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It’s come down to this. The final 10 days of the NBA season will determine the final team to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference and the final three teams to fill out the Western Conference’s field.

The top seeds in each conference, and the overall number one, will also be decided in the season’s final week and a half. As of Monday Chicago had a 2½ game lead over Miami in the East, with Boston a half game further back.

San Antonio ended its six game losing streak with a win over Phoenix on Sunday to extend back to a similar 2½ game lead over the LA Lakers in the West. The Spurs, by virtue of one less loss than the Bulls, also control their destiny for the top overall seed.

Indiana has a two game edge over Charlotte for that final playoff spot in the East with Milwaukee just one game behind the Bobcats. None of the three has been playing lights out over the past couple of weeks although Indiana does have the best record recently, winning six of their last 10.

Portland, New Orleans and Memphis currently hold the final three spots in the West with Houston likely running out of time to make up the three games by which they trail the Hornets and Grizzlies who are tied for the final two spots.

Unlike the East, however, all four of these teams are playing very well as Houston and Memphis have each won eight of their last 10 and Portland on a 7-3 run.

The Lakers remain the hottest team in the league even after their home loss to Denver on Sunday. The loss was just the Lakers’ second in 19 games since the All Star break as they seemed poised to make a serious run at winning their third straight NBA title.

In next week’s column the opening round of the playoffs will be previewed although several series matchups likely will not be determined until the final night of the regular season, next Wednesday.

There will be some unusual lines over these final few games as many coaches will rest players in preparation for the increased level of intensity that marks playoff basketball.

This will almost certainly occur once teams have locked up their playoff seeding and in back to back game situations. In such instances it may be worth a look at some of the league’s weakest teams, even if that look is a double take to confirm that some of these weaklings could well be favored over playoff bound foes.

Here’s a look at three games to be played this weekend.

Denver at OKC (Fri): This is a likely preview of an opening round playoff series and barring some highly unlikely turnarounds Oklahoma City will enjoy the home court advantage. They enter this week with a three game edge over Denver for the fourth Western seed. These teams will have just met on Tuesday in Denver after the teams each won and covered at home in their two earlier meetings.

Denver has played outstanding basketball since they traded away Carmelo Anthony while the Thunder has been steady all season. Intrinsically Oklahoma City may be the better team overall. They have a winning road record of 22-16, the exact opposite of Denver’s mark away from home. Regardless of Tuesday’s result this situation favors the host. OKLAHOMA CITY.

Utah at San Antonio (Sat): It’s been a miserable second half of the season for Utah as the Jazz underwent changes both on the bench and on the court with mid season moves. Long time coach Jerry Sloan abruptly resigned and replacement Tyrone Corbin was unable to hold onto what appeared to be a safe second tier playoff position. Over their last 30 games Utah is just 8-22.

San Antonio just snapped its longest losing streak in the Tim Duncan era, six straight losses, with a solid win Sunday over Phoenix. The Spurs are still in control of the top Western seed and will have an extra day of rest. Yes, they likely will be double digit favorites. But they will be playing with the incentive of maintaining that top seed. Utah’s motivation is questionable. SAN ANTONIO.

Boston at Miami (Sun): These teams opened the season against one another last October with Boston winning at home, 88-80, and now they play one of the final games of the regular season. Miami is still seeking its first win against the Celtics. Boston won the next two meetings although both were close, with final margins of five and three points. The one meeting in Miami did go OVER the total but the two in Boston stayed UNDER the Total by more than 20 points each time.

This game likely has seeding implications. Miami has played some of its best basketball of late and was the only team to defeat the Lakers in the past 2½ months until Denver did the deed this past Sunday. Boston is just 6-6 in their last dozen games whereas Miami has gone 10-2. And, psychologically, one would think Miami would want to avoid the season sweep. Both teams played Friday and each also plays on the road on Monday (which could make them nice go-against plays). MIAMI

last week season PCT
2-1 34-28-2 54.8


About the Author

Andy Iskoe

Owner and author of “The Logical Approach,” Andy Iskoe has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football.

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