The Utah Jazz kept their playoff hopes alive on Monday night thanks to a victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves, turning up the pressure on the Los Angeles Lakers to come away from their final game victorious.
The eight seed in the Western Conference will be decided in dramatic fashion on Wednesday night, the Lakers painted into a must win situation against the Houston Rockets without their best player and leader. The Rockets face a must win to avoid Oklahoma City as a Golden State win and Rockets loss would relegate them to the eight seed.
Utah will face Memphis on the road and must win to make it to postseason play, no small task as the Grizzlies attempt to surpass the Clippers in the standings with home court advantage in the first round on the line.
Houston’s bid to lock up the sixth seed over Golden State requires a win to do it as the Warriors face the sub .500 Portland Trailblazers. The matchups on tap for Wednesday couldn’t be more entertaining as all eyes will be on Utah and Los Angeles. Both games are on ESPN, both make or break for the teams involved. The Lakers will know by tipoff what they have to do, but whether or not they can pull it off is another matter.
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JAZZ vs GRIZZLIES
Utah’s victory over Minnesota last night was convincing, but they have their work cut out for them as they attempt to even up the seasons series with the Grizzlies at 2-2. Memphis won the first two contests by significantly outrebounding the Jazz and pushing them around in the paint.
The Jazz figured out how to break through Memphis’ strategy on Mar. 16 by shooting the ball 44%, increasing their ball movement and getting to the foul line 31 times. Three games have shown us that the Jazz can’t compete with Memphis on the boards and if they get sucked into a defensive showdown, the game will likely go the Grizzlies way.
Cutting off Marc Gasol will be crucial for the Jazz as he averaged 19 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists in the Memphis victories, with just 11 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists in their March loss. With Gasol’s size advantage over Al Jefferson and Zach Randolph’s advantage over Paul Millsap, getting good minutes from Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter could prove the difference for Utah.
The backcourt matchups in this game couldn’t be much more boring. Mike Conley and Tony Allen vs Mo Williams and Randy Foye doesn’t make this game feel like its crucial to the playoff picture, but if anyone holds a slight advantage it’s clearly Memphis. Allen and Conley will know how tough it’s going to be to go on the road to Los Angeles to face the Clippers and will be looking to avoid that as much as possible.
Prediction: Memphis 101-Utah 93
LAKERS vs ROCKETS
Guaranteed to see each team in triple digits, this game promises to be a shootout. The Rockets boast the best offense in the league, Los Angeles the sixth. Houston has the third worst defense in the league, the Lakers have the seventh worst. In a nutshell, expect a lot of threes to be taken and expect a good battle in the paint between Dwight Howard and Omer Asik.
Los Angeles won their home game in the season series, which Houston leads 2-1, by shooting 54% and going toe to toe with Houston in rebounds, points in the paint and fast break points. But of course they had something in that game they won’t have tomorrow; Kobe Bryant. The Black Mamba finished with a triple double in that game and was a key factor in them putting up 119 points. On Wednesday, they’ll have to get another performance out of role players like Earl Clark and Antawn Jamison like they got against San Antonio on Sunday.
In a narrow loss on Dec. 4 in Houston, Los Angeles committed 18 turnovers and wasn’t able to run with Houston who got 59 points worth of production from their bench. In their third matchup, the Rockets exploited Dwight Howard’s absence due to a shoulder injury and dominated the paint and boards.
Having Pau Gasol and Howard together for this one will be a bit of an advantage for the Lakers in the size department. If Gasol can have a big game and provide Howard with frontcourt assistance on the boards, the Lakers won’t have to shoot 54% to win. Houston would prefer avoiding San Antonio or OKC, so expect them to come out flying with Jeremy Lin and James Harden attempting to outrun Los Angeles’ big men. If the Lakers can slow the game down and run Mike D’Antoni’s halfcourt offense, we’ll get the shootout we’re promised, but if it turns into a track meet, Howard, Gasol and the recently recovered from meniscus surgery Metta World Peace won’t be able to keep up.
Prediction: Los Angeles 113-Houston 111