A few days ago the Utah Jazz owned the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference playoffs and happily controlled their own destiny.
It was simple: Win and you’re in. Snooze and you lose.
Well, they feel asleep Wednesday night, lost to Denver and said goodbye to their ability to control their own postseason fate. Despite riding a five-game winning streak, Utah struggled against the Nuggets and never did seem to find a groove. Consequentially, the Jazz dropped to the No. 9 spot in the standings, a 1/2 game behind the L.A. Lakers.
Now they must start a new winning streak and hope the Lakers lose at least once in the last six games of the season.
Tonight, the Jazz play host to the woeful New Orleans Hornets at EnergySolutions Arena. The Lakers, meanwhile, will take on the playoff-bound Memphis Grizzlies at Staples Center.
Following Friday’s shootaround, Jazz players did the whole, “can’t-worry-about-what-you-can’t-control” thing.
“What we should focus on is just going out there playing as hard as we can,” guard Randy Foye said. “We give ourselves the best chance to win that way.”
Fans and members of the media may already have reached for the “panic button” following Wednesday’s loss to Denver.
But the Jazz? They apparently don’t even know where it is.
“You can’t really talk about hitting the panic button because there’s no panic yet,” Foye said. “I just feel as though you have to keep on going out there, grinding and playing ball. There’s still a lot of time.”
“Like I said before, we’ve been in this situation for the last 25 games,” Foye added. “We could have hit the panic button when we were down, I think it was 2 games, almost 2 1/2 games, but we stayed together, we rallied, we won five in a row.”
Foye admitted, the Jazz “let one slip” against Denver, but said the team clearly understands what is at stake.
“The main focus for us is staying together and playing hard,” he said.
Much of what Foye and his teammates said Friday morning may be considered typical sports cliches. But what are they supposed to do? Say something like, “It’s time to give up,” or “At this point, we’re all just focused on our contracts.”
Yeah, that’s not gonna happen.
First of all, the players really do want to win, really do what to make the playoffs. Secondly, even if a player stopped uttering cliches and frankly admitted he’d given up hope, he’d be roundly vilified for being a little too honest.
Basically, they can’t win … in the court of public opinion, that is. So they focus on winning on the basketball court.
And that means staying away from the dreaded panic button.
“We’ve stuck together through everything,” point guard Mo Williams said. “That shows our character. Everybody in the world thought we were down-and-out, we found a way to resurrect ourselves. We always find a way to come up big, get wins and go on a streak.”
If the Jazz really are going to make the postseason, they’ll need to start a new winning streak beginning tonight.