Facebook Twitter

Commentary: At 6th in the West, Utah Jazz would face either Nuggets, Rockets or Clippers in 1st round of NBA playoffs

SHARE Commentary: At 6th in the West, Utah Jazz would face either Nuggets, Rockets or Clippers in 1st round of NBA playoffs

Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) fakes and hops back as Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) works to defend as the Utah Jazz and the Houston Rockets play an NBA basketball game at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019. The Rockets won 125-98.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Good luck trying to find someone that believes the Utah Jazz didn’t intentionally lose to the Dallas Mavericks on Monday.

Donovan Mitchell did not play on Monday and the Jazz sat all of their starters in the second half of the game. Then, when Georges Niang was playing a great game, he was taken out, and the Jazz blew a 22-point lead against the Mavericks who didn’t have their two best players, Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis.

You won’t hear Jazz coach Quin Snyder or any of the players admit to tanking for playoff position, and you won’t hear them say that they’re trying to avoid facing the Houston Rockets in the playoffs, but from where I (and just about everyone else) stand, that’s what’s happening.

After falling into the sixth seed in the Western Conference and losing their way into staying there on Monday, the Jazz maneuvered into a likely first-round matchup with the third-seed Denver Nuggets.

That could definitely change, and I’ll explain how in a just a minute, but first, why would the Jazz tank to sixth? To try and avoid the Rockets in the first round.

Why would the Jazz want to avoid the Rockets? Well, ask yourself the same question as a fan. Do you want to watch the Jazz and Rockets play another playoff series? Probably not, right? You know how that story goes already, and it ends with the Jazz back in Utah pretty quickly.

None of the Jazz’s potential first-round opponents are going to be an easy matchup, but at least they’d be different and they’d give the Jazz a new kind of playoff experience. That’s reason enough for me to understand why the Jazz did what they did.

The Rockets, currently fourth in the West, brought the situation a little closer to reality on Tuesday with a loss to the San Antonio Spurs. Then, with a Dallas Mavericks loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, the Jazz can officially fall no lower than sixth in the West. So long as the Jazz lose to the Spurs on Thursday, they’ll lock up the sixth seed.

In order to move into the third seed, the Rockets would have to win their remaining two seeding games and the Nuggets would have to lose their remaining two. If that were to happen, the Rockets would be staring straight at a first-round series against the Jazz.

That sequence of events is not entirely out of the realm of possibility. Houston’s last two seeding games are against the Indiana Pacers and Philadelphia 76ers, both teams they are capable of beating. The Nuggets last two opponents are the Los Angeles Clippers and Toronto Raptors, two of the best teams in the league. It’s a long shot for Houston to win out and the Nuggets to lose out, but the possibility is still there.


Toronto Raptors forward OG Anunoby (3) and Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray (27) in the second half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, March 1, 2020. The Nuggets won 133-118.

David Zalubowski, AP

The Nuggets could also jump into the second seed in the West if they win out and the Clippers lose their remaining two games. As stated, one of those Clippers games is against the Nuggets and the last game for the Clippers is against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

In a nutshell, the Jazz are going to be facing either the Nuggets, Rockets, or Clippers in the first round of the playoffs, but more than likely it will be the Nuggets. In order to make that the most likely scenario the Jazz engineered the situation because while you can’t control many things, they had a certain amount of control over their position.

There is a scenario in which the Oklahoma City Thunder lose against the the Miami Heat and the Clippers, and the Jazz beat the Spurs. In that case the Thunder would be in sixth and the Jazz fifth. But if the Jazz stick to their tanking plan, they can take care of that, especially considering the Spurs are playing for their playoff lives. A single Thunder win would also do the trick.

Selfishly, I would really like for the Jazz’s plan to work. That double-overtime loss to the Nuggets on Saturday was riveting basketball and I would absolutely be OK with a seven-game series of that. Also, I enjoy the narrative of Chris Paul and the Thunder facing Russell Westbrook and the Rockets after the two players were traded for one another. That’s just good drama waiting to happen.

On the off chance that the Nuggets jump up the standings and the Jazz face the Clippers instead, that would be an interesting series too. And, even though I wasn’t covering the Jazz when they faced the Rockets in the playoffs the last two years, I watched and like the Jazz, I want something different.