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Three Reasons the Utah Jazz Should Be Worried About the Los Angeles Lakers

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | March Madness usually impacts the world of collegiate basketball, but this year, it seems to be affecting the professional ranks too.

Take, for instance, the race for the West's final playoff spot.

After starting 2013 with a 16-7 record, the eighth-seed Utah Jazz have dropped five of their past six games, opening the door to the Los Angeles Lakers -- the same team that almost everyone said was a long shot to make the postseason not too long ago.

Although the Jazz hold the tiebreaker against Kobe & Co., they should be pretty nervous about holding on to that 1.5-game lead.

Here's why:

1. The Lakers' remaining schedule is much easier than that of the Jazz.

While L.A. faces lottery-bound teams in seven of its next 12 games, Utah will need to play 12 of its last 21 contests against squads with winning records -- including the New York Knicks, Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs. To make matters worse, the Jazz, who are 10-21 away from Salt Lake City, still have 10 road games.

Interesting fact: If each team defeats the opponents they are better than and lose to the ones they are inferior to (record-wise), both should end the regular season 41-41.

2. Steve is getting Nashty.

Steve Nash may no longer be the maestro of the fast and frenetic Phoenix Suns, but the former mop-haired MVP is still playing at a high level. In fact, during his past 20 games, No. 10 has averaged 13.1 points on an efficient 49.7 percent from the field and 43.8 percent from beyond the arc.

Nash is even doing something that he couldn't accomplish while in the desert -- get Earl Clark involved. Since Jan. 9, the former Louisville Cardinal has averaged 10.9 points and 8.2 rebounds per game.

3. The Jazz lack a go-to guy.

Utah has lost five games this season that were decided by three points or fewer. Why? The answer is simple: Coach Corbin doesn't have someone who can consistently step up in crunch time.

Mo Williams did it once earlier this year with a see-ya-Spurs 3-point buzzer beater, but on March 6, while playing the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers, he didn't do so hot. With 1:23 left to play, eight seconds on the shot clock and the Jazz up by four, Williams launched -- and missed -- a 27-foot three-pointer. Then, with five seconds remaining, he blew a layup that would have given his team the lead, and the guys in navy and gold eventually lost 104-101.

Final thoughts: A lot has gone wrong for the Lakers this year, but if they continue to build team chemistry, and the Jazz don't turn things around, Los Angeles may come out of this Madness with a ticket to the NBA's version of the Big Dance.

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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