It all comes down to this.
For the Los Angeles Lakers and the Utah Jazz, their entire seasons will be at stake as they take the floor on Wednesday. The math is simple now. A win against the Rockets and the Lakers are in. An L.A. loss would open the door for Utah, who could then sneak in if it defeats Memphis tonight. We’ll see who wants it more tonight.
The embattled Lakers have handled adversary surprisingly well lately, defeating the San Antonio Spurs without Kobe Bryant, but with everything on the line, will they be able to do it again against the high-scoring Houston Rockets?
The Lakers have played well down the stretch, even when faced with injuries to Pau Gasol, Steve Nash and Metta World Peace. In the past couple of months, they have put the team on Bryant’s back, but he won’t be there to carry them tonight. Their fate may now rest on the shoulders of Dwight Howard, which are shoulders that are still not 100% healthy either.
The Lakers have been torched twice by the Rockets this season, but both losses came in Houston. Tonight, L.A. will be the scene of another dramatic finish, but I’m not so sure it will be a Hollywood ending for the Lakers this time.
Of course, they’ll risen to the occasion so often against the odds this season, but Houston is exactly the type of team L.A. hates. The Rockets are young, fast, have good shooters and they love to push the tempo. The elder, ailing Lakers will have a hard time keeping up.
Look for the Rockets to cover +3 tonight against a Kobe-less Lakers as they look to clinch the seventh seed in the West.
If we are correct in determining that the Lakers will fall tonight to Houston, then that means the Jazz are in with a win tonight against the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Jazz have played well enough down the stretch to keep pace with the Lakers, winning eight of their last 10 games, but Memphis in particular has given them fits, as the Jazz are just 1-2 against the Grizz this year.
Utah has struggled mightily away from home with a record of 13-27, so the fact that it is in Memphis tonight adds another challenge to the high-stakes game. And if you think Memphis doesn’t have anything to play for, you are wrong. The Grizzlies are still fighting for home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs with the Clippers, so they’ll be going all out tonight against the Jazz.
Unfortunately for Utah, this match-up does not bode well for it. The physical defensive-minded Grizzlies should have success shutting down a team that has struggled at times offensively this season. Look for the Grizzlies to win, covering -5 points and for the Jazz to be left out in the cold this year.