Countdown to BIG GAME is on

A few things heading into tonight’s big match-up between the Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns (8:30 MT, TNT):



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— The Jazz have only been the No. 8 seed twice since making the playoffs 24 of 28 possible times since 1984. Utah’s playoff life has never been on the line this late in the season, though. In 2002 and 2009, the Jazz finished ahead of the No. 9 teams by multiple games.

Utah lost a critical game in 2010, however, on the final night of the regular season — when Carlos Boozer sat out with an abdomen injury and Utah lost to Phoenix. That dropped the Jazz into the fifth spot and put them in the Lakers’ side of the bracket.

As some have suggested, that arguably makes tonight’s game the biggest regular season contest in Jazz history.

— Jazz center Al Jefferson didn’t hesitate to say, “Most definitely this is the biggest game of my career.” He hasn’t been in the playoffs since 2005 when he was a rookie with Boston, and he has stayed positive about the Jazz’s chances and progress all season.

But Jefferson said he hasn’t gotten too many well-wishes from friends about tonight’s pivotal game. “If everything go well tonight, I’m pretty sure my phone will be blowing up.”

— The Jazz (34-30) might not make the playoffs if they lose tonight to the Suns (33-31), who have the tiebreaker. Phoenix is in if it beats Utah tonight and a likely Big Three-absent San Antonio at home on Wednesday.

However, the Jazz still could end up in the No. 7 spot if Denver (36-28) loses its final two games and Utah wins its last couple against the Suns and Blazers.

— Coach Tyrone Corbin has a potentially tough decision on his hands tonight. He stuck with veterans Raja Bell and Josh Howard through thick and thin this season, even when others were clamoring for young guys like Alec Burks and Gordon Hayward to get more minutes.

So now the Jazz are in a virtual play-in game, and both of his very experienced guys are back in the fold. They’re game-time decisions, but he expects them to be in uniform and available.

To play Bell and Howard or not?

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— It was good to see Jazz point guard Earl Watson after today’s shootaround. He had some crutches and his usual big smile.

Watson said he’d talk to reporters about his timetable tonight after he chatted with Jazz orthopedist Dr. Lyle Mason. When jokes were made about Watson’s status for tonight, he teasingly said he was going to take me on in a one-on-one game.

I’ll wait until Watson’s knee is better. I don’t want him to have any built-in excuses. (Yeah, right. Jazz PR guru Jonathan Rinehart said it best when he joked that he’d put his money on Watson beating me even with crutches.)


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