The NBA’s regular season ends on April 12, which means we’re now less than a month away from figuring out which teams will play each other in the first round of the 2017 postseason. Fans will certainly gravitate toward certain dream matchups — Kevin Durant vs. Russell Westbrook is now a distinct possibility in the West — but others will not stand out as no-doubt barnburners. Some matchups don’t seem great until they actually take place.
The looming first-round tilt between the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers could be one of those series. The No. 4 Jazz entered Monday’s game against the visiting Clips 4 1/2 games back of the Houston Rockets, while the Clippers came in three games up on the Oklahoma City Thunder for fifth place. The seeding could go either way, but it looks for now as if these two squads will face off in a best-of-seven set come mid-April.
They’re preparing by showing that they really don’t like each other. In fact, Utah center Rudy Gobert was involved in two pushing matches with the Clippers in a tense fourth quarter. The first was with J.J. Redick, and the second included Chris Paul. Take a look:
In truth, plenty of teams get involved in shoving incidents with the notoriously irritable Clippers. Still, these are the kinds of moments that can turn into legitimate feuds over the course of a long series. It’s bad enough to face a few guys you don’t like a couple times over the course of 82 games. Imagine doing it seven times in two weeks.
Of course, maybe the Clippers were just upset because they were getting beaten. L.A. led 56-49 at half thanks in part to a masterful performance from CP3 (who finished with 33 points on 11-of-21 shooting). However, the Jazz bounced back to take the third 30-20 and control the fourth. It was close late, but an off-balance 3-pointer late in the clock from Joe Johnson right before Gobert’s incident with Paul stretched a six-point lead to nine and essentially finished off Utah’s eventual 114-108 win.
It was an odd game in several ways, but those eccentricities point toward a potentially fascinating first-round series. Gordon Hayward led Utah with 27 points on 9-of-18 shooting, perhaps indicating that this is a matchup he could use to his advantage during a breakout playoff performance. On the other side, Blake Griffin managed only eight field goals in a curiously ineffective 37 minutes. Could the Jazz neutralize him in a best-of-seven?
Such questions won’t be answered until next month, but the fact that we can prepare for such a scenario is exciting nonetheless. There’s still a chance that these teams won’t play, but we’re close. At the very least, the playoffs are not too far away. Start your countdowns now.
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