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Despite Denver defeat, Jazz only need to beat the bad teams to make NBA playoffs

SALT LAKE CITY — The win streak is dead after five games. The Jazz have slipped into ninth place in the playoff race. Some old problems are surfacing.

Which means, of course, the Jazz have the Los Angeles Lakers right where they want them.

Their 113-96 Wednesday loss to Denver wasn’t entirely what the doctor ordered — unless the doctor ordered plenty of uninterrupted sleep. The Jazz didn’t get inside, missed numerous open jump shots and generally weren’t alert.

Still, if they win the games they’re supposed to, they’ll make the playoffs. That might be putting lipstick on a pig, but did anyone really think the Jazz were going to beat the 51-win Nuggets? Denver has now won 17 of its last 19.

The Jazz have lost three of four games this season against Denver. Because the Lakers were idle, that set the Jazz a half-game back in the race for the eighth playoffs spot. Thus the Jazz might want to send a thank-you note to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Animal friends can be such a comfort.

As long as Minnesota is on the horizon, there’s a decent chance of a postseason appearance for Utah. The Jazz lead the season series with Minnesota 2-0 and the Timberwolves have already been eliminated from playoff contention. But to the Jazz’s good fortune, they have two of their final six games against the Timberwolves.

“You’ve got to take care of business, and that’s where you belong,” said Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin.

The business of abusing teams below them in the standings.

In spite of their letdown, how could the Jazz miss on the postseason? By losing to bad teams, of course. But considering the remaining schedule, that would take effort. Going into Wednesday’s game, the Jazz were looking at a 3-4 finish on the season, with likely wins over New Orleans and two over Minnesota, and losses to Denver, Golden State, Oklahoma City and Memphis. The Lakers should finish 2-5. They play five playoff-bound teams (Memphis, the Clippers, Golden State, San Antonio and Houston), all probable losses, even with a home-heavy schedule. New Orleans and Portland are their only remaining non-playoff opponents.

The Jazz own the tiebreaker with Los Angeles. They are 3-2 on the year against their final three opponents (Minnesota twice, plus Memphis), while the Lakers are 3-5 against their final three opponents: Golden State, San Antonio and Houston.

What this means is that losing to Denver on Wednesday wasn’t such a big deal. It was a chance to nearly secure a playoff spot, but not a death sentence. Nearly as frustrating was the fact the Nuggets are what the Jazz hope to be — a virtually starless team that wins. Denver is close to locking down the No. 3 playoff seed, behind only San Antonio and Oklahoma City.

“It’s one loss; a tough loss, especially on our home floor, but we have six games left,” Corbin said. “We’ll take it as a loss, a big loss. We’re disappointed in that, but we’ve got to come back and play.”

One potentially large factor in Wednesday’s game was the absence of Denver's Ty Lawson, who is normally a Jazz irritant. He was out with an injury, so former Ute Andre Miller stood in — expertly, as usual, with 13 points and six assists. He outshone his counterpart, the Jazz’s Mo Williams, who made just 2 of 12 shots.

The pace said much for Denver coach George Karl’s motivational skills. That's because the Nuggets are nothing more than a spiffed up version of the Jazz — an eclectic group of no-namers bent on proving that winning isn’t necessarily tied to superstardom. Denver didn’t place a single player on this year’s All-Star team.

At least the Jazz might have some company. The team announced earlier Wednesday that a group of 10 fans had won the right to a sleepover on the ESA court, having won the Sprite Center Court Sleepover Contest.

Heaven knows the Jazz dozed through their loss to the Nuggets.

Yet even at that, there’s still time to wake up and smell the coffee.

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