Want to win with
a loser? Try Orlando

Apr 4, 2006 6:40 AM

Most NBA teams have fewer than 10 games in which to make up ground in the playoff chase or get more looks at players that figure in next season’s plans.

Detroit has wrapped up the top seed in the East with a two game edge over San Antonio for the best overall record. The Spurs have all but wrapped up the top record in the West thanks to Dallas losing three in a row last week for the first time this season.

The Spurs have a three game lead in the loss column and host the Mavericks this Friday. In the East, only Chicago has a realistic chance of moving up into the playoff field. Currently seeded ninth, the Bulls trail eighth seed Philadelphia by 1½ games. The 76ers have been struggling over the past two weeks, dropping seven of their last 10. The teams meet twice this week (Wednesday and Saturday) and, if either is able to sweep, the fates of both teams could be determined.

In the West, both Utah and New Orleans have faint hopes of making the playoffs. New Orleans trails eighth seeded Sacramento by two, while Utah is a half game further back in tenth. The Kings are clearly vulnerable in that eighth position with four of their remaining eight games against each of the top four teams in the West. The schedule includes road games at Dallas, San Antonio and the Clippers — all being played this week.

By next Monday we should have a much better feel for the fate of Sacramento in trying for a franchise record eighth straight postseason appearance. It was more than a half century ago that the former Royals (based in Rochester, N.Y.) made the playoffs seven straight seasons.

At the bottom end of the league are four teams with 25 or less wins — Atlanta, Charlotte, Portland and the woeful New York Knicks. Larry Brown’s first season behind the bench of his hometown team has been a disaster and the Knicks will likely end the season with the worst record in the NBA.

The Knicks have simply quit trying. Portland also seems to have packed it in on the season, starting the week on an 11-game losing streak. Charlotte and Atlanta continue to play hard and will be worth backing over the final two weeks as solid underdogs in most of their remaining games.

Perhaps the losing to really focus upon over the next two weeks is Orlando. Despite long since being out of playoff contention, the Magic have won seven of their last 10 to improve their record to 29-44. Orlando is providing some momentum into the offseason and good value for the bettors down the stretch.

Here’s a look at three key games this weekend.

Bucks at Grizzlies (Fri): Both teams are playing to maintain or perhaps improve their positions in the playoffs. Milwaukee is currently seeded sixth in the East with a chance of passing Washington for fifth. Memphis is sixth in the West with a chance to pass the Clippers for fifth seed. Milwaukee won the only meeting this season, besting the Grizzlies by 10 at home in a game that stayed way below the posted total. Memphis has been very solid at home and is the better defensive team. The Bucks are well below .500 both on the road and against the West. Both are rested. MEMPHIS.

Cavs at Nets (Sat): Both teams are red-hot beginning the week. New Jersey has won 12 in a row (its second double-digit win streak of the season), while Cleveland in on an eight game winning streak. Each has clinched playoff berths and pretty much set in its seeding. New Jersey will be third as winners of the Atlantic, the Cavs fourth. New Jersey has won two of three meetings this season, although Cleveland won the most recent contest. The last two were well below the posted total. The emphasis should be on defense again as both prepare for the playoffs. The ”˜under’ is 11-2 in New Jersey’s last 13, including six straight outings. UNDER.

Clippers at Lakers (Sun): These two Los Angeles franchises are actually playing a meaningful game in early April! The Clippers are currently seeded fifth in the West, 2½ games ahead of the No. 7 Lakers. Though neither has clinched a playoff berth, it’s likely each side will see the postseason together for the first time in nine seasons. Lakers may be more motivated in trying to move up to six and face Denver, rather than Phoenix in the opening round. A loss here by the Clippers moves them closer to six seed. LAKERS.

Last week: 3-0

Season: 32-33-2