Who’s coming into STAPLES Center in a week to face the Lakers in round one? Will it be the Utah Jazz, the current occupiers of the No. 8 seed? What about the Dallas Mavs, just a game up on Utah in the loss column with two to play? Or the New Orleans Hornets, who have tough games at Houston and at San Antonio to close the season?
What we can do it spell out the scenarios and do a bit of speculating:
Utah Jazz (47-33, 8th place)
Remaining Schedule: L.A. Clippers, @ L.A. Lakers (Tuesday)
Outlook: You have to figure that Utah can hold its home court against the Clippers in a must-win game that will put them on 48 wins, but they put themselves in the situation in the first place by inexplicably losing to the Golden State Warriors on Saturday … in Salt Lake City. Huh? Now, what’s going to happen against the Lakers on Tuesday? Does L.A., with nothing to play for, rest its starters? Do they play enough minutes to win so as not to enter the playoffs on a loss? That’ll certainly be interesting to watch. Either way, Utah needs to win out and get one loss from Dallas and two losses from New Orleans. If so, they’ll move out of the eight spot since they own the tiebreaker on both teams.
Dallas Mavericks (48-32, 7th)
Remaining Schedule: Minnesota, Houston
Outlook: The Minnesota game should be a no brainer, but remember, those pesky Timberwolves went into Utah and won last week, putting the Jazz in this situation in the first place. The Houston game will be much tougher, as the Rockets are most likely fighting for home court advantage (they’re in the three spot, a half game up on 5th place San Antonio). Dallas at least controls its own destiny, and if they can hold court at home, they’ll earn at least the seven seed.
New Orleans (49-31, 6th)
Remaining Schedule: @ Houston, @ San Antonio
Outlook: Both games look really tough on paper, but the Spurs are not the Spurs right now. Manu Ginobili is out and Tim Duncan’s playing on one leg, though clearly they can still find a way to beat you. But can N.O. lose both games and still avoid the Lakers? Yes. The Hornets own a tiebreaker over Dallas, but do not with Utah, meaning that the Hornets could drop both games if Utah and Dallas both lose 1-of-2 games. Now, if both Utah and Dallas win both of their games and New Orleans loses both, Dallas would earn the six seed, Utah the seven and New Orleans would get the Lakers. So, basically, the Hornets probably need to win one game to avoid L.A.
Confused yet? That’s why they play the games.