by Harry Porter | As I mentioned in my recap, the Mavs simply out-executed the inexperienced Jazz second unit in the fourth quarter and stole the victory from Utah Monday. The Jazz did not walk away with a win but remained stagnant in sixth place in the Western Conference standings. Looking ahead, the Jazz will square off in their final seeding game in a rematch from last Friday against the San Antonio Spurs. While the Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder and Utah Jazz all remain within one game of each other in the standings, San Antonio must win on Thursday night to keep their playoff hopes alive. Below are my key Jazz Notes on Thursday’s matchup along with my thoughts on the best seeding scenario for the playoffs.
Jazz Note #1: Best Positioning for the Playoffs
Here’s an updated look at the race for the 4th, 5th and 6th seeds in the Western Conference.
Houston Rockets 44-27 record
Final Opponent: 76ers (8/14)
Oklahoma City Thunder: 44-27 record
Final Opponents: Clippers (8/14)
Utah Jazz: 43-28 record (one game behind Houston and OKC)
Final Opponents: Spurs (8/13)
The Clippers beat the Nuggets so they will essentially be locked into the second seed in the Western Conference. The Jazz would rather face Houston or OKC over the Clippers in the first round if the Nuggets end up with the second seed. I anticipate the Clippers keeping the second seed and Nuggets staying at the third seed. Houston and OKC have favorable matchups in their final games and could easily clinch the fourth and fifth seeds. After an electric, double-overtime performance on Saturday, the Jazz should welcome a rematch with Denver over squaring off against Houston or OKC. For that reason, a loss to the Spurs might not be the end of the world since the Clippers beat the Nuggets on Wednesday night.
Jazz Note #2: Evaluate the second unit rotation with extended minutes
If I’m Quin Snyder, I know exactly how my starters (plus Jordan Clarkson) will play come playoffs. Snyder knows the production he will get from his starters and, more importantly, he trusts them to make the right decisions in crunch time. After the late-game collapse against the Mavs, Snyder needs to give the inexperienced bench players more crunch time minutes. San Antonio will be playing for their life because a loss would essentially destroy any chance of qualifying for the play-in tournament. Prioritizing the evaluation of those bench players will give Snyder more insight into who will be a viable option off the bench in the second half of a game.
Jazz Note #3: Limit early fouls to avoid sending the Spurs to the free throw line
San Antonio is not known as a three-point shooting team. Gregg Popovich’s offensive philosophy is around ball movement for open layups and open mid-range jump shots. Over the past three games, the Spurs have drawn over 21 fouls a game and averaged 88% from the free throw line on 78 attempts. The Jazz will need to be disciplined on defense and avoid getting into early foul trouble. Putting the Spurs in the bonus early on will lead to plenty of free throw attempts and easy points for San Antonio.
My Prediction: San Antonio will win over the Jazz with a final score of 123-115. I’d look for Rayjon Tucker to have another strong scoring night and Georges Niang to continue his hot streak from beyond the arc.
The game will be broadcast Thursday at 4:30pm MST on TNT.
Featured image via ATT Center.