With a fifth straight win, the streaking Utah Jazz are now first in the race to earn the Western Conference's last playoff spot, edging out the Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks.
In some aspects, their streak hasn't been fluky: after struggling, the Jazz have exploded with five straight wins by double-digits, comfortable victories that were rarely in doubt. In others, they've had some remarkable, seemingly unsustainable outings: Randy Foye drilled eight threes on nine shots against Brooklyn Saturday, Mo Williams had six on seven shots Monday against the Portland Trail Blazers in a 112-102 win. The constant has been Al Jefferson: after returning from an injury at the beginning of March, he'd only hit 20 points in one of his first ten games in the month. He's now hit that threshold in each of the Jazz' last four games, recording a 24-point, 10-rebound double-double against the Blazers.
It's bad news for the Lakers and Mavericks, who join the Jazz in a three-game chase for one playoff spot. Those two teams play Tuesday night: if the Lakers win, they'll be tied up the Jazz for the eighth spot. If the Mavs -- who have perked up recently, winning Saturday behind 35 points and a last-second three from Dirk Nowitzki -- win, they'll be 1.5 games back of Utah and half-a-game behind the Lakers.
The Clippers seem to be in a little bit of trouble after losing three straight, but the good news is that they're unlikely to lose home-court advantage in the first round: they're 6.5 games ahead of the nearest team in the weak Pacific Division, and if they win that, they earn a top-four seed in the playoffs regardless of how they actually stack up in the standings. That pits the Nuggets and Grizzlies -- each tied at 50-24 -- in a battle to finish third in the West with the better team getting the third spot and the loser dropping to fifth behind the Clippers.
Here's a look at the full standings:
|San Antonio Spurs||74||55-19||.743|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||74||54-20||.730|
|Los Angeles Clippers||75||49-26||.653|
|Golden State Warriors||74||42-32||.568|
|Los Angeles Lakers||74||38-36||.514|
|Portland Trail Blazers||74||33-41||.446|
|New Orleans Hornets||74||26-48||.351|