Posted by: David J. Smith on April 24th, 2012The author's views are entirely his or her own and may not reflect the views of the Utah Jazz.
Some bits and pieces from ESPN’s John Hollinger’s article (Insider), where he discusses the immense Utah Jazz/Phoenix Suns tilt tonight.
Welcome to the first game of the playoffs: Phoenix at Utah.
The Suns and Jazz play Tuesday, and the winner will almost certainly be the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference playoffs. Utah has a slight chance with a loss, actually, but would need Phoenix to lose at home to San Antonio’s backups on Wednesday while the Jazz beat Portland on Thursday. If the Jazz win, they clinch.
Alas, Phoenix has a much bigger problem on Tuesday in Utah. The Suns will likely be withoutGrant Hill and Channing Frye, while Utah has the opposite situation: Their injuries have actually helped them. The Jazz spent half the season sabotaging themselves by giving heavy minutes to veteran deadwood like Raja Bell and Josh Howard before injuries to both cleared the way for Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks and C.J. Miles to play the wings.
Phoenix’s one shot is zone defense. According to Synergy, Utah ranks 29th in points per play against zones, and the Suns have been a fairly common user of zone defenses this season. The Suns have also beaten the Jazz twice this season already, so a win wouldn’t be unprecedented. Nonetheless, the odds are against them.
As for the Spurs, they can “play God” on Wednesday if the Suns win Tuesday, as they could probably beat Phoenix by playing their starters. I suspect San Antonio would prefer Phoenix to Utah; the Spurs don’t deal as well with brutish frontcourts and hardly ever play zone. So look for heavy doses of James Anderson and Cory Joseph in Phoenix on Wednesday.
Also, he talks about the possibility of the Jazz moving up to 7th spot:
As with New York, the Nuggets can land sixth, seventh or eighth. Denver will be No. 8 if it drops its final two games (at Oklahoma City and at Minnesota) while Utah wins its final two. However, I imagine Utah will opt for rest if it beats Phoenix and might lose the finale to Portland, although the Blazers’ current disinterest may trump any tanking by an opponent.
And one of my favorite parts, Hollinger discusses the Golden State Warriors’ pick and takes tanking teams to task. This is brilliant. (I know many of you dislike former Jazz guard/John Stockton backstabber and current Warriors coach Mark Jackson. Enjoy.)
The draft pick race
Several teams that are out of the money nonetheless have draft picks at stake in these final games. Most notable among them is Golden State, which owes Utah a first-round pick unless it lands in the top seven. The Warriors are currently No. 8 from the bottom in the win column, but will end up in a tie for No. 7 because somebody has to win the Toronto-New Jersey game on Thursday. If the lottery goes to form, that means the status of the Warriors’ pick will come down to a random draw at the league office, which I believe would be held on Friday.
However, the Warriors can’t screw up and beat the Hornets on Tuesday night or they’ll take themselves out of the running entirely (unless they move up in the lottery). A couple of other unlikely scenarios could help Golden State: The Kings or Cavs could win their final two games and tie the Warriors in the loss column, improving their random-draw odds of landing in the top seven.
While we’re at it, here’s a memo to the league: Stop including conditional protections on draft choices like this. What the Warriors have done this past month is an abomination and needs to be stopped. The only protection that should be allowed are outside the top 14 or inside the top three. We’ve seen too many teams make a mockery of the game in the final month of the season because they were trying to keep their draft pick (most notably in the infamous Mark Madsen 3-pointer game a few years back), and it’s one of the big reasons that so many of the games in March and April stink.
Golden State’s is the most prominent, but it’s not the only pick that is affected by the playoff race. The Knicks have made the playoffs and the Rockets have missed, so Houston will have two first-round picks (their own and New York’s), and the Nets won’t get the Rockets’ top-14 protected first-rounder until next year at the earliest.
It’s unlikely, but Houston could get a third first-round pick if Dallas wins its finale against Atlanta, Boston drops its final two games, and Denver and Orlando lose at least once. A random draw could put Dallas’ pick 21st, and it’s top-20 protected.
Minnesota will be rooting hard for Utah on Tuesday, as the Wolves get the Jazz’s first-round pick if Utah makes the playoffs; otherwise it’s top-12 protected next year.
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