PickWatch 2014: The Home Stretch

April 4th, 2014 | by Dan Clayton
The Lakers and Jazz jockey for position -- on the court and in the standings. (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Lakers and Jazz jockey for position — on the court and in the standings. (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

Fourteen nights of NBA regular season action remain1, meaning the rooting guide for the pickwatching Jazz crowd gets a lot simpler from here out.

Of course, the rooting guide starts with the question of whether you’re actively rooting for or against the Jazz. There are several different factions here. Some are vaguely rooting for the Jazz to play well but are OK when the result is a loss. Some are purists and never want to see the team lose. Some get nervous when the Jazz are up and secretly hope for gastric distress to strike.

I’ll never tell anyone to root against the Jazz2, so from there we just have to figure out what has to happen around them in the standings.

First, the easy ones.

Root for: Lakers, Kings, Celtics

The Kings are probably safely out of Utah’s range after beating the Lakers last night. Even if Sacto blanks from here out (possible since they don’t play a single other game against a losing team), Utah would have to go 4-3. That’s probably not happening, but you still may want to root for the Kings to provide a little breathing room.

LA, on the other hand, is keeping things interesting. Their only sub-.500 opponent remaining is the Jazz, and that’s in Utah. But they don’t leave LA until that point, and even their season finale in San Antonio might be against a resting Spurs team, provided Pop and his pupils have locked up home court. Root for LA’s win at the very a number of games that is one less than the Jazz’s remaining wins. If Utah finishes 2-5, LA has to finish at least 1-6, and so forth.

Boston has two left against Philly, and even if they should unexpectedly drop one, they don’t face another winning team until the finale – a home game against a Wizards’ team that may or may not have its seed locked up by then. So if you are still rooting for the Jazz, that’s OK — just root for the Cs to win one more than that number. Shouldn’t be too tall a request given the bad teams on their slate.

Root against: Warriors

I feel pretty good about my preseason prediction that Golden State had a ceiling of around 6th in the WC and that they weren’t a surefire playoff team. I called it pretty perfectly in that post: that Steph Curry and David Lee didn’t have a lot of room left to get statistically better, that Harrison Barnes and Klay Thompson would have to graduate from their sub-average PERs and that Andre Iguodala would remain a 6ish Win Share player who didn’t quite make up for sacrificing their bench to get him. Right on all counts, as well as on my final assessment that they were a 6-9 team, which is where they’ve been operating all year.

But alas, the 2014 GSW-to-Utah pick won’t be a lottery pick. The Dubs haven’t been great lately, but they’ve shown up when it matters, 4-0 in recent games against the three teams trying to displace them3, essentially play-in games. Even if all three pursuers finished near perfect (6-1) to reach 50 wins, GSW still gets in4 with just a 4-3 finish. Can’t see them finishing that poorly (or worse) with only one more playoff team on the sked.

But that doesn’t mean nothing’s on the line from a Jazz standpoint. That pick could ostensibly still be anywhere from 21 to 245. The difference there seems negligible now, but it might matter on June 26. So keep rooting for GSW to slip up in case one or two of those teams catch lightning in a bottle.

And along those lines…

Root for: Mavs, Grizz, Suns… and Blazers

It’s a lot more likely that any one of Dallas/Phoenix/Memphis goes on a tear than that all three do6, and if that happens, the pick could improve slightly. Remember, playoff tiebreakers don’t mean anything relative to draft position, so a tie with any one of those teams puts the pick a coin-toss away from #22. Not terribly likely, but something to root for, especially since these three will be playing with their backs to the wall.

Phoenix has a tough road, with 5 of their 7 against teams in the playoff picture. Dallas has an easier sked, especially after they get the Clippers out of the way tonight. Memphis has games coming against both of last year’s NBA Finalists, but outside of those two, they don’t face anybody else that’s surely playoff bound.

I wouldn’t be too worried about Portland. They have a 2-game cushion in the L column, and they play only lottery teams until they finish the year at home with the Warriors and Clips. But cheer for them just to be safe.

Now let’s look at some less obvious examples of teams you should be rooting for/against:

Root for:

  • San Antonio, with a 4-game lead in terms of securing homecourt through June, the Spurs could go into “DNP-Old” mode once they lock things up. That could matter since their finale is against the Lakers (who probably doesn’t have the juice to beat them anyway, but this is a rooting guide, for hell’s sake). They could even clinch — with 4 more straight wins — before they face Phoenix on 4/11.
  • Similarly, pull for Washington to lock up the sixth seed by their closing-night visit to Boston, so they’re no longer worried about holding off Charlotte when they decide who to suit up in Beantown. But, since Wiz own the tiebreaker with Brooklyn, you also have to hope that the Nets are safely ahead of Washington by that final night.

Root against:

  • Utah’s not catching Cleveland or Detroit, nor is Philly catching Utah. But all three have at least a game left against Boston, so root against them on those nights at least.
  • Atlanta is reportedly “not focused” on the playoffs 7, which only matters because they play Boston on April 9th, so a loss would be acceptable.
  • Minnesota (on 4/13 at SleepTrain) probably represents Sacto’s best chance at another win, which could matter if Utah suddenly heats up.
  • New Orleans losses can help Portland (4/6) and Phoenix (4/9) out.
  • The Clippers could be a factor in determining where in the 21-24 range the GS pick lies, as they play both Dallas and Portland. They also host both the Lakers & Kings in the coming fortnight (as it relates to the Jazz’s own pick) but we can probably count those as unlikely slip-ups.
  • My advice to root against Miami has nothing to do with PickWatch and everything to do with the fact that I think we’re at an interesting point in the dynamic of team-building, and Miami winning/losing this year could alter the landscape in a way that’s either favorable or unfavorable for small market teams. It’s totally tangential and probably deserves its own conversation at some point. In the meantime, just trust me that anything that complicates Miami’s path to a dynasty is probably good news for the Jazz.

Doesn’t matter:

  • Orlando isn’t going to win its way out of 3rd worst. They only have one more game left against a sub-.500 opponent, and that’s playoff-bound Charlotte. So let’s not worry about them.
  • There’s no catching Milwaukee, and they don’t have any games left against teams that matter.
  • After several March games that were of interest to PickWatch 2014, New York is pretty much irrelevant from here out, with only games against EC playoff teams that aren’t in GSW or Utah’s ranges.
  • Charlotte only matters inasmuch as we want them to be comfortably behind Washington on the night of the finale in case a Boston win over the Wiz would break a 4th place tie.
  • Houston still has a visit to the Lakers and OKC to Sacto, but let’s assume those are likely wins for those West powers.
  • Denver is out of the Jazz’s mathematical range. The rest of the East won’t really influence the races at this point either: Indiana, Chicago, Toronto.
Remaining games for the 11 worst teams in the NBA, with matchups against other losing teams highlighted.

Remaining games for the 11 worst teams in the NBA, with matchups against other losing teams highlighted.

Dan Clayton

Dan Clayton

Dan covered Utah Jazz basketball for more than 10 years, including as a radio analyst for the team’s Spanish-language broadcasts from 2010 to 2014. He now lives and works in New York City where his hobbies include complaining about League Pass, finding good doughnut shops and dishing out assists for the Thoreau It Down team in the Word Bookstore basketball league.
Dan Clayton
Dan Clayton

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