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Western Conference Playoffs Outlook After Jazz Tank Vs. Mavs

Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) charges into Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) and is called for a foul during the Houston Rockets at Utah Jazz NBA basketball game at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020. (Steve Griffin, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah –ย The Utah Jazz tanked their way through the fourth quarter against the Dallas Mavericks to blow a 12 point lead, and lose 122-114. After thoroughly dominating Dallas for 36 minutes, the Jazz saw that a potential win over the Mavericks could spell doom in the Western Conference Playoffs, and called off the troops.

Had the Jazz won, they would no longer control their destiny in avoiding the West’s fifth-seed, and a likely first-round matchup with the Houston Rockets. The Jazz have been eliminated in back to back postseason meetings by Houston and appeared anxious to avoid a third.

The Jazz led 81-60 early in the third quarter, before slowly letting their foot off the gas pedal. Georges Niang, having his best game within the Disney bubble, was subbed out of the lineup 7:03 left in the quarter, allowing Dallas to finish the quarter on a 21-14 run.

The Mavericks ballooned the run into 55-28 spread over the final 19 minutes of the game to run away with the victory.

Now, with the Jazz now controlling some of their own destiny, here’s a look at the current NBA standings with four games remaining in the seeding portion of the schedule. Along with their record, each team is listed their proximity to nearby opponents.

1. Los Angeles Lakers: 51-18

2. Los Angeles Clippers: 47-23ย One game up on the Nuggets

3. Denver Nuggets: 46-24ย One game back of the Clippers, 1.5 games up on Houston

4. Houston Rockets: 44-25ย 1.5 games back of Denver, 1.5 games up on the Thunder

5. Oklahoma City Thunder: 43-27ย 1.5 games back of Houston, .5 games up on the Jazz

6. Utah Jazz: 43-28ย .5 games back of the Thunder, one game up on the Mavericks

7. Dallas Mavericks: 43-30ย One game back of the Jazz

8. Memphis Grizzlies: 33-38

The Jazz sit a half-game back of the Thunder for the fifth seed in the Western Conference Playoffs. With one game remaining for the Jazz, and two games remaining for Oklahoma City, the Jazz would maintain the sixth seed in the conference if each team loses their remaining games by way of the Thunder owning the tiebreaker.

With that in mind, here’s a look at the remaining schedule for each team, and how it impacts the Jazz.

Remaining schedules:

Utah Jazz:

Thursday: vs. San Antonio Spurs

The Jazz can guarantee themselves no better than the sixth seed in the Western Conference Playoffs if they lose their matchup with the Spurs. The Jazz nearly defeated San Antonio last Thursday despite Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell, Royce O’Neale, and Rudy Gobert not playing.

The Spurs could be eliminated from playoff contention by Thursday if they lose to the Houston Rockets, and the Portland Trailblazers beat the Mavericks on Tuesday. In that case, San Antonio would likely follow suit with the Jazz, opting to give extra playing time to their younger players.

While the Jazz can control their own ability to climb to fifth by losing to San Antonio, they would put themselves at risk of falling to the seventh seed in the Western Conference Playoffs with a loss. Dallas now sits just one game behind the Jazz in the seventh seed.

Oklahoma City Thunder:

Wednesday: vs. Miami Heat

Friday: vs. Los Angeles Clippers

As of Monday, the Thunder no longer control their ability to climb out of a potential four-five playoff matchup. After the Jazz loss to Dallas, the Thunder would need the Jazz to beat the Spurs to fall back into the sixth seed.

The Thunder rested three starters in their Monday loss to the Phoenix Suns and could choose to continue to find extra opportunity to sit players over their final two matchups.

Oklahoma City will likely face either the Rockets or Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs.

Dallas Mavericks:

Tuesday: vs. Portland Trailblazers

Thursday: vs. Phoenix Suns

The Mavericks find themselves in a bit of a strange situation, balancing resting starters, with the opportunity to leapfrog the Jazz over the final two seeding games and avoid the Clippers in the first round of the playoffs.

Coach Rick Carlise rested both Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis against the Jazz and could opt to continue to protect their health before the playoffs begin.

Both Portland and the Suns will likely be jockeying to earn the Western Conference’s ninth seed with a prime opportunity to steal the final playoff seed away from the Memphis Grizzlies in the play-in tournament.

Houston Rockets:

Tuesday: vs. San Antonio Spurs

Wednesday: vs. Indiana Pacers

Friday: vs Philadelphia 76ers

The Rockets could undo the Jazz plans of avoiding a third consecutive playoff meeting by overtaking the Nuggets in the Western Conference playoff chase.

Houston sits 1.5 games back of the Nuggets in the standings with three games each let to play. The Rockets would have to win two games more than Denver over the next three contests to earn the three seed.

Both the Spurs and Pacers will still be fighting for playoff positioning in their next two games, so neither should be considered an automatic Rockets win. Depending on the Eastern Conference playoff chase, the Philadelphia 76ers could have plenty to play for when they face the Rockets in both teams final seeding game.

Denver Nuggets:

Monday: vs. Los Angeles Lakers

Wednesday: vs. Los Angeles Clippers

Friday: vs. Toronto Raptors

While the Nuggets will monitor the Houston Rockets nipping at their heels, they could be more focused on trying to overtake the Los Angeles Clippers for the second seed in the Western Conference.

If Denver prefers a matchup with the Mavericks rather than the Jazz, earning the second seed could be a top priority. Wednesday’s matchup between the two teams looms large in the final standings.

However, looking at regular-season success, the Nuggets may prefer a first-round matchup with the higher-seeded Jazz. Denver is 3-0 against the Jazz this season, but just 1-2 against Dallas.

Los Angeles Clippers:ย 

Wednesday: vs. Denver Nuggets

Friday: vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

The Clippers began the process of resting players early within the Orlando bubble, and have not let up regardless of the Nuggets tightening the race for the second seed in the West.

With perhaps the most talented roster in the NBA, the Clippers are likely happy to with any playoff seeding as long as they enter the postseason healthy.

However, there may be some slight value for Los Angeles to hold onto the second seed in the West. The Clippers were a perfect 3-0 this season against the Mavericks, their projected first-round opponent. Meanwhile, the Clippers managed just one win in three meetings against the Jazz.

Where do Jazz Fit in Western Conference Playoffs?

With the schedules and standings laid out, what should Jazz fans look for over the final five days of seeding games in the West?

First, don’t expect to see the Jazz starters play significant, if any, minutes against the Spurs on Thursday. Having played seven games in 12 days, players will be knocked up and tired. Having extra rest before opening the postseason on August 17.

By that point, each Jazz starter, (minus Joe Ingles who will likely look to keep his iron man streak alive) will have had a full week’s rest before game one of the playoffs. That’s a nice advantage for a team that has shown competitive promise over their last four outings.

Second, if the team’s hope was to avoid the Rockets in the first round, they’ll likely have accomplished that goal. Having to win two more games than the Nuggets in a three-game stretch is a steep hill to climb.

Additionally, even if they can’t climb to the two seed, the Nuggets would likely prefer to face the Jazz in the first round of the playoffs rather than the red hot Thunder.ย Oklahoma City has the third-best record in the NBA since Thanksgiving and did manage to beat the Nuggets once in the regular season. The Jazz can’t lay claim to either accomplishment, so they may headhunt the Jazz as willingly as the Jazz are hunting them.

Third, Dallas almost surely won’t surpass the Jazz in their final two seeding games. Both Portland and Phoenix will be playing full speed to earn the final spot in the Western Conference playoffs, and that could put both Doncic and Porzingis at risk.

Had Carlise wanted to make a push for the sixth seed, he could have better guaranteed the Mavericks a win over the Jazz by playing his two stars on Monday. He did neither, and shouldn’t be expected to do so over the final two seeding games either.

The Jazz close their regular season against the Spurs on Thursday at 4:30 pm MT. The game will be broadcast nationally on TNT and locally on AT&T SportsNet.