playoffs.
If the Utah Jazz beat the Memphis Grizzlies in their 6 p.m. game, it will put pressure on the Los Angeles Lakers to hold off the Houston Rockets in their 8:30 p.m. showdown.
"Big one tonight," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said with a big smile.
A Jazz win and a Lakers loss would put Utah into the postseason for the 26th time in the past 30 years.
Any other combination happens, and the Jazz will be a lottery team for the second time in three years.
"This is it. Now or never," Jazz center Al Jefferson said. "It came down to these last games as far as us and the Lakers. If we want to be in — and we deserve to be there — we have to play like it."
The Jazz come into this elimination game having won nine of 11, including three in a row on the road. That's helped put them back in the playoff hunt after a brutal stretch that included 12 losses in 15 games and nine straight setbacks away from home.
Problem is, Utah is 43-38 and the equally hot Lakers are 44-37. The Jazz own the tiebreaker thanks to victories in two of the three meetings with L.A. this season.
Corbin, whose team won the last game against Memphis in March at ESA, likes the mood of his team heading into this pressure-packed finale.
"We all understand where we are. We all understand the significance of a great performance tonight and how big the game is for us," Corbin said. "Just handling what we can handle and not worrying about what's going on with anybody else, just making sure we take care of our business and play from there."
The Grizzlies (55-26) also have something to play for. Memphis would secure a home-court advantage over the Clippers in the first round if that L.A. team loses in Sacramento tonight.
In other words, the Jazz aren't counting on the Grizzlies to rest their key players ahead of the postseason.
"You have to expect that. That's how you have to approach it," Corbin said. "You can't expect them to come and lay down, and they're not. They have a chance to move up or down or stay where they are."
Added Corbin: "It should be an interesting game. It's a great game to be playing in."
Jefferson absolutely agrees.
"It wears and tears on you, but it's fun," Big Al said. "If you love to compete, if you love the game of basketball, this is where you want it. Either way, whatever happens, I think that we should hold hour heads up high. We put ourselves in a position to make the playoffs, and that's all you can ask for."
More short shots from this morning's shootaround:
— How important is a quick start against this Memphis team?
"It will give you an advantage. It's going to be a fight. We've been up on them here (by) 10 points at halftime," Corbin recalled. "They play such good defense. You've got to expect a 48-minute game with them. If we can get off to a great start, that would be great and get a cushion there. But we've got to make sure we expect to play for 48 minutes in a tough battle."
— Jefferson said the Jazz will try to come out with extra intensity.
"We most definitely are going to have to," he said. "This is the time that we can't have one of these slow starts. We can't have a great start and then die off later. We've got to play hard for 48 minutes."
— What do the Grizzlies do well defensively?
"They man-to-man each guy. They have their hands on you. They commit there. Their weak-side rotations are great," Corbin said. "They're a physical team and they're going to have their hands on you all night, and they do it for 48 minutes every night so they have the reputation. They get the chance to be aggressive on both ends."
— Does the recent road success the Jazz have had (three wins in a row) give any momentum?
"We try and use whatever we have at this point," Corbin said. "The experiences we have struggling on the road all year long and the successes we've had of late on the road. We need a big win on the road here tonight. We've been through a lot on the road through the season, and of late we've had success and we want to build on that."
— How far away does it seem to be getting to the point where you're sitting on the airplane watching the Lakers game with a chance to go to the playoffs?
"The first thing is to take care of our business — winning the game tonight and then we'll deal with that," Corbin said. "It's a long afternoon, waiting until the game and just getting ready and focused, and then taking care of your business and then waiting to see what happens. But the first thing is taking care of your business. We have to get a win here tonight and we'll go from there."
— Can you imagine what that plane flight will be like if you win? Can you watch the Lakers-Rockets game?
"We'll see when we get on the plane," Corbin said. "We can get Internet on the plane."
— You said you were going to ask your old coach, Kevin McHale, for some help from his Rockets. Did you reach out to him?
"No, nah, nah. I sent word to him, though. He got it," Jefferson said. "I'm going to shoot him a text tonight. We're going to take care of business."
— What's your gut feel going into this one?
"I think that we know what we've got to do," Jefferson said. "That's the way we've play been playing. That's why we won nine of the last 11."
— How tough is it going against Memphis center Marc Gasol?
"He's a beast. He's got to be the best big man in the league as far as all-around talent," Jefferson said. "That man can do everything. He can shoot. He can pass, play great D. He's got a great post work. Just a very smart, smart, smart player. He's just one of them guys you respect but you hate to play against.
"I just think he's the best all-around talent — a big who can do everything."