Lakers, Jazz Bring Battle for West's Last Playoff Spot to Final Night
Entering Wednesday's regular-season finales, 15 of NBA's 16 playoff teams are known. The only significant drama remaining is at the bottom of the Western Conference between the Lakers and Jazz.
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It's simple for L.A.: beat visiting Houston and the Lakers clinch no worse than the No. 8 spot. They also would get in should the Jazz lose at Memphis, and that game will be concluded by the time the Lakers take the court. Both games will have Live Play-by-Play Betting at Bovada.
The Jazz have won nine of their past 11 (7-4 ATS) – prior to that they had lost 12 of 15 – to put the pressure on the Lakers, who have been a much better team since the All-Star Break. Pending free agent Al Jefferson has really stepped up his game for Utah, averaging 21.7 points on 57.4% shooting along with 9.2 rebounds in the past 10.
Utah has lost two of three meetings with Memphis this season but did win the most recent one, 90-84 in Salt Lake City on March 16 as a three-point favorite. Memphis' nine third-quarter points and two field goals were a season low for a quarter. The Grizzlies were tired as it was their fourth game in five nights. In the lone meeting in Memphis, the Grizzlies won 103-94 as five-point favorites on November 5. It was the Grizzlies' fourth win in the past five meetings at home.
Memphis, the NBA's top defensive team, is an excellent 31-9 at home this year (21-18-1 ATS) but had a franchise-record 13-game home winning streak snapped in their last game at the FedEx Forum by the Clippers. The Grizzlies also have something to play for: potential home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Memphis needs to win Wednesday and the Clippers have to lose one of their last two games (home versus Portland, at Sacramento) for the Grizzlies to have home court in a No. 4 against No. 5 series with L.A.
The Jazz are 13-27 on the road (18-21-1 ATS), which is the worst away record for any potential playoff team. They have won three-straight road games following a nine-game losing streak.
Heads May Roll
There could be very significant changes with the Lakers if the team doesn't make the playoffs after adding Dwight Howard and Steve Nash this past offseason to form a Hall of Fame quartet with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. The team hasn't missed out since the 2004-05 season, which was the failed Rudy Tomjanovich year as head coach experiment. That was also the first season post-Shaquille O'Neal.
Los Angeles of course will be without Kobe on Wednesday after he suffered a season-ending Achilles' tendon tear in Friday's win over Golden State. That dropped L.A.'s odds to win the West to 20/1 and for the NBA title to 40/1.
The Lakers did beat the Spurs on Sunday at Staples Center without Bryant as Howard stepped up with 26 points and 17 rebounds in one of his best games of the season. With Bryant out, Howard was the focal point of the offense with 40 touches. It's conceivable that Wednesday is Howard's final game in purple and gold should the Lakers lose as he will become an unrestricted free agent.
Los Angeles has lost two of three against Houston, the NBA's highest-scoring team, this season. The victory did come in the lone game in L.A., 119-108 on November 18. Kobe had a triple-double and was averaging 27.0 points, 7.3 rebounds and 6.7 assists against Houston this season.
The Rockets still have motivation as well. They would fall to No. 8 and a first-round matchup with the West-favored Thunder with a loss on Wednesday. If the No. 6 Golden State Warriors win in Portland on Wednesday, the Rockets could not finish any higher than seventh in the West and a likely matchup with the Spurs. Houston has lost three of five overall and two straight on the road, where they are 16-24 this season (17-22-1 ATS). Monday's 119-112 loss at Phoenix was inexcusable as the Suns are one of the NBA's worst teams and had lost a franchise-record seven straight at home.
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