Playoff berths stay up for grabs

April 03, 2001 8:01 AM
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Scarcely two weeks remain in the NBA regular season and Playoff berths and positions remain as undecided as ever. That’s good news for NBA fans and bettors since it means more games than usual shall be played with a greater sense of urgency and thus are more likely to be played to form than if much had already been decided.

Philadelphia and San Antonio begin the week with 51-22 records. Philly has a comfortable five-game lead over Milwaukee for the best record in the Eastern Conference, but things remain cluttered in the West. Utah and Sacramento are within a pair of games of the Spurs with three more teams (Dallas, the Lakers and Portland) all within another pair of games. This race remains wide-open since the contenders will be playing one another over these final two weeks. Two game differences can be wiped out virtually overnight and the standings next Monday can look quite different than they do this week.

The overall playoff picture in the East is taking shape with seven of the eight teams all but mathematically determined. The final spot may well not be decided until the regular season’s final days with Boston and Indiana currently deadlocked. The survivor of this battle will be the only playoff team this season with a losing record.

Milwaukee has a five-game lead over Charlotte in the Central Division but the Hornets are in a tight race with New York, Miami, Orlando and Toronto for seeds three through seven. Just 3½ games separate the five teams. Miami and New York currently hold the third and fourth seeds (and home-court advantage in the playoffs’ opening round) but are each just a two game losing streak away from surrendering that edge for the best three out of five series.

In the West the Playoff situation is also uncertain. Although six teams have realistic shots at the top seed, Phoenix also seems assured of a playoff berth. The eighth seed is currently held by Minnesota, but the Timberwolves have to fight off challenges from both Houston and Seattle which trail by just four games in the loss column for that final spot. The one team that has really struggled down the stretch is Portland. Just a few weeks ago the Trailblazers were a favorite to finish first in the West but have played under .500 ball for more than a month. They do have some tough games to finish the season and could slide down to the final seed despite currently being tied with Dallas for the fifth seed.

Here is a look at three attractive games this weekend.

Charlotte at Miami (Friday) — This is the first of a pair of key weekend games for Miami which will have a major impact on where the Heat qualify for the playoffs. Miami sits third in the conference with a slim half-game lead over New York. Charlotte starts the week just two games behind Miami. Both teams have been steady over the past month and Miami has been bolstered by the surprising return of Alonzo Mourning from the ailment that sidelined him for most of the season. Eddie Jones is expected to return for the playoffs and that makes Miami a legitimate threat to at least make it to the NBA Finals from the East. Charlotte gets solid backcourt play from David Wesley and Baron Davis and Jamal Mashburn provides the scoring punch upfront. Miami should be favored by from 3 to 5 points and if getting at least a trey Charlotte is worth backing in what also figures to be a low scoring game. Use 176 as your guide in determining whether to go over or under.

Utah at Dallas (Saturday) — The gap between slumping Utah and surging Dallas in the Midwest Division standings has narrowed greatly over the past few week. Utah has just a two game lead over the Mavericks starting the week. As has been mentioned frequently, Dallas’ acquisition of Juwan Howard gives the Mavericks a trio of true scoring threats with Michael Finley and Dirk Nowitzki. Dallas will be a dangerous foe in the “second season.” Dallas is playing its best ball of the season and should be a slight 2 to 4 point favorite in this game. But Utah has shown an ability to rise to the occasion in big games and the call is for the outright upset here. Neither team played last night and both are off tomorrow so we should see a solid effort from both squads. Use 196 as your guide for a play on the over-under.

Portland at Sacramento (Sunday) — Sacramento is on pace to approach its franchise record 55 wins which was set almost 40 years ago when it was the Cincinnati Royals. The Kings have dominated at home this season plus have been able win on the road. Portland has not played well over the past six weeks, especially since they acquired Rod Strickland, who has upset the veterans on this team. Coach Mike Dunleavy’s job is rumored to be in jeopardy and the team seems to be in a state of disarray. Dunleavy’s inability to control Rasheed Wallace’s propensity for being technical fouled out of games is a sign that maybe he’s lost control of the team. Sacramento is following the pattern that many champions in the past have followed — making steady progress each season. Sacramento will be favored in this game and given their strong home court (30-7 straight up as we go to press) and the current form of both teams the Kings are worth backing if favored by no more than 4 points. This should be a high scoring game and 194 is the guide to use in considering the over-under.


Playoffs arriving in one week
By: Bob Joyce

The final week of the NHL regular season is now in progress as we will focus our attention this week on the games that have the most playoff importance.

Tuesday

Los Angeles at Phoenix — These two clubs are battling for the eighth and final playoff spot. The Coyotes lead the Kings by one point going into this contest and the winner of this game could very well decide who will be advancing and who will be going home for the year.

In the previous four meetings this season, Phoenix holds a 2-1-1 edge over Los Angeles. Phoenix is 20-11-6-2 at home while the Kings are 17-16-4-1 on the road. The Coyotes have scored 204 goals while giving up 204 goals. Los Angeles has put the puck in the net 238 times while allowing 220 goals.

Both of these clubs have lost key players due to late season trades. The Coyotes gave up Keith Tkachuk to St. Louis and the Kings sent Rob Blake packing to Colorado. Look for the Kings to move into the final playoff spot. Predicted score: Los Angeles 5-3.

Wednesday

Boston at Buffalo — The Bruins are on the outside looking in as they trail the Carolina Hurricanes by one point for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East. Buffalo trails the Philadelphia Flyers by one point for the fourth seed and home ice advantage in the first round.

Both of these Northeast Division rivals are 2-2 against each other, and the irony of it is that they have both won their games on the other teams home ice. The Sabres are 25-10-3 when playing at home which is the second best record in the Eastern Conference. Boston is only 14-17-3-5 away from home, which ranks eighth in the East. Overall, Buffalo is 33-19-3 versus the East while Boston is 26-21-5-3. Buffalo’s real strength is defense as it has only allowed 173 goals on the season which is the best in the entire league, behind the superb goaltending of Dominik Hasek. He leads the league in shutouts with 11, two more than Philadelphia’s Roman Cechmanek who has nine shutouts. Predicted score: Buffalo 3-1.

Thursday

Phoenix at San Jose — This game has so much importance on both sides that it is hard to tell where each team stands since we are writing this in advance. As of last Saturday, San Jose is the number six seed with 88 points which is tied with Vancouver who holds down the seventh slot. The Sharks only trail the Oilers by one point (89), as Edmonton is currently the fifth seed. Phoenix is right there also with 85 points and holding down the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.

San Jose has won the first three meetings against the Coyotes this season; however, they were facing off against each other last Saturday.

The Sharks gained Teemu Selanne who scored a hat trick last Thursday from his former teammates, the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.

The Coyotes sorely miss the scoring punch from their former power forward Keith Tkachuk. Predicted score: San Jose 4-2.

Saturday

Colorado at Detroit — This is the final game of the regular season for both of these two clubs and what a game for this nationally televised finale on ABC (12 noon Pacific).

These are the best two teams in the NHL and are the favorites to meet for the Western Conference title with the winner going on to play for Lord Stanley’s Cup.

But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, because we have this game to dissect.

The last time these two clubs met was three weeks ago on March 17th as the Avalanche prevailed 5-3 in Colorado. The Red Wings coach, Scotty Bowman said that was their biggest loss of the season because of the psychological advantage they would have gained by beating Colorado on their own home ice.

With that in mind, Detroit definitely does not want to fail here at home. Predicted score: Detroit 4-2.

Sunday

Philadelphia at Buffalo — This is it in a nutshell, this is the final game of the regular season for these two teams. This game could very well decide who will have home ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs. As of last Saturday Philadelphia had a one-point lead over Buffalo as they were seeded fourth and fifth respectfully and the Flyers would be the home team against the Sabres. A lot of things could have changed by the time the puck drops here but we are going into the pretention that this game will decide the home ice advantage and the all important psychological advantage that is represented by this game.

The Flyers are 3-0 against the Sabres this season and have outscored Buffalo 8-1, which includes two shutouts. The Flyers will be without their second-leading scorer, Keith Primeau, for this game. Primeau has two goals this season against the Sabres while also adding two assists.

Both teams have outstanding goaltenders as Dominik Hasek for Buffalo leads the league in shutouts with 11 while the Flyers’ Roman Cechmanek is second with nine. Look for Buffalo to regain some confidence in this match-up against the Flyers, and again this game could give Buffalo the home ice advantage. Predicted score: Buffalo 3-1.


John Bennett’s Hoop Picks

NBA
Friday

76ers by 10 over Cavaliers

Heat by 4 over Hornets

Celtics by 2 over Lakers

Raptors by 8 over Magic

Suns by 4 over Wolves

Pacers by 11 over Bulls

Kings by 6 over Grizzlies

Blazers by 7 over Warriors

Clippers by 3 over Bucks

Saturday

Wizards by 4 over Celtics

Cavaliers by 3 over Suns

Hornets by 8 over Pistons

Jazz by 4 over Mavericks

Rockets by 10 over Hawks

Nuggets by 7 over Grizzlies

Clippers by 3 over Spurs

Sunday

Heat by 6 over Knicks

Nets by 3 over Pacers

Kings by 4 over Blazers

Raptors by 11 over Bulls

Lakers by 5 over Wolves

Spurs by 9 over Warriors

Supersonics by 6 over Bucks

Baseball

Chicago Cubs at Philadelphia Phillies:Two teams generally go over in the total. However, with weather conditions at this stage of the season, games have a tendency to go under. Taking Philadelphia against Jon Lieber in one of the games.

N.Y. Mets at Montreal Expos: Expos win two games behind Jacinto Vasquez and Carl Pavano.

Atlanta Braves at Florida Marlins: Going with Tom Glavine and John Burkett for a couple of Brave victories.

Cincinnati Reds at Milwaukee Brewers: Going with Jeff D’Amico should he start in this series.

Pittsburgh Pirates at Houston Astros: Overs here even if there’s snow on the ground.

St. Louis Cardin