"I guess I need to try to get in touch with Kevin McHale," Al Jefferson said of his former Minnesota coach, now with the Rockets, "and tell him to handle that for me. Give me a late birthday present."
Three weeks ago, the Jazz were coming off a 113-108 loss at Dallas, their ninth straight on the road. They were 34-36 and two games behind the Lakers. Since, then, however, they have won nine of 11 games, including Monday's 96-80 win in Minnesota, to carry the fight for the league's last available playoff berth into the final day of the regular season.
But simply taking care of their own business, as Utah coach Tyrone Corbin is fond of saying, won't be enough. The Lakers have been entirely uncooperative with the Jazz's postseason aspirations, going 8-3 in their last 11 games and, despite the loss of Kobe Bryant to a devastating Achilles rupture, beating San Antonio on Sunday.
"That's the position we're in," Jazz swingman Gordon Hayward said. "It's not very much fun."
The Jazz are 1-2 against the Grizzlies this season, including a 103-94 loss in Memphis on Nov. 5, the fourth game of the season.
The Grizzlies locked up a playoff spot weeks ago, and a school of thought existed that they would rest some of their top players in anticipation of the playoffs. But the Grizzlies can still attain home-court advantage in the first round, so any kind of coasting from Memphis and coach Lionel Hollins seems less likely.
Likewise, Houston has major incentive to beat the Lakers, and not just because of the magnanimity Jefferson hopes for. A loss to the Lakers would drop the Rockets to eighth.
All of the scenarios going into the weighty Wednesday, little whispers of hope and glimpses of possibility, can't distract from the Jazz's primary responsibility. Asked in Minnesota if he felt the Jazz were a playoff team, Hayward said, "We'll see after that last game if we are or we aren't. … This game's going to be big and huge, and we have to make sure we play well."
A loss would mean an abrupt and painful end to an unpredictable season in which the Jazz never seemed to find the balance of old players and new ones, older players and young ones.
Asked how the Jazz found their way into this position, Corbin praised his team, with its seven free agents, for staying together when, in Dallas, the season seemed lost.
"Character," he said. "Bottom line is character. Dedication, focus, counting on each other."
They may not know the net result of those traits until late Wednesday night, 15 basketball players, unsure if they're all even still teammates, watching on League Pass somewhere above Branson or Wichita.
Getting to that moment is the last thing the Jazz can control.
"We've got to make sure we get our job done, handle our business," Gordon Hayward said. "Then just sit and wait."
Jazz playoff scenarios
The Jazz will make the playoffs if • They win in Memphis on Wednesday and the Houston Rockets beat the Lakers in Los Angeles.
The Jazz will miss the playoffs if • They win in Memphis, but the Lakers beat Houston OR if they lose in Memphis, regardless of the Lakers' result.
Jazz at Grizzles
O At FedEx Forum (Memphis, Tenn.)
Records • Utah 43-39; Memphis 55-26
Tipoff • Wednesday, 6 p.m.
TV • ESPN, ROOT
Radio • 1280 AM, 97.5 FM
Season series • Tied 1-1
About the Jazz • Utah has won nine of 11 games and is one game out of eighth place entering the final day of the regular season. ... Al Jefferson has scored 62 points and grabbed 21 rebounds in his last two games. ... The Jazz beat Memphis 90-84 on March 16 at EnergySolutions Arena. ... The Jazz are on a three-game road winning streak, their longest of the season.
About the Grizzlies • A win against the Jazz could give the Grizzlies home-court advantage over the Clippers in the first round of the playoffs. ... The Grizzlies remain the league's best defensive team, allowing just 89.5 points per game. ... Zach Randolph averages 15.3 points and 11.1 rebounds per game.
Jazz at Grizzlies
O Wednesday, 6 p.m.
TV • ESPN, ROOT