PORTLAND, Ore. — Depending on how things play out tonight in Dallas, Phoenix and Rip City, the Utah Jazz could find themselves back in a playoff spot.
For that scenario to shake out, Utah needs a road win over the LaMarcus Aldridge-less Blazers combined with losses by the Rockets (at the Mavericks) and the Suns (hosting the Thunder).
The next nine nights will be filled with similar storylines like that, as Utah, Phoenix, Houston, Denver and Dallas jockey and jostle for the final three positions in the Western Conference playoffs.
Simply put, though, here's all that needs to happen for Utah to return to the postseason after a one-year absence:
The Jazz need to win their last four games, including two against Portland, one against Dwight Howard-less Orlando and another home one vs. Phoenix AND both the Rockets and Suns need at least one more loss.
"It's there. We've just got to reach out and grab it," said Jazz center Al Jefferson, who has not been in the playoffs since 2005 with Boston. "We've just got to take it one game at a time. We've got to go to Portland (tonight) and take care of business. Come here Saturday and take care of business. We've got a chance. We've got a fighting chance. We've just got to do it."
The Jazz are well aware, however, that Portland would love nothing more than to spoil Utah's postseason chances now that the lottery-bound Blazers have been officially eliminated.
"We realize how big of a game it is (tonight). We've just got to go out there and execute the game plan and not have any mental lapses," Jazz shooting guard Gordon Hayward said. "We realize a loss here or there could mean that we go home early, and none of us want that."
Coach Tyrone Corbin is proud his 32-30 team has persevered through a challenging season that included an interesting mix of youth and veterans followed by a string of injuries that has sidelined four experienced players (Raja Bell, Josh Howard, C.J. Miles and Earl Watson).
"We've been undermanned. We've been underexperienced," Corbin said. "We've really done a great job of staying in there, fighting, supporting each other and working hard to give ourselves a chance to win — and that shows great character."
CHARITY BOWL: Josh Howard will stage a bowling event this Thursday night to help benefit the Special Olympics Utah and his personal foundation. Jazz teammates and coaches will join Howard for the tournament, which will go from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at Park City's Jupiter Bowl (1090 Center Drive, Newpark Town Center).
General admission is $20 (visit joshhowardfoundation.com to donate), and the entry fee includes opportunities for prizes and access to a 45-minute autograph session.
Lanes will be available for the general public on a first-serve basis, but that cost is not in the admission price.
Howard's personal charity focuses on benefiting youth and seniors in economically challenged communities.
WORKING OUT AGAIN: Howard and Raja Bell have begun to do basketball-related activities as part of their rehab programs for their knee injuries. Howard believes he'll be available to play by the final two games of the season, while Bell isn't quite so sure about his return timetable.
Bell said his knee "feels great" and he's now able to shoot basketballs and do defensive slide drills. But he hasn't done any playing or running for four weeks.
"Right now," he said, "I guess the first hurdle is trying to get into some kind of playing shape to where I could help them at all and then see what Coach (Corbin) wanted to do."
Added Bell: "They look like they've got a good chemistry right now. They've got a nice rotation and they're playing well, so that would be Coach's call, not mine. You never want to put yourself in a situation where you'd be hurting the team."
HE TWEETED IT: After undergoing surgery Tuesday in New York City to repair torn ligaments in his knee, Jazz guard Earl Watson posted this message on Twitter:
"Just waking up out of surgery," he wrote. "Great win! BUT WE MUST PROTECT OUR TEAMMATES! I don't care who (it) is!"
That, no doubt, was a reference to Delonte West's ear-poking incident with Hayward.