Despite Clippers Loss to Mavs, Saturday’s Contest Still Crucial for Utah Jazz

Mar 13, 2017; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; LA Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) is fouled by Utah Jazz guard George Hill (3) during the third quarter at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Utah Jazz won the game 114-108. Mandatory Credit: Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 13, 2017; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; LA Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) is fouled by Utah Jazz guard George Hill (3) during the third quarter at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Utah Jazz won the game 114-108. Mandatory Credit: Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports /

The Los Angeles Clippers loss to the Dallas Mavericks last night helped give the Utah Jazz an extra half-game advantage for fourth place in the West. Nevertheless, that doesn’t change the fact that Saturday’s contest is of vital importance if the Jazz hope to stay in that spot.

The last time the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers faced off, it was a bonafide battle for the fourth seed in the West. At just one game back of the Jazz, the Clips had the chance to end the night in fourth place given their ownership of the tiebreaker between the two teams.

However, such wasn’t the case as the Jazz used an incredible second half to pull away and seal the victory, not only giving them sole possession of fourth place, but also increasing their hold on the spot by a solid two games.

From there, the Clippers went on to lose two more games which, quite frankly, they were expected to win as they fell to the Milwaukee Bucks and Denver Nuggets increasing their losing streak to three games.

Due to the fact that the Jazz already held a two-game lead following their victory, those unexpected Clippers losses gave Utah an incredible chance to take advantage and establish an essential stranglehold on the fourth seed in the West. But how did the Jazz actually respond? By losing three games in a row themselves.

Utah dropped a not-so-surprising loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers last week, then went on to drop a pair of disappointing games, first to the Chicago Bulls then to the Indiana Pacers, both of which I might add, were playing on the second nights of back-to-backs.

From there, LA had the fortune of taking on a Cavs team sans LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love followed by the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers, all of which were easy victories. Thus, while the Jazz were slumping with consecutive losses, the Clippers won three straight games of their own, pulling within a half-game of the Jazz on Tuesday night.

Luckily, after the Utah Jazz defeated the New York Knicks in an exciting contest on Wednesday to increase their lead back up to a full game, the Dallas Mavericks did the Jazz a big favor last night by toppling the Clippers in Dallas.

Or perhaps I should say it was the Clips who did Utah a solid, as the loss largely came due to them choking down the stretch.

So now with that turn of events, tomorrow’s road contest for the Jazz in Los Angeles will no longer exactly be a battle for the fourth seed in and of itself given that regardless of whether the Jazz win or lose, they’ll remain in fourth for the time being. But if you think for one minute that that fact makes this game any less important, you’re dead wrong.

Utah failed to take advantage of LA’s recent string of losses which has allowed them to get within what is a too close for comfort 1.5-game deficit. If the Jazz lose on Saturday, not only will that allow the Clippers to pull within half a game, but Utah will definitively lose the regular season series three games to one and thus forfeit the tiebreaker entirely.

With how evenly matched these two teams have been in the standings for the majority of the season, there’s no telling just how crucial that tiebreaker could end up being. Depending on how things play out down the season’s final stretch, it could very well determine which team ends up with home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Beyond that, one look at the two teams’ remaining schedules following Saturday’s contest will tell you just how important it is that Utah grab the win on Saturday and take a 2.5-game lead over the Clippers to provide them with the maximum amount of cushion possible.

In the Jazz’s nine remaining games, their opponents (including the Spurs and Blazers’ record twice since they face the Jazz twice) have a combined  361-277 (.566) record, while the Clippers remaining eight contests are against opponents with a combined 274-295 (.482) record.

Utah’s stretch also includes two games against the Spurs, a bout with the Warriors, a game against the Timberwolves who have played well since the All-Star break and two contests against a Portland team that is desperately trying to claw its way into the postseason and reach the eighth seed. That’s about the most brutal close to a season imaginable.

Fortunately, the Clippers will play both the Spurs and Rockets in two of their final three games of the season in contests that could prove vital to their playoff positioning. However, despite those two tough games, the fact of the matter, as David Locke put so succinctly, is that the Clippers have very few losses left on [their] schedule.

Therefore, while Utah will remain in fourth place regardless of the outcome of this Saturday’s contest, given the rough road ahead that the Jazz will face to close out to season compared to the relatively smooth sailing that the Clippers could very well be in for, coming away with a win this weekend to increase their lead on LA by a whole game will be absolutely vital.

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There’s no doubting that it’s going to be a tough match-up with a heavy playoff atmosphere, especially considering that it will be a road contest for the Jazz and given that there was definitely the surfacing of some bad blood between these two teams in the former contest.

What’s even more alarming is that, aside from the second half in the win over New York on Wednesday, the Utah Jazz really haven’t played well at all since the last win over the Clippers and the ensuing game against Detroit. Hopefully the combination of two days of rest and an unmissable awareness of how high the stakes are in Saturday’s contest will spur the Jazz to play the kind of game that they did last time they did battle with the Clippers.

Because the reality is, their hopes of earning home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs will likely depend on it.