One final spot remains in the NBA playoff field and two teams — the Phoenix Suns and Utah Jazz — will take the court on Tuesday night eager to stake their claim to the eighth seed in the Western Conference.
Separated by a single game with two to play, the Suns and Jazz could not be more different in their roster makeup and future potential.
The championship window in Phoenix is all but closed, leaving only a faint draft remaining as point guard Steve Nash and company try to make one final run.
So who will it be?
Here’s a look at the scenarios...
1) Jazz beat Suns - Utah clinches playoff berth.
2) Suns beat Jazz; Suns lose to Spurs and Jazz beat Trail Blazers- Utah clinches
3) Suns beat Jazz and beat Spurs - Suns clinch
4) Suns beat Jazz and lose to Spurs; Jazz lose to Trail Blazers - Suns clinch
Should the Suns win tonight, their regular season finale against the Spurs could be interesting. With the top seed in the West already locked up, you’d expect San Antonio to rest its starters, giving Phoenix a substantial
substancial edge. But the Spurs could essentially pick their first-round opponent (assuming the Jazz beat Portland) by going for the win or taking it easy.
Back to tonight...
Playing at home and riding a three-game winning streak, you have to like Utah’s chances. They have balance in the front court with Al Jefferson and Paul Milsap and a boost off the bench in Derrick Favors. Meantime Hayward’s improved play and increased minutes for Burks have allowed the Jazz to thrive even without veterans Raja Bell and Josh Howard.
Phoenix went into the All-Star break with a 14-20 mark but turned its season around with a spirited second-half run. But injuries to Grant Hill (knee surgery) and Channing Frye (questionable with a shoulder injury) will make completing the task difficult. Center Marcin Gortat will have his hands full with Jefferson in the paint but with Shannon Brown, Sebastian Telfair and Michael Redd around the perimeter, the Suns are capable of catching fire from three-point range.
Phoenix is 2-0 against the Jazz this season including a 107-105 win on April 3 in which Nash hit a pair of clutch shots in the final 14 seconds to seal the win.
If the Suns lose, Wednesday’s regular season finale could be Nash’s final game in Phoenix — he will become a free agent this summer and is reportedly seeking a three-year deal.
“We have to go there with the intentions that we know that this is the seventh game of the championship series, really,” Suns coach Alvin Gentry told the Arizona Republic. “That’s how we have to approach it. We have been playing that way for a long time, but this is it. There are no ifs, ands or buts about this one. We need this in the worst way.”
After 64 games in the lockout-shortended season, it all comes down to this. Let the playoffs begin.