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Mavericks and Lakers and Jazz, Oh My!

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | There are no pep bands, Cinderellas or online bracket competitions, but the battle for the final Western Conference seed in the NBA's version of the NCAA tournament is getting interesting.

With less than two weeks left in the regular season, three squads are vying for that No. 8 spot: the Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers and Utah Jazz.

Here's the team-by-team shakedown:

Dallas Mavericks

The Mavs (37-39) are still under .500, but don't count them out just yet. They have the easiest remaining schedule of the three with games against Portland, Phoenix, Denver (who is now without Ty Lawson and Danilo Gallinari), New Orleans, Memphis and New Orleans again. Oh, and did I mention that four of those six contests are at American Airlines Center?

Who's hot: In his past four outings, reserve center Brandan Wright has averaged 14.8 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.8 blocks on 24-of-39 (61.5 percent) shooting.

Who's not: Vince Carter is shooting a Jared Bray-esque 12 for 38 (31.6 percent) from the floor -- including 4 of 17 (23.5 percent) from 3-point range -- in April.

Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers (40-36) are currently sitting in the eighth slot, but I couldn't agree more with Spencer Ryan Hall's metaphor from earlier this week (via ESPN): "The Lakers seem like the college student who assumes his dad's connections will get him into law school, but he never bothers to go to class or study. The rejection letter is going to be a painful wake-up call in Lakers Land."

L.A., who struggles mightily against teams with strong point guards, still needs to face CP3, ROY candidate Damian Lillard, Wardell Stephen Curry II, Tony Parker and Jeremy Lin.

Who's hot: Aside from his first couple of games, Pau Gasol has been pretty solid since returning to the lineup. In his last five contests, the seven-foot Spaniard has collected 14.8 points and 7.8 boards on 54.8 percent shooting.

Who's not: Jodie Meeks, who's filling in for Metta World Peace, has shot 3 of 14 this month.

Utah Jazz

The Jazz (40-37) are a half-game behind the Lakers, but I expect them to claim the final spot by the end of the season. Why? Two reasons: 1) They won the head-to-head series 2-1 and therefore only need to match the Lakers' record, and 2) their three bigs, Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Derrick Favors, have been dominant on both ends of the floor. In three games this month, the trio has combined to shoot an efficient 61 of 102 (nearly 60 percent) from the field, collect 10 steals and swat 11 shots.

Who's hot: See above.

Who's not: After scoring 28, 20 and 20 in three consecutive games, Mo Williams has shot just 5 of 20 in his last two contests.

Jared Bray, a graduate of Brigham Young University's broadcast journalism program, has followed the Utah Jazz since 2008, when he covered the team as a sports correspondent for KBYU-TV's Daily News at Noon.

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