Are you ready forsome NBA playoffs?

Apr 18, 2006 3:33 AM

The long grind that is the NBA regular season comes to an end Wednesday with no single first round matchup set in stone through games played this past Sunday.

The specific seedings of the top four teams in the Eastern Conference are Detroit, Miami, New Jersey and Cleveland. Teams seeded fifth through eighth were separated by just a single game. It is possible all four teams could finish with losing records and only Washington wind up above .500 at 42-40.

San Antonio was one win away from wrapping up the top seed in the West. Phoenix sits second and Denver third with Dallas settling for the fourth seed. The Mavericks have already won 60 games, eight more than Phoenix and 16 above Denver. However, the Mavs will have to settle for the fourth seed because of the NBA’s format that rewards division winners a higher seeding than any second place finisher, no matter the record.

At least the NBA rewards the team owning the better record with home court advantage regardless of their seeding relative to their opponent.

Memphis hosts the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday with the winner likely earning the fifth seed and the loser being sixth. The other Los Angeles team, the Lakers, holds a one game edge over Sacramento for the seventh seed.

First round upsets are more likely in the West, with the East having a huge gap between the top and bottom four. In fact, Cleveland has the fourth best record in the East at 48-32, a full eight games ahead of the current fifth seed Washington. In years past, a case could often be made for a hot lower seeded team pulling a first round upset. That case cannot be made in the East this season.

Bottom line: Look for all four top seeds in the East to advance to the second round when upsets become much more of a possibility.

In the West, third seeded Denver is likely to be a series underdog to either Memphis or the Clippers. Either one will have home court advantage against the Nuggets. Dallas will be a large favorite over the Grizzlies or Clippers in the 4 vs. 5 matchup.

Bottom line: With the second best record in the West, don’t expect the Mavericks to be upset in Round 1.

Should Sacramento overtake the Lakers for the seventh seed and a first round matchup against Phoenix, the Kings could pull a first round upset of the Suns. The addition of Ron Artest has made the Kings a much better team, especially defensively. Phoenix has not played well since the beginning of March. To be fair, the Suns basically have had the Pacific Division title wrapped up since the beginning of January.

Bottom line: Sacramento would be hard pressed to take out San Antonio should the Spurs be the Kings’ first round foe. And, despite the heroics of Kobe Bryant, the Lakers are not likely beat either Phoenix or San Antonio.

Detroit and San Antonio are deservedly the favorites to meet in the NBA Finals. New Jersey is playing very well down the stretch and matches up nicely against the Pistons. If the Nets are able to get by the first round and the likely second round foe, Miami, they will be worth a play as a nice priced underdog against Detroit in the Eastern Conference finals. But that possibility is still several weeks away.

Despite their nagging injuries San Antonio is the class of the West. They figure to face a much stiffer challenge in a likely second round matchup against division rival Dallas than in the Western Conference Finals. If form holds, the Spurs would meet Phoenix for the right to advance to the NBA Finals. The Spurs won three of four regular season meetings against the Suns and eliminated them from last season’s playoffs in five after winning 2-of-3 during the regular season.

Next week we will have a much better feel for how the first round might turn out with the opening round getting underway this Saturday and Sunday.

General approach: Back the home teams in Game 1 and the losers in Game 2 throughout the opening round. More often it means playing home favorites, rather than backing a road dog. Should a road dog win the opener, we will be paying a slightly higher price to back the home side in Game 2.