Surging Jazz face Lakers uncertain of fate in wild West (Apr 08, 2018)

April 8, 2018

How tight is the Western Conference race?

The Utah Jazz haven't clinched a postseason berth, but they can still finish as high as third in the West if they win their final three games.

Utah will get its first chance to clinch a playoff spot when it visits the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on Sunday evening.

The Jazz (46-33) have won four in a row following their 117-95 victory against the visiting Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday night. If they can beat the Lakers and win against the visiting Golden State Warriors on Tuesday, they can finish third in the West with a win in Portland in the regular-season finale Wednesday.

The Portland Trail Blazers were in the driver's seat for the third seed in the West, but lost at the San Antonio Spurs 116-105 on Saturday night.

The Lakers (34-45) are in a much different position than the Jazz. They're limping to the finish line with three games left.

Los Angeles rookie point guard Lonzo Ball has been upgraded to questionable against Utah after missing the past five games with a left knee bruise, and forward Kyle Kuzma is also listed as questionable after sustaining an ankle sprain Friday night against the visiting Minnesota Timberwolves.

Kuzma is second on the team in scoring (16.1) along with forward Brandon Ingram, who will miss his fifth straight game while in the NBA concussion protocol.

Lakers power forward Julius Randle continues his torrid pace, however.

He had 20 points and 10 rebounds against Minnesota for his 12th double-double in the past 16 games. Randle had his best game of the season at the free throw line against the Timberwolves, making all 10 of his attempts to account for half his points.

"I think his willingness to continue to grow as a player is really impressive." Lakers coach Luke Walton said after the loss to Minnesota. "He's so dominant physically, and he's had so much success recently, I feel like if he wanted to, he could put his head down, get to the rim and score 30 points a night."

Randle's most glaring weakness has been turnovers. He has given the ball back on 13.2 percent of the team's possessions this season and had five turnovers in the loss to the Timberwolves.

"We're asking more of him as far as him being a playmaker," Walton said. "Teams are collapsing, so we want him making the extra pass out and slow down a little bit so he can read defenses more. I think he's done a really nice job of trying that. Sometimes it's been great, other times we've had some turnovers because of it. It's part of his growth as a player and his willingness to continue to try to do that is a nice characteristic for your players to have."

Randle came up one assist shy of his second triple-double of the season when Los Angeles played the Jazz on Tuesday in Utah, finishing with 12 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists.