Utah Jazz: Clippers Handing Over 4th Seed On Silver Platter, Thunder the Real Threat?

January 16, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) plays for the ball against Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul (3) during the first half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
January 16, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) plays for the ball against Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul (3) during the first half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports /

With the Los Angeles Clippers reeling and the Oklahoma City Thunder surging, the battle for the fourth seed in the West is about to get really interesting for the Utah Jazz.

For the past few years, the Utah Jazz have seemed to simply struggle to match up with the Los Angeles Clippers. Coming into last Saturday’s contest in LA, Utah was just 3-17 against the Clips in their last 20 outings.

There was optimism that after Utah’s latest impressive home win over the Clippers that perhaps that trend would change, but given that the Jazz fell once again in disappointing fashion, it’s clear that there’s still some match-up issues – perceived or real – that the Jazz are struggling to overcome when it comes to the Clippers.

But the fact of the matter is that despite the fact that Utah apparently continues to struggle with the Clippers, for the most part the rest of the league hasn’t as LA hasn’t been playing all that well and is in a bit of a cold streak, having lost five out of their last 10 and going just 9-10 since the All-Star break.

That looks even worse when you consider that LA’s three latest wins (other than the one over Utah) have been less than awe-inspiring as they topped the Cavs who were resting their big three and the hapless Knicks and Lakers. Meanwhile, since the All-Star break the Clippers have dropped games to the Bucks (twice), Timberwolves, Nuggets, Mavericks and most recently to the Sacramento Kings in a devastatingly painful comeback loss.

After defeating the Jazz on Saturday, all the Clippers had to do to retake the fourth seed by virtue of a tiebreaker was take care of business against the lowly Sacramento Kings the following day. For the better part of 43 minutes, it appeared as if LA would do just that.

The Kings trailed by 18 points with 5:16 left in the contest and the game appeared to be all but over. But then out of nowhere, Sacramento seemed to go into another gear while the Clippers looked like they’d just had their talent sucked out by the Monstars. The Kings went on to close the game on a mind-blowing 22-3 run which was capped by Willie Cauley-Stein’s game winning lay-in.

For an idea of just how monumental that comeback was, you have to check out the video below:


Anyway, while the Clippers have had several opportunities to overtake the Jazz for fourth place, recent surprising losses have prevented them from doing so. Most notably with their recent loss to the Dallas Mavericks and the aforementioned loss to the Kings, it almost seems as if the Clippers are trying to hand the fourth seed over to the Jazz on a silver platter.

Sure, they’ve topped the Jazz who have struggled to match-up against them this year, but other than that LA hasn’t seemed determined at all to take over the spot based on their spotty play. They’ve had several opportunities to put the Jazz in a pinch, but have failed to do so.

Unfortunately, Utah hasn’t exactly done the best job of accepting that silver platter either. Not only did the Jazz lose the recent contest to the struggling Clippers, but they also missed out on a chance to give themselves a significant amount of cushion by losing three straight games, two of which in particular (against the Bulls and Pacers), they very much could have won.

Therefore, while it’s been a relief to see LA stumble and effectively allow Utah to stay in fourth despite lackluster play of their own, given Utah’s daunting remaining schedule, it will be vital that they step up their game, take care of business especially in winnable contests and accept the silver platter that the Clippers seem to be handing them.

However, there’s also a chance that at the Clippers may end up not being Utah’s greatest threat. Especially if LA continues to play like what one CBSSports writer described as rock bottom, then they are in serious danger of falling out of the fight for fourth place entirely while allowing the surging Thunder to burst their way up the standings into that conversation.

OKC has won seven of their last nine, which has included an incredible win last night over Dallas that saw them close the game on a 14-0 run, as well as a win over the Raptors, Spurs and of course the Jazz.

Putting that recent run into perspective, LA is now 1.5 games behind the Jazz for fourth place while the Thunder now trail the Clippers by a single game.

And the outlook is actually pretty bright for OKC given that, not only are they seeming to peak at an ideal time, but outside of a game against the Spurs on Friday, all of their remaining contests are against teams with a worse record than them, including two against the Nuggets and four against sure lottery teams in the Magic, Hornets, Suns and Timberwolves.


In looking at the Thunder’s remaining schedule, it really isn’t a stretch at all to predict them to go at least 6-3 in their final nine contests. However, they’ve been pretty inconsistent themselves, so while they may be able to go an even better 7-2 or 8-1, they also could very well drop some winnable games down the stretch.

Meanwhile, with how daunting Utah’s remaining schedule is, while obviously the hope is that this won’t be the case, there’s a chance that they could finish somewhere around 3-5 in their final eight games. Ideally they’ll do better than that, but if the Jazz were to falter down the stretch and go 3-5 while the Thunder went 6-3, it would put the two teams at a tie and thus put OKC ahead of Utah by merit of a tiebreaker.

So when put in that perspective, it’s easy to see just how interesting the final two weeks of the season could very well turn out to be in the heavily contested Western Conference playoff race. The Clippers can’t seem to get things together well enough to take over the fourth seed and thus have very much allowed Utah to stay in the driver’s seat and control their own destiny.

Meanwhile, although both LA and OKC have much easier remaining schedules than the Jazz, the Thunder have been playing better and their road to the playoffs looks even more favorable than the Clippers’.

Therefore, while a Jazz-Clippers first-round series has been the projected four-five match-up for quite some time now, it’s looking more and more possible that instead the Thunder could burst onto the scene to play one of those two teams.

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Personally, I like that match-up better for the Jazz. But rather than get wrapped up in crazy speculation or tricky planning to earn a more favorable first-round opponent, the Utah Jazz need to simply compete as a team and do everything they can to finish in fourth place and with home court advantage no matter who their opponent ends up being.

Because regardless of what happens below Utah in the standings, it’s entirely up to them to fight hard enough to stand their ground and earn the spot they’ve worked so hard to earn all season long.