Can Utah Jazz get home court advantage in first round of the playoffs?

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 07: Ricky Rubio #3 and Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Utah Jazz talk with Quin Snyder of the Utah Jazz during the game against the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 7, 2018 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 07: Ricky Rubio #3 and Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Utah Jazz talk with Quin Snyder of the Utah Jazz during the game against the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 7, 2018 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images) /

It will take an incredible finish and an awful lot of help, but home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs isn’t out of reach for the Utah Jazz.

After the Utah Jazz defeated the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday night, they moved into sole possession of the eighth seed in the Western Conference. My, what a glorious moment it was.

Unfortunately, it literally lasted little more than a moment. The Denver Nuggets, who currently hold the tiebreaker over the Utah Jazz, defeated the Los Angeles Lakers to bump Utah back to ninth, then the LA Clippers managed to defeat the Cleveland Cavaliers to keep their record mere percentage points better than Utah and Denver, and so the Jazz were pushed back down to tenth once again.

I know what you’re probably thinking, are the Jazz EVER going to get out of tenth place?

Fortunately, based on their upcoming schedule and that of the Clippers and Nuggets, I think the answer is yes. As I touched on earlier in the week, both opposing teams have tough stretches ahead and I think the Jazz could very well surpass them to earn one of the final playoff spots in the West.

But what if we want to get real greedy and assume the Jazz, who are now winners of five straight and 17 of their last 19, close out the season nearly flawlessly. Do they have a path to surging so far up the standings that they can ultimately earn home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs?

As crazy as it is to say it and as unfathomable as it might seem, the answer actually is, yes.

Of course, to do it, the Utah Jazz will have to finish the year in fourth place, which would be higher than even last year’s team was able to manage in a less tightly contested Western Conference, no less. That right there should provide a pretty good idea of how tough it’s going to be.

But, when looking purely at the current standings, it’s not as out of reach as one might suspect. Even though Utah is still stuck in tenth place in the West, they’re a mere 2.5 games out of that coveted fourth place spot. With 16 games remaining, that’s certainly a surmountable deficit.

That’s especially true considering the nature of the six teams ahead of Utah separating them from that spot. The ninth-place Nuggets have a relatively tough schedule ahead, including a daunting seven-game road trip near the end of the year. That would be a challenge for any team to overcome, but will be especially hard for a Denver team that’s just 11-20 on the road.

The Clippers also have an extremely tough schedule down the stretch, and though they continue to impress, I just can’t see them maintaining their hot play against the heightened competition they’ll face.

From there, the Jazz are outmatched in the standings by the seventh-place Oklahoma City Thunder, the sixth-place Minnesota Timberwolves and the fifth-place San Antonio Spurs. Ironically, all three teams have been less than impressive of late.

The Thunder still can’t seem to find a chemistry with one another and it’s shown clearly in their recent performances. Meanwhile, the Wolves, who are struggling to overcome the loss of Jimmy Butler to injury, have lost three straight and six of their last ten. The Spurs have been floundering of late as well, as they have gone just 3-7 in their last ten.

Last of all is the New Orleans Pelicans who are currently in command of the fourth-place spot, the final seed for home court advantage. The Pelicans had been on an absolute tear as winners of 10 straight games. However, in win number 10, Anthony Davis went down with an ankle injury and in his absence on Friday, his team was crushed by the Washington Wizards.

If AD misses any sort of extended time, the Pelicans could very well fall.

Amidst all that turbulence facing the teams ahead of Utah in the standings, the Jazz themselves happen to enjoy one of the easiest stretches in the league in the coming weeks which features games against the Phoenix Suns, Sacramento Kings, Atlanta Hawks and Dallas Mavericks. Prior to that, the Jazz face the Pelicans on Sunday, which could be a crucial game for Utah’s minuscule shot at home court advantage.

Simply put, for the Jazz to assure that they get into that fourth place spot, they’ll need to win at least three more games than every team ahead of them in the standings. That might seem doable based on how Utah has played lately, but they also have some tough games to close out the year that will certainly result in some losses. Not only that, but Kawhi Leonard could be returning for the Spurs soon and I truly think Oklahoma City will do enough to stay ahead of the Jazz in the standings.

However, it’s entirely possible that the banged up Pelicans and Wolves slip and that the Nuggets and Clippers can’t overcome their tough schedules. In my mind, that’s the most realistic best case scenario and it would put the Jazz at sixth place in the West. Considering they were nine games under .500 just a month and a half ago, even that would be a mind-blowing feat.

And it would put them in a pretty dang good position as, even though they wouldn’t have home court advantage, they’d at least avoid the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets in the first round. If the red hot Portland Trail Blazers keep a hold of the third seed, which they’re in a good spot to do, then Utah would play them in the first round. And it just so happens that they’ve defeated Portland two out of three times so far this season.

Something the Jazz also have going for them is that they currently hold a 2-1 series lead over the Clippers, a 3-0 lead over the San Antonio Spurs and a 2-1 lead over the New Orleans Pelicans. They’re tied 2-2 with Denver and have a chance to tie up the series with the Minnesota Timberwolves on April 1. Earning or maintaining those tiebreakers over each of those teams could prove crucial at the conclusion of the season.

In other words, while it’s going to take an impressive finish and no small amount of slippage from the teams ahead of Utah in the standings, nabbing home court isn’t out of the question. The Jazz have been on a tear of late and if they can defeat the teams they’re grappling with for position and take care of business against the lottery-bound squads they face, they may very well shock the world and surge up the standings.

Unfortunately, I don’t see that being all that realistic and find aiming to simply make the playoffs a fine goal. And I view targeting the sixth-seed as a challenging, but much more feasible goal that would still be a significant accomplishment.

Next: Utah Jazz pick up 10th straight road win against Memphis Grizzlies

The Jazz have 16 games left and a lot at stake in those games. While Utah can’t control what the teams around them do, ideally they’ll be able to take care of their own business to earn as high a seed as possible come playoff time.

And perhaps if they get really lucky, even earn home court advantage in the first round.