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Denver can send Blazers, Jazz packing

Apr 6, 2004 7:09 AM

With less than 10 days remain in the NBA regular season, playoff seedings remain very much in doubt for most of the Eastern Conference and all of the Western Conference.

Milwaukee, Miami, New Orleans, New York and Boston sit fourth through eighth in the East but the five are separated by just four games. Cleveland is 2½ games behind Boston and Philadelphia is a half game further back. But the chances for the Cavs and 76ers are bleak.

Only top seeded Indiana, New Jersey and Detroit are assured of finishing the regular season with winning records. Possibly five Eastern teams may make the playoffs with losing records. Fourth seeded Milwaukee begins the week just one game above break even with five games to play.

In the West, things are even more muddled. It is likely that at least two teams with winning records will miss the playoffs. Six teams have clinched playoff berths with Houston on the verge. Three teams are battling for the final berth with Utah and Denver tied, a half game ahead of Portland.

Portland’s streak of 21 straight playoff appearances (and 25 of 26) is in great jeopardy as is Utah’s streak of 20. The top six teams in the West are separated by just five games. It would appear that Memphis and Dallas are battling for the five and six seeds. Sacramento controls its own fate with the fewest losses of the six. Minnesota has one fewer loss than San Antonio in the Midwest but the Spurs have two more home games than the T’wolves.

Next week we shall preview the opening round of the playoffs, which are best of seven games.

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

Blazers at Spurs (Fri): San Antonio is in the better scheduling situation as Portland plays in Denver on Saturday. The Spurs won both earlier meetings this season by healthy margins in a pair of high scoring games. Both were played in December and much has changed since then. With so much as stake for both teams look for this game to be a defensive struggle with points not coming easily. UNDER.

Hornets at Bucks (Sat): Milwaukee has been a surprise team all season. After a mid-season slump the Bucks have played better in recent weeks. New Orleans has struggled for the better part of the last two months following their fast start to the season. New Orleans took the first two meetings before the Bucks finally got a win. Both teams have played much better at home. The host is well rested while the Hornets just played in Boston on Friday night. MILWAUKEE.

Lakers at Kings (Sun): The winner is likely to have the top overall seed in the West with the loser falling perhaps to fourth. After losing the first two meetings of the season the Lakers sent a strong message to the Kings with a solid 24-point home victory two weeks ago. The win was in the midst of an 11 game Lakers winning streak that did come mostly at home and against weaker teams. When healthy, Los Angeles is still the team to beat. The Kings have struggled over the past few weeks. The phrase "statement game" is often overused but it clearly applies to this game for the host. SACRAMENTO.

Last week: 0-3

Season: 40-26.