The Utah Jazz have only a few games left on their schedule, and they find themselves in a tight race for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot.

The Western Conference has three teams hoping to make the final playoff spot: the Utah Jazz, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Dallas Mavericks. As of Friday afternoon, each of these three teams had a record of 5-5 in their last 10 games, and the average play from each team continues to keep the playoff race alive.

The Mavericks, led by former NBA Most Valuable Player Dirk Nowitzki, are likely just too far away from making the cut. Had a battle for the final spot begun a bit earlier, then the Mavericks could have seen a higher possibility of locking in the final playoff position.

The Jazz and the Lakers are currently involved in a neck-and-neck battle to decide who will be the last team to make the playoffs, and it creates a very intriguing situation for both teams.

The Lakers, backed by a team of aging All-Stars, have had one of the more dramatic seasons in recent memory (although nothing has actually happened for them in recent months). Some of the Lakers’ storyline includes a nerve-racking rough start to the season, the firing of a coach just a few games into the season, the denial of the legendary Phil Jackson to take another turn at the driver’s wheel, and the obvious battle of cooperation among players in the locker room (and on the court).

Superstar Kobe Bryant, now 34 years old and in his 17th NBA season, had guaranteed back in February that the Lakers would make the playoffs (when the team sat with a 26-29 record). Bryant expressed his confidence by assuring that no foe made him feel uncertain or uneasy about his team’s chances to succeed before and in the playoffs. But the fact remains that they have to get there first.

The Utah Jazz have had different ups and downs this season, and the month of March did not go in their favor, to say the least. Although Utah closed the month on a four-game winning streak, the team lost ground in the playoff standings due to two different four-game losing streaks in March as well. The inconsistent wins have come from consistently average basketball by the Jazz, and, should they make the playoffs, they would need to tighten up a lot of bolts to find success in the postseason.

The point is that neither the Jazz nor the Lakers have been playing at a level that would get them deep into a playoff run. Each team has many areas that need to be adjusted, and perhaps a failure to reach the playoffs would allow for those changes to take place more comfortably. Many Jazz fans would be content as long as Utah simply makes it into the postseason, and seeing the Lakers in the eighth spot would provide some relief to an unorganized, sloppy year in Los Angeles.

Should it come down to the wire, the Jazz hold the regular season tiebreaker against Los Angeles. Utah won two out of three games played against L.A., and that could be a valuable key to the eighth playoff seed. The Jazz have had difficulty closing out games during the regular season, and this would be a disappointing and devastating trait to transfer to the regular season as whole. Should the Jazz secure the final seed, they will have to play the San Antonio Spurs — a historically challenging opponent to defeat for Utah. Whatever happens, this final stretch of basketball will have many people on the edge of their seats.

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