Will it be the Jazz or will it be the Thunder? We may know by the end of the night on Tuesday.
The Trail Blazers will head to Los Angeles with a chance to lock up home-court advantage in the playoffs. The Blazers' magic number: One.
One Blazers win or on Utah Jazz loss and the Blazers will finish no worse than fourth. But that's not all. The Houston Rocket's wrap up their regular season with a game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday as well. A Rockets loss to OKC, and the Blazers are still alive in the hunt for the three seed.
The good part about all this is the Blazers tip-off time against the Lakers is 7:30pm, while the Rockets and Jazz tip at 6:30pm and 6:00pm respectively. In theory, the Blazers could be locked into homecourt by halftime.
But never leave your fate in someone else's hands. If you are Portland your only focus on Tuesday should be to beat the Lakers. Sure, check the scores of the other games at halftime to see what the playoff picture looks like, but make sure you take care of business. Just beat the Lakers.
Why? Because with all this talk of locking up homecourt and who you want to face in the second round (if you get there) we seem to have forgotten that there is still a chance the Blazers can fall to fifth. That's right. If Utah wins out and Portland loses its last two, the Blazers fall to fifth by losing the tiebreaker to Utah.
So beat the Lakers and leave nothing to chance.
The odds say the Blazers will likely face the Utah Jazz in the first round, but there is still a chance they end up facing the Thunder. So the question is, who you rather face in the first round?
If Houston loses, leaving the door open for Portland, the Blazers can either go all-out against the Kings to lockup the three and a first-round matchup with the Thunder, or they can rest, have a better chance of losing, and take the four/five matchup against the Jazz.
If you really look at it, these teams are very similar. Both have big centers that will challenge the Blazers on defense and push Kanter around on offense. Both have guards that can score in bunches (Russell Westbrook and Donovan Mitchell). While OKC has an MVP candidate in Paul George, Utah has a supporting cast of Ricky Rubio, Joe Ingles, and Derrick Favors that all match up well with the Blazers.
As we all know the Thunder swept the Blazers in the regular season, while the Jazz split the season series 2-2. But as Westbrook himself said, the outcomes of the games in the regular season don't matter come playoff time.
Call me crazy, as I am alone on an island here, but I think Portland would fare well against the Thunder. Oklahoma City has struggled as of late, going 8-7 over their last 15 games. Westbrook and George will score, and score in bunches, but if you turn Westbrook into a volume shooter you stand the chance of the team's field goal percentage falling and the door opening for you to take advantage.
The Thunder are a very beatable team, albeit a very scary beatable team. The Thunder could lose in the first round. They could also make noise in the Western Conference Finals. Take advantage of their off nights and you can pull out a series victory.
As for Utah, they have been red hot. Winners of 13 of its last 15, Utah has finally started to look like the team we all thought they would be heading into the season. Over his last ten games, Mitchell has averaged 23.2 points while shooting 46.1% from the field and 47.4% from deep. Utah has six different players averaging 10 or more points per game, including all five of the team's normal starters.
Portland can get a few mismatches against the Thunder, especially against the second unit. But the Jazz pose matchup nightmares at every position. It would be one tough series for the Blazers, even if Jusuf Nurkic were playing.
Even if you take all the matchups and stats out of the equation we can look at two simple things. The Jazz are peaking at the right time, while the Thunder are up and down. For me, I would try to avoid the team that is red hot and rollin'.
But, the Blazers may not have a choice. If Houston wins on Tuesday night the Utah versus Portland matchup is locked in. At that point, rest the starters, rest the bench. Give me a healthy dose of Skal Labissiere, Gary Trent Jr., and Anfernee Simons, and let the Blazers core get rested up for a heavyweight matchup against the team from Salt Lake City.
Because honestly, SLC or OKC, I think this team has what it takes to get out of the first round and I want them to be as rested as possible before the showdown.