SALT LAKE CITY – The concept of the play-in tournament has been praised by some and criticized by others (including some of the game’s biggest stars). But it doesn’t matter which way you fall, the games play out.
On Wednesday, the Western Conference play-in tournament kicks off with the Los Angeles Lakers, Golden State Warriors, Memphis Grizzlies and San Antonio Spurs fighting for the final two seeds.
So which team or teams should Jazz fans be cheering for eighth place? We’re going to break it down; but first, a little reminder on the format.
- No.7 LA Lakers vs No.8 Golden State Warriors
The winner of this game will be No.7 in the playoffs and play No.2 Phoenix Suns. The loser will have one more chance of making the playoffs in a do-or-die contest on Friday.
- No.9 Memphis Grizzlies vs. No.10 San Antonio Spurs
The winner will advance to Friday’s game against the loser of the Lakers / Warriors for last place in the playoffs. The loser is eliminated from the playoffs.
- Loser of the Lakers / Warriors vs Winner of the Grizzlies / Spurs
The winner of this game will be the eighth seed and first-round opponent of Utah.
Who should jazz fans be fighting for to win the Warriors-Lakers?
This one is simple: the Lakers. Throw away your fantasies of LeBron James and Co. losing those two games and missing the playoffs. A much more likely scenario is that of the Lakers, who were one of the best seeds in the West for the first half of the season before injuries took their toll, suddenly find a rhythm and become one of the deadliest inferior seeds in league history.
LA is the defending champion and the Lakers are still widely regarded as one of the favorites to win the title. Oh, and James hasn’t lost in the playoffs outside of the finals since 2010. Even as the No. 8 seed, LA would be favored in a first-round match against the Jazz. If that were to happen, it would be one of the worst chances a No.1 seed has ever had.
This doesn’t mean that Jazz wouldn’t stand a chance. In fact, it would probably be a fascinating series. Would the Lakers’ No.1 defense be able to stop Utah’s elite attack? Could LA’s (25th in league) porous 3-point offense keep up with Jazz snipers? And there’s a potential advantage to the Lakers landing at eight: They might not be completely healthy in the first round, so it might be better to get them sooner rather than later – and a sign of that might be. to lose to Golden State in Wednesday’s game – In play.
Still, it’s a game the Jazz will probably want to avoid all together. So, as hard as it is for many Utah fans to say, go to the Lakers – at least Wednesday.
Who should jazz fans be fighting for to win the Grizzlies-Spurs?
The Jazz have led the Spurs by an average of 21.3 points in three easy wins this season. So obviously the Jazz want the Spurs to win, right? It is not that simple.
The Spurs finished six games under .500 and were a putrid 12-29 against .500 or better teams. Translation: Jazz weren’t the only team to beat San Antonio – especially since Derrick White fell.
Spurs have won just two of 12 games since White sprained his ankle. With White out for the remainder of the season, it seems unlikely that Spurs will suddenly go back to back-to-back wins against good teams. And less when the second game was against players tested in the playoffs on the Warriors and the Lakers. While the Spurs may be the easiest potential opponent for Utah, a win on Wednesday would virtually ensure that the Jazz will play either the Lakers or the Warriors in the first round.
So if jazz fans want to avoid LeBron James and Steph Curry in the first round, it’s going to Grizzlies on Wednesday.
How good would the Grizzlies be for Jazz?
Memphis isn’t a bad team – they just don’t fit Jazz very well. Ja Morant is a rising star, but can’t shoot well enough to fold Utah’s defense. Dillon Brooks, Jonas Valanciunas and Kyle Anderson are all good players but the Jazz have had little trouble defending them. In short, the Grizzlies wouldn’t force the Jazz to adjust at all.
Donovan Mitchell, Mike Conley and Joe Ingles could all be enjoying the pick and roll, and their basic defense should be more than enough for a quick streak. This was all seen in a weird scheduling quirk when the Jazz played the Grizzlies three times in the span of four games in March – all of Utah’s wins. These games were played during a period when Memphis won 8 of 11 games; the three losses were all Jazz.
The bad news: The Grizzlies have a combined 1-5 record against the Warriors and Lakers this season – and the only win came in a game Curry wasn’t playing. Memphis lost to the Warriors on Sunday after giving up an 18-4 Curry-fueled run to end the contest. This game pushed Golden State to 8th place in the standings.
So what is the most likely outcome?
The play-in’s unique game format creates more opportunities for upheaval – Morant could leave, Curry or James could struggle, Gregg Popovich could bring Spurs back from the dead. That said, most of the money is for the Jazz to meet the Warriors in the first round.
Is it bad? Well it could be better. The Jazz have gone 1-2 against Golden State this season, with last week’s loss to San Francisco still fresh on the minds of many jazz fans – there might be some concerns.
And part of it is justified. In the last 10 games, the Warriors have had the league’s second-best net score at plus-10.5. Curry, meanwhile, is playing his best basketball of the season, scoring 37 points last month to win the league scoring title and rise to the top of the MVP race.
The Jazz, however, have a few things that work for them: Utah beat the Warriors by 52 points during Rudy Gobert’s minutes this season (and he will play a lot more in the playoffs); and the Utah Bench, with two sixth man of the year nominees, is far superior to Golden State’s offsuit reserve group.
Curry, alone, should be enough to get the Warriors into the first round – but he’ll likely need a little more help beating the Jazz four times.