Fighting For The 8th Seed

Photo: Bill Baptist NBAE/Getty ImagesPhoto: Bill Baptist NBAE/Getty Images

The Utah Jazz currently sit squarely at .500 in the standings at 34-34, good for 9th in the Western Conference – just outside of the final playoff spot, which the Lakers usurped last weekend. Not two months ago, almost everyone was in agreement that the Los Angeles Lakers wouldn’t be able to put a good enough run together to make the postseason, leaving that 8th spot open to Utah with no real challengers at their heels. Yet, in an unfortunate turning of the tide, the Lakers are riding on a Southern California-sized wave of wins.

But is all hope truly lost?  I broke down the schedules of each team that could feasibly end up in the 8th spot come season’s end: Utah, Houston, Golden State and the Los Angeles Lakers. I’ve included their current records, remaining home and away games with predicted outcomes and a projected final record – not to mention the number of back to back games remaining.

This is what I think will happen:

Predictions for the 8th seed

Here’s my justification for each team’s prediction:

Utah Jazz

Considering how the Jazz have been playing, I actually think I was somewhat gracious and optimistic about where they’ll land – it’s probably a best-case scenario. I have them winning both of their remaining back to backs, but only one of their remaining road games (vs. Dallas). I’ve included quality wins against Philadelphia and Brooklyn. Even then, the Jazz end up 41-41 and out of the playoffs. What’s even more frightening is the fact the both Dallas and Portland are only two games behind the Jazz, who could realistically end up 11th in the West if things really go wrong.

Houston Rockets

The Rockets are 6-4 in their last ten games (compared to the Jazz’s 3-7) and seem to be feeling pretty good. They have the most back-to-backs left, of which I have them losing two of three. I’ve got them losing their games against San Antonio, Denver, the Lakers and Memphis, and beating Indiana. Outside of that, their schedule isn’t too bad. 45-37 is their final number.

Golden State Warriors

After being on fire almost the entire season, the Warriors hit a rough patch that was oddly contemporaneous with the return of Andrew Bogut. They seem to be coming out of that slump a bit, winning six of their last ten games. They have one of the easiest schedules left of the four teams in question, with the least amount of games, back-to-backs, and games vs. + .500 teams. They’ve got a game against San Antonio towards the end of the season, and knowing Gregg Popovich, the Spurs will most likely be resting their aging stars. The Warriors remain the 6th seed at 48-34.

Los Angeles Lakers

The Lake Show, to the dismay of many Jazz fans (including myself), are playing their best basketball of the season and the best of any of these four teams. At 7-3 in their last ten, they’re beginning to turn the tables on all the people who’ve doubted them all season. I’ve got them losing both of their remaining back-to-backs, as well as dropping games to Memphis, Golden State and the Clippers. I think they’ll be able to handle the rest of their schedule, benefiting as Golden State does from a late-season game vs. the Spurs. A game to watch is their final game of the season vs. Houston, which could have huge implications in the standings. I’m giving that game to the Lakers due to their recent play and a home-court advantage. The Lakers take the 8th seed with a record of 44-38.

So there you have it.

Meanwhile, a dark mist has thickened along the Wasatch Front…and I’m not referencing the inversion. It’s a mist of skepticism; a malaise of disappointment for those anxious for the Jazz to at least make the playoffs, since that’s what the organization’s goal has clearly been. Still, others are basking in the smog of the Jazz’s recent failures, as some kind of twisted “I told you so”, a self-righteous vindication for those fans bitter about the lack of moves at the trade deadline (never mind the fact that by all reports, the Jazz would have had to take on some horrific contracts in just about any trade scenario not involving Eric Bledsoe, who was purportedly never really on the table to begin with).

While I actually think standing pat at the deadline was *probably* the right move, given what we know, I won’t be that upset if the Jazz miss the postseason. Scouts are saying it’s a weak draft, but you never know – and any chance at getting a young point guard is intriguing to me. Trey Burke might be in our range, and just maybe Michael Carter-Williams. While I never proactively cheer for the Jazz to lose a game, I do consider them to be in a rebuilding phase wherein losses don’t sting so much. There are still a lot of positives to hope for going forward, including a group of young prospects, some draft picks and plenty of flexibility in the roster and under the salary cap.

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