Well what do you know? The Utah Jazz are down to their last dozen games and the Midwest Division race is, as usual, a two-team affair between the Jazz and San Antonio. No surprises there. The only question left is whether the Jazz can ride their 4 1/2-game lead to the title, or whether they again will take it down to the final day and lose a gallon of sweat before someone is declared winner.
Though the Jazz appeared fresh and resilient last week, that all came to a screeching stop on Friday when the Lakers handed the Jazz a loss, as well as a sobering reminder: It isn't over yet."They shouldn't have to be reminded that way," said Jazz coach Jerry Sloan. "They've got to know that every game is important to us."
Meanwhile, Spurs' center David Robinson will be out for six weeks after thumb surgery. San Antonio lost on Sunday to the Pistons, the Spurs' fourth straight defeat.
The Jazz finish up a five-game home stand against the Milwaukee Bucks, Monday at the Delta Center, 7:30 p.m. The Bucks delivered the Jazz a 99-98 loss at the Bradley Center on Jan. 8. But Milwaukee's road record isn't something to brag about. The Bucks have lost 19 straight road games.
Any combination of seven Jazz wins or San Antonio losses will give the Jazz the Midwest Division title outright for the first time since 1989.
The Jazz shouldn't have an insurmountable time holding onto their lead. They have 12 games left, six at home. The Spurs have six of their remaining 11 games at home. Utah has seven opponents above .500, the Spurs six.
With Robinson out, the race could well be over already. But there is another race going on as well: the one for the top seedings in the Western Conference. Portland is solidly in the lead there, with 51 wins, while the Jazz, Suns and Warriors have 46 apiece.
If the Jazz win the Midwest title, they will automatically have the homecourt advantage in the first-round series. But unless they have the best record in the West, they could relinquish the homecourt advantage to the Blazers, Warriors or Suns in subsequent rounds. It all depends on who finishes with the best regular-season record.
The Blazers have a dangerous schedule remaining. They have 10 games to go, five on the road, but nine of their opponents are playing .500-plus basketball. Ditto for Phoenix. The Warriors have seven home and five road games to go, with seven opponents above .500.
The Jazz practiced Sunday without center Mike Brown or guard John Stockton. Stockton has a sore Achilles tendon. Though Stockton sat on the sidelines the entire practice, he didn't play. Sloan said doctors advised the Jazz guard to rest the foot for two days. However, he added that Stockton said the foot felt better Sunday.
Meanwhile, Brown didn't practice due to a swollen knee. He sustained the injury in Friday's loss to the Lakers.
Season closeout schedules
Here is a look at the remaining schedules of key playoff teams:
Utah: Milwaukee, at Seattle, at Portland, Phoenix, at Minnesota, at Denver, Dallas, at Lakers, Golden State, Houston, Minnesota, at San Antonio.
San Antonio: New Jersey, Lakers, Orlando, at Denver, Houston, at Lakers, at Portland, Dallas, at Phoenix, Denver, Utah.
Portland: at Phoenix, Utah, at Golden State, Golden State, at Clippers, Seattle, San Antonio, at Houston, at Dallas, Lakers.
Phoenix: Portland, Golden State, at Utah, at Lakers, Sacramento, at Seattle, at Golden State, Seattle, San Antonio, at Houston.
Golden State: Philadelphia, at Sacramento, at Phoenix, Sacramento, Portland, at Portland, Dallas, Phoenix, at Utah, at Minnesota, Clippers, Seattle.