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Who Should Jazz Fans Root For To Close Regular Season?

Apr 7, 2023, 4:17 PM

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SALT LAKE CITY – The Utah Jazz have officially been eliminated from the NBA postseason, but have plenty of teams to root for to close the season.

Despite having just two games left to play, the Jazz could still finish with the sixth-best odds to win the draft lottery or drop to as low as 10th.

Here’s a guide for which games Jazz fans need to be tracking over the final 72 hours of the NBA season.

Utah Jazz Fan Rooting Guide

The Dallas Situation

First and foremost, the Jazz have the ability to finish the season with no worse than the ninth-best odds of winning the draft lottery simply by dropping one of their final two games.

The Jazz will host the Denver Nuggets on Saturday before finishing the season in Los Angeles against the Lakers on Sunday.

While the Jazz have very little to play for, the Nuggets may potentially need a win on Saturday to lock up the top seed in the West, while the Lakers will likely need a win to avoid falling into the play-in tournament.

However, even if the Jazz were to win each of their final two games, they could still own the ninth-best odds of winning the lottery outright if the Dallas Mavericks win either of their final two games.

Dallas will host the Chicago Bulls on Friday night and the Sacramento Kings on Sunday, but have already revealed that they have little interest in qualifying for the postseason.

The Mavericks are sitting the majority of the top players in their rotation against the Bulls, hoping to lose the game and miss the play-in tournament.

Dallas and Chicago are currently both tied for the 10th-worst record in the NBA, and if neither makes the playoffs, a drawing will determine which team finishes with the 10th spot in the draft lottery, and which team finishes in 11th, though the total number of lottery chances will be split evenly.

If the Mavericks were to finish 11th, they’d owe their first-round draft pick to the New York Knicks in June. If they finish 10th, they get to hold onto their pick. Expect Dallas not only to try to lose on Friday night, but also do their best to lose on Sunday against the lowly San Antonio Spurs.

Losing both games would give Dallas the best opportunity to keep their first-round draft pick, and could even allow them to move up in the lottery.

If Dallas doesn’t improve on their current 38 wins, the Jazz could conceivably match the Maverick’s win total if they were to beat Denver on Saturday and the Lakers on Sunday.

For that reason, the Jazz have good reason to drop at least one of their two final games and protect their spot in the ninth seed.

To make things easy, fans in Utah should be rooting for Dallas to win each of its final two games both to protect the Jazz’s ninth spot in the lottery and to see the Mavericks potentially lose a lottery pick to the Knicks.

Should The Jazz Want To Win?

The Jazz have already been eliminated from the postseason, which means they might as well play their best in order to spot the close to the season for the Lakers and Nuggets, right?

Wrong.

As mentioned above, the Jazz can guarantee themselves no worse than the ninth-best odds of winning the lottery by losing at least one of their two final games. And, there’s a surprisingly large gap in the likelihood of winning the lottery with the ninth-best odds versus the tenth.

The ninth-ranked team in the lottery has a 20.2 percent chance of moving into the top four spots of June’s draft.

The tenth-ranked team in the lottery has only a 13.9 percent chance of moving, and that number would shrink to 11.6 if the tenth and 11th-ranked teams finish with the same record (i.e. the Mavericks and Bulls finishing with 39-43 records).

There should be no incentive for the Jazz to decrease their own likelihood of winning the draft lottery and even fewer reasons to help improve the Mavericks’ chances.

Therefore, even though a win to close the season over Denver or the Lakers might feel good in the short term, it won’t help the Jazz’s long-term outlook.

What Is Out Of The Jazz Control?

While the Jazz do control their own destiny with the ninth seed, there are things out of their control that could see them over as high as six in the overall lottery standings.

Entering Friday night the Orlando Magic, Washington Wizards, and Indiana Pacers all sit two games back of the Jazz with two games left to play.

In a very-unlikely-but-perfect-scenario for the Jazz, each of the Magic, Wizards, and Pacers would win out to close the season, climbing to 36 wins on the year.

Then, if the Jazz were to lose out, there would be a four-way tie for the sixth-ninth seeds in the draft lottery, with all four teams splitting the odds.

But what would those odds look like?

Currently, the Magic, Wizards, and Pacers each have a 31.9 percent chance of moving into the top four picks on lottery night. Add in the 20.2 percent likelihood from the ninth seed, divide it by four teams, and each franchise would have a 28.9 percent chance of moving into the top four picks.

From there, if none of those four teams moved up in the lottery, a separate drawing would be held to determine the draft order six through nine.

Should the Jazz have unimaginable good luck, it’s possible they could have a nearly 1-in-3 chance of moving into the top four picks, with the safety of the sixth seed tucked in their back pocket.

That’s the absolute best-case scenario for the Jazz. It’s also the most unrealistic.

Though all three Eastern Conference teams might not win out, the Jazz would benefit from even one of the Magic, Wizards, or Pacers winning their final two games, and matching the Jazz’s 36 wins to close the season.

Here’s how those odds would look.

If only one of the Magic, Wizards, or Pacers finished with an identical record to the Jazz, the two teams would each have a 23.2 percent chance of moving into the top four spots in the lottery.

If two of the Magic, Wizards, or Pacers finished with an identical record to the Jazz, the three teams would each have a 26.1 percent chance of moving up in the lottery.

Again, to simplify, the more the Magic, Wizards, and Pacers lose, the better.

What About Jazz Other Picks?

While we’ve addressed the Jazz own lottery pick, we have neglected the other potential lottery pick the Jazz could land via the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Minnesota owes the Jazz this year’s first-round pick from the Rudy Gobert trade, regardless of where it lands in the draft.

The Timberwolves currently own the ninth-best record in the West at 40-40, one game behind the eight-seeded New Orleans Pelicans and seventh-seeded Los Angeles Lakers.

Sh0ckingly, the Timberwolves could still finish with the fifth seed in the West if they win their final two matchups, the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers lose out, and the Lakers and Pelicans go no better than 1-1.

That means the Timberwolves pick owed to the Jazz could finish as high as 14 in the late lottery, or as low as 19, firmly in the bottom half of the first round.

Realistically, that won’t happen, which narrows the focus of Jazz fans considerably.

The most important seeding Jazz fans need to track is whether the Timberwolves finish with the ninth seed in the West or the eighth, as the difference could be significant.

If Minnesota remains in the ninth seed, it will have to win two play-in tournament games in two tries to qualify for the playoffs. If they lose either game, their first-round draft pick owed to the Jazz will land in the lottery.

If they finish with the eighth seed, they’ll have two opportunities to win a single play-in game and the Jazz will wind up with the 15th pick or worse.

The 76ers Pick

The Jazz also own a third first-round pick in the draft via the Royce O’Neale trade with the Brooklyn Nets, and like their other two, its final slot has yet to be determined.

The pick the Jazz will get will actually come by way of the Philadelphia 76ers, who currently sit in a two-way tie with the Nuggets for the third-best record in the NBA at 52-28.

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They also sit just one game ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers for what could be a three-way tie at season’s end, and two games ahead of the Grizzlies for a potential four-way tie.

That means that depending on the outcomes over the next three days, the Jazz final pick in the first round could sit as high as 25, or potentially fall as low as 28.

The simple perspective is that wins from the Nuggets, Cavaliers, and Grizzlies are good, and losses from the 76ers are even better.

Jazz Fan Game-By-Game Rooting Guide

Here’s a simplified look at how Jazz fans should be rooting game-by-game if they want the best draft picks possible in June, separated by which pick each game impacts.

Friday: 

Jazz Own Lottery Pick:
Indiana Pacers to beat Detroit Pistons (Jazz lottery pick)
Washington Wizards to beat Miami Heat (Jazz lottery pick)
Orlando Magic to beat Brooklyn Nets (Jazz lottery pick)
Dallas Mavericks to beat Chicago Bulls (Jazz lottery pick)

Timberwolves Pick:
New Orleans Pelicans to beat New York Knicks (Timberwolves pick)
Golden State Warriors to beat Sacramento Kings (Timberwolves pick)
Los Angeles Lakers to beat Phoenix Suns (Timberwolves pick)

76ers Pick:
Atlanta Hawks to beat Philadelphia 76ers
Memphis Grizzlies to beat Milwaukee Bucks

Saturday:

Jazz Own Lottery Pick:
Denver Nuggets to beat Utah Jazz (also impacts 76ers pick)

Timberwolves Pick:
San Antonio Spurs to beat Minnesota Timberwolves
Los Angeles Clippers to beat Portland Trail Blazers

Sunday:

Jazz Own Lottery Pick:
Los Angeles Lakers to beat Utah Jazz (also impacts Timberwolves pick)
Dallas Mavericks to beat San Antonio Spurs
Orlando Magic to beat Miami Heat
Indiana Pacers to beat New York Knicks
Washington Wizards to beat Houston Rockets

Timberwolves Pick:
New Orleans Pelicans to beat Minnesota Timberwolves
Los Angeles Clippers to beat Phoenix Suns
Golden State Warriors to beat Portland Trail Blazers

76ers Pick:
Brooklyn Nets to beat Philadelphia 76ers
Cleveland Cavaliers to beat Charlotte Hornets
Memphis Grizzlies to beat Oklahoma City Thunder
Denver Nuggets to beat Sacramento Kings

Other:
Detroit Pistons to beat Chicago Bulls (hurts Mavericks pick)

Ben Anderson is the Utah Jazz insider for KSL Sports and the co-host of Jake and Ben from 10-12p with Jake Scott on 97.5 The KSL Sports Zone. Find Ben on Twitter at @BensHoops or on Instagram @BensHoops.

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Who Should Jazz Fans Root For To Close Regular Season?