Less than a month remains before the
NBA playoffs begin and much will be decided over the final dozen or so games for
each team in contention for the post-season.
Last Sunday’s one point win by the
Lakers over Sacramento drew Los Angeles within one game of the Kings in the loss
column. The teams will meet again on the final night of the regular season,
which could decide both the Pacific Division title and home court advantage
throughout the playoffs.
However, a couple of teams in the
Midwest Division, Dallas and San Antonio are still very much within striking
distance of catching and overtaking the Lakers and Kings.
Sacramento has a one game lead over the
Lakers in the Pacific Division beginning the
week. In the Midwest, Dallas and San Antonio begin the week with identical 48-21
four teams separated by less than two games for the NBA’s best overall record,
the final few weeks of the regular season will present many games played with
The bottom half of the West bracket has
Portland with a game lead over Minnesota in the 5-6 race and Seattle with a half
game edge over Utah in the 7-8 battle. Right now the Los Angeles Clippers are in
that frustrating ninth position, trailing Utah by two and a half games for the
The Clippers are two games above .500
and have a real shot at their first winning season in a decade. They are a team
on the rise but have the misfortune of playing in the conference that has the
vast majority of the NBA’s best teams. If management is able to keep the
nucleus of the team intact, the Clippers could approach 50 wins.
In the East, New Jersey in the Atlantic
and Detroit in the Central have established gaps between themselves and their
nearest challengers. New Jersey begins the week with a six game lead over
Boston, while Detroit holds a three and a half game edge over Milwaukee.
The Nets lead Detroit by three and a
half games for the conference’s overall best record. Boston currently sits
third in the conference with Milwaukee in fourth. These four teams seek to enjoy
home court advantage in the opening round playoff series which are best three of
Milwaukee’s hold on the fourth spot
is tenuous at best. Philadelphia and Orlando begin the week just a half game
behind the enigmatic Bucks. The 76ers will be without ÂÃ‚Âsuperstar Allen Iverson
for the rest of the regular season while Orlando’s big gun, Tracy McGrady,
injured his back over the weekend and is day to day at best.
Charlotte and Indiana are currently
seeded seventh and eighth but neither team is ÂÃ‚Âassured of making the playoffs.
Toronto, Washington and Miami have the difficult task of making up three and a
half games. Normally such a deficit would be extremely difficult to overcome but
considering that the teams in the bottom half of the eastern conference Playoff
chase are merely flirting with .500 should any of the contending teams break out
with a four or five game winning streak it could be enough. The gap between the
two fifth seeded teams and the three teams currently sitting ninth through
eleventh is just five and a half games. Much can change in the course of a week
with so many teams so tightly bunched and playing several games amongst one
Two teams that have been playing
exceptional basketball over the past month have gone largely unnoticed. Detroit
in the East and Portland in the West have made major moves in the standings
since the All Star break.
San Antonio is also playing its best
ball of the season of late. Despite the
status of the Lakers are substantial favorites to win it all this season could
be the most contentious in a decade with incredibly tight races that are likely
to be decided by which team is able to stay the healthiest or is best able to
overcome the absence of a key player.
Here’s a look at three attractive
matchups this weekend involving contending teams.
Friday, March 29
Mavs at Celtics: One of the more
remarkable wagering aspects of the 2001-2002 NBA season has been the
linesmaker’s inability to achieve balance in Dallas totals. Through last
weekend the Mavs had played a remarkable 47 Overs to just 22 Unders. More than
half of those OVERs have exceeded the line by at least 10 points! We’ll
probably see a high number posted here as well but the teams did play to just
190 total points in their mid-February meeting.
the pace figures to be up-tempo. Dallas has major scoring punch from several
sources including Dirk Nowitzki, Michael Finley, Steve Nash and the recently
acquired Nick van Exel. Boston relies principally on the duo of Paul Pierce and
Antoine Walker but has gotten offense from recent additions Tony Delk and Rodney
Rogers. Boston is the much better defensive team but capable of running the
court. Take OVER.
Saturday, March 30
Sixers at Nets: Philadelphia
is literally in a world of hurt with star Allen Iverson likely lost for at least
the rest of the regular season. The 76ers are currently in the playoffs but in
danger of being ousted should they fail to overcome Iverson’s loss. New Jersey
has held the top seeding in the East most of the season behind the on-court
leadership of Jason Kidd.
Nets have been dominant at home of late with several double digit victories over
quality teams the past month. New Jersey is likely to be a small favorite.
Philly’s best chance for the upset is to control the tempo and not allow New
Jersey to get on a roll. Thus a defensive struggle can be expected. The home
court has been good to Jersey. Neither team played on Friday so fatigue should
not be a factor. Â Take NETS.
Spurs at Lakers: This game is
likely to impact the post-season seedings out West. The Lakers won the first two
meetings in January but San Antonio had an impressive 108-90 home win 10 days
ago. Tim Duncan is once again having an MVP-type season with double-doubles on
almost a nightly basis. The Spurs began this week having won twelve straight
games and are peaking.
The Lakers still depend on Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant for the majority of their offense and are capable of raising the level of play. The Lakers will be solid favorites for the final meeting of the regular season. Both teams are rested but San Antonio is off of road games in Portland and Seattle. Laker coach Phil Jackson has proven to be a master of psychology and should have his team prepared to make a statement. Take LAKERS.