Who’s In: Rockets, Mavs, or Jazz?

There are two ways of looking at the race for the bottom of the West. The cynic would argue that the Rockets, Mavericks and Jazz are exhausting themselves for the opportunity to get stomped on by the Warriors and Spurs. But the optimist and those rosy glasses…

Once upon a time, the Warriors were the 8th seed and shocked the best team in basketball that year with the MVP Dirk Nowitzki, so anything is possible, right? Injuries, fatigue, bad coaching, karma, all of it is a recipe for a first round upset.

In theory, yes.

In reality, probably not.

But the three teams fighting for the last two spots in the playoffs approach each day and each game as a possible win as they try to get in the playoffs and see what will happen in the NBA’s second season. What they won’t acknowledge because it’s pretty depressing is that none of the teams at the bottom of the West have had success against the top two powerhouses, their likely opponent in twelve days. The Rockets, Mavs and Jazz are 1-10 against the Warriors (the Jazz and Rockets couldn’t scratch a game) and the Rockets are the only team to win a game against the Spurs.

Sobering as that may be, the season rolls on and the dog fight continues, along with the hackneyed phrase fighting for their playoff lives. Expect to hear that one over and over. Where it gets interesting is with the schedule, as if the NBA front offices planned all of this months ago.

The Mavs have 38 losses. The Jazz have 40 losses. The Rockets have 41. The Mavs have 41 wins. The Jazz have 39 wins. The Rockets have 38.  3.0 games separates all three teams.

It’s irrelevant, at this stage, to talk about the Rockets superiority fielding a team with James Harden and Dwight Howard. If that tandem had any chemistry, they wouldn’t be at the bottom of the playoff scrum. Same with Nowitzki on the Mavs. He’s their best player and he’s 37. The Jazz don’t have one player on their team that has been an All-Star. So are they going to be able to deal with the mental pressure down the stretch.?

That’s where the schedule wins it. Or loses it. Let’s examine.

Matchups, Head to Head

The Jazz play a home game against the Mavs in game 81. They have split the series so far, each team winning at home. The Jazz won an overtime game against Dallas in February. The prescription is pretty easy. The Jazz have to put the ball in the hole. It’s their one notable weakness as they are the third worst scoring team in the NBA. Advantage: Mavs

Matchups, Playoff Teams

The Mavs have 3 games remaining, one set of back-to-back games, 2 games on the road. Everyone they play is either in the playoffs or trying to get there. They have a tough back to back, at the Clippers, at Utah and then end with the Spurs at home. Prediction: 2-1

The Jazz have 3 games remaining, 2 games on the road, one set of back-to-back games. They play Denver on the road and are at home vs. Dallas. They end the season in L.A., Kobe’s last game and an emotional Staples Center crowd. Prediction: 1-2

The Rockets have 3 games remaining, one set of back-to back games, 1 game on the road. Their last threes games are against lottery teams but they lost to lottery team Phoenix because of their abysmal defense. Traditional rules don’t apply.  The Rockets schedule is the easiest but their team is awful. Prediction: 2-1

Who’s In the Lottery?

The Jazz. Last night’s loss to a Chris Paul-less, DeAndre Jordan-less, Blake Griffin-less Clippers team in overtime, at home, hurt the Jazz. Their schedule isn’t easy. In the tiebreaker, they lose out to Houston. Houston has a much easier three game schedule against lottery teams. The Jazz have had a great season as  the league’s second best defensive team but not having an offensive closer will keep them out the playoffs.

Who Is the 7th Seed?

The Mavs beating the Rockets on Wednesday and the Jazz losing to the Clippers on Friday night put them in the driver’s seat. They have a two game lead over the Jazz and a three game lead over the Rockets. If they win out, they are 7th seed. But they have that tricky road game in Utah. Still, the Mavs are in control of their own destiny. Mavs- Spurs.

 

photo via llananba