No shock if 8 tops 1

Apr 8, 2008 7:00 PM

Bettin’ on B’ball by Andy Iskoe |


Another week closer to the start of the playoffs and so much remains to be determined in the Western Conference.

The caliber of this season’s West playoff field is arguably the strongest in NBA history. Whereas last season’s upset by eighth-seeded Golden State of No. 1 Dallas was a major shock, it would hardly be a surprise if an 8 beat a 1 this time.

That’s how talented and deep the field is.

New Orleans has the inside track to the top seed with its 54-22 record and 1½-game lead over both San Antonio and the Los Angeles Lakers. The edge is magnified by their two-game edge in the loss column.

Five teams are now guaranteed to be playing past the end of the regular season. In addition to the Hornets, Spurs and Lakers, Houston and Utah have also clinched spots. Phoenix is just one win away from making it a six pack.

The final two spots are still being contested. Dallas is two games up on both Denver and Golden State. It is quite possible, if not likely, that the team finishing ninth in the West will still have won at least 60 percent of their regular season games.

Now that’s quality!

In the weaker Eastern Conference, seven teams have already made it to the postseason. The top six teams have winning records, while seventh seeded Toronto is just a game below .500. The final spot is controlled by Atlanta.

The Hawks have five games left to play and are three games ahead of Indiana. New Jersey is four behind. But even if Atlanta wins those final five games, at best they would finish 41-41. It’s a good chance that the final playoff team from the East will finish 10 games worse than the best team from the West not to make the playoffs.

It’s too bad that the NBA does not cross seed in the playoffs so that, for example, the top team in the West would face the bottom club in the East for the opening round. If such a seeding process were used it’s likely that only Boston and Detroit and perhaps Orlando would be favored over their West conference opponents.

Boston is one win away (or one Detroit loss) from clinching the best overall record in the league. The Celtics would enjoy home court throughout the playoffs. The Celtics have to be considered a real threat to win it all as their record against the superior West is a stellar 25-5. Their 28-9 road record is No. 1 and the 33-6 home mark trails only Utah.

Boston has won six in a row despite limiting playing time for several starters in an effort to be totally fresh for the playoffs.

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

Hornets at Lakers (Fri): New Orleans has won two of the three previous meetings this season with each matchup decided by double digits. New Orleans is rested although the Lakers likely were not terribly taxed by Thursday night’s game against the Clippers. The Lakers will be playing with a greater sense of urgency here and should be able to cover the bucket or two they will be laying in the matchup. LAKERS.

Nuggets at Jazz (Sat): Utah has the best home record in the league, but may rest some of its starters. Denver will be going all out to win this game, despite a losing record on the road. The situation likely means Utah will be a smaller favorite than normal. NUGGETS.

Spurs at Lakers (Sun): The Lakers play their second tough foe in three days. The home team has won all three previous meetings this season and all each produced total points between 194 and 199 with two unders and a push. This game should be played with playoff intensity. As such, the total is the preferred play with yet another lower than expected scoring game. UNDER.