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Playoff Push Is On The Horizon

By Patrick Kinahan

One game removed from the playoffs, the Jazz have 13 games left to make up the difference.

With a favorable schedule that includes seven home games and only a pair of back-to-back games, it’s all right there for the Jazz. Will they do it – the guess here is yes.

Coming off a month in which they went 11-8, the Jazz need to act quickly. The Jazz, who closed March on a three-game losing streak, have three games this week against teams – Portland, Phoenix and Golden State – with losing records. While going 2-1 won’t doom any chances, anything less than 3-0 seems like a wasted opportunity.

The second week of April features the toughest part of the month, as the Jazz play four of five games on the road. But they may catch a break against the best team, playing San Antonio in a rare home-and-home two-game swing on consecutive nights. In such instances, history shows teams usually split the two games. And given Gregg Popovich’s propensity for resting his players, Tim Duncan might not even make the return trip to Salt Lake City.

The marquee game, given the playoff ramifications, is at Houston on April 11. If the Jazz beat the Rockets, they will be in the playoffs. But winning this game in Houston might be too difficult.

It’s imperative for the Jazz to close out the week with a split on the road against New Orleans and Memphis. If the Jazz can’t win at least one of the games then they don’t belong in the postseason.

The final five games, over a 10-day period starting April 16, are where the Jazz can make the final push into the playoffs. With four of the five games at home, there’s no reason to pick anything other than a 4-1 record during this stretch.

Three of the games – two with Portland and one versus Phoenix – come against teams that aren’t expected to make the playoffs. And the only road game is at Portland, meaning the schedule makers were kind to the Jazz down the stretch.

Recognizing that I overestimated what the Jazz would do in February and followed it up by picking them to finish last month with a losing record (they went 11-8), it’s hard to figure out what to expect in April. As the last two months have proven, this team is capable of going in any direction. A three-game losing streak to close March means it’s time for a reversal.

Here’s to expecting the Jazz to go 8-5 this month, with the decent possibility of posting nine wins if the team meets its potential. With this schedule, anything less than eight wins would be a disappointment and create a feeling of dissatisfaction going into the offseason.

Conversely, a playoff appearance has to make this crazy season a success no matter what happens when the Jazz face what would probably be either Oklahoma City or San Antonio. Expectations will increase dramatically in the coming seasons, but for this year only qualifying for the playoffs is good enough.

As the players have said throughout the season, the playoffs have been the primary goal. With the talent this team has, there’s no reason to think otherwise.