With the season winding down next Wednesday, let's take a look at what's at stake for certain team in their remaining games. We'll start with the East:
First of all, the race for the 8th spot is not over yet. Chicago, Detroit, and Charlotte all have 4 games remaining, fighting for 2 spots, with Chicago and Detroit sharing a 3 game cushion. However, Chicago needs to play Philly, Charlotte and @Detroit. I personally would love to see the Bobcats make the playoffs, a) b/c I like Larry Brown and b) the Bobcats? seriously?!? They've secretly turned into one of the pleasant surprises of this season (along with OK City, Portland, and Ms. Marko Jaric). Alas, it won't really matter who lands the 8 spot, b/c they'll be going up against the King in the 1st round. So, let's focus on the top seeds:
Cleveland: The Cavs have the East's top spot all but wrapped up, but more importantly they hold a one game edge over the Lakers for the best record in the league. With their 38-1 record at home this year; it would be nice to be hosting any potential Game 7s in the finals. Look for them to win their next three games (including a statement game at home against Boston) before winding things down vs. the 6ers.
Boston/Orlando: It's funny, last year all the talkingheads were saying that Boston is 'one year away from being champions/they need one more year to gel'. Well that year is here. Granted, they won last year and it's supposedly always more difficult to repeat (even though my intramural team had no trouble doing so in college, booyah), but the Celts have hardly looked like the team destined to repeat. After starting 27-2, they've gone 32-17. They've been battling injuries, sure, but so has almost every other major team this year. The Magic have surprised everyone by being this good, especially when you factor in the Jameer Nelson injury (they lost their point guard in the middle of the season!!). With the teams splitting the season series, that home court advantage would prove extra important. Boston struggled mightily on the road last playoffs, and the Magic are still a young team, that would greatly benefit from being at home. Boston has the one game lead, but they also face the tougher schedule and have a greater need to rest older bodies.
Atlanta/Miami: I'll break down matchups in next Friday's NBA column, but it looks safe to say that Atlanta will be hosting this 4/5 battle. While Philly is only half a game back from Miami, they still need to play Cleveland twice and Boston once.
Eastern wrap up: The 7/8/9 teams will be battling for two spots this week with Charlotte the long-shot, but definitely still alive. The Cavs, Celts, and Magic will be playing all out all the way through the season in hopes of securing home court advantage in either the 2nd round or finals. And the 4/5/6 teams can't really do much to control their playoff matchups. So that concludes our Eastern conference picture. Let's go to a commercial break.
(Racial Commentary: White guys often lament about the fact that they can't dress as cool as black guys, or at least that they can't pull off the same kind of style that most black guys can pull off. But I've got to say that typical white-dude clothing passes through time a lot more easily. Larry probably wears the same clothes today that he did in that McD's ad, but I doubt Jordan is still wearing that technicolor carwreck when he hits the gym at Caesar's in LV)
Lakers: The Lakers are one game back of the Cavs for the best record in the league and guaranteed homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs. The Lakers have the added benefit knowing that if they fall two games back of the Cavs, they can just coast through their final couple games and rest up for round one. Obviously, Coach Jackson will be looking to get Bynum some reps with the A-team, but unless the Cavs give up a game, the Black Mamba can look forward to a restful last week.
Nuggets: I am very surprised to see them here this late in the season. They were the whipping boy of the West's round 1 for the last few years and I didn't see that changing any time soon. Chauncey's leadership and not-as-washed-upness have apparently catapulted this team into legitimacy. But even though they are playing great basketball right now, I wouldn't be surprised to see them as underdogs in the first round. They've owned Dallas this year, going 4-0, but they split against the Jazz and it's possible they could wind up playing CP3 (against whom they went 1-3!). I'd be shocked to see them come out of the West, but at the rate they are playing, they seem like a solid #2 seed.
San Antonio/Houston/Portland/New Orleans: One of these teams could sneak into a #2 seed, or fall into a #7, but it looks as if these four will be playing each other in some combination in round one. Obviously the Spurs are dealing with the Ginobli news still, but this is the most experienced team in the league and I don't think they are afraid about playing on the road through the playoffs. I'd look for them to get solid first half reps, but ultimately rest up and keep the cards close to their chest. Houston needs home court in the first round. They are 32-8 at home versus 18-20 on the road and they aren't known for their playoff prowess anyways. This team has reminded me of a JV Spurs the last few years. Well rounded, fundamental basketball; Adelman is an ok coach, and if they can get out of the first round and over that mental barrier, I could see this team building momentum. Portland is young, VERY young, and their home/away record is similar to the Rockets. Look for the Blazers to treat every game from here on out like a playoff game in an effort to secure home court. With CP3 at the point, the Hornets can win in any situation, so look for them to rest up.
Jazz/Mavs: Don't forget that whatever team ends up in the 7 spot, will be able to make a little bit of a run. After watching the Jazz last year, it's not wise to just write them off. After watching the Mavs this year, it's wise to just write them off. Technically they are still alive for the 6 seed, but CP3 and the Hornets should take care of this team that choked away its chance at a championship a few years ago and have reeled and disappointed since.
Let's review the West: Portland and Houston are playing hard for position, and the Lakers will keep an eye on the prospect of home court, but with all the playoffs spots secured and an evenly matched conference, don't look for too much craziness in the final West week. One more commercial before final thoughts:
(Physics Commentary: Did Magic really made that shot with the quarter? Are you positive? And more importantly: Holy crap, soda machines used to cost only a quarter. I would drink a billion sodas a day if they were that cheap. And once the Fed starts printing the gagillions needed to service our almost sure to default debt, Magic will need to find a way to shoot a $10 bill into a machine to impress some kids on the Venice boardwalk. And even more importantly: what the heck ever happened to Slice? Even though my mom never let me drink it, I loved that orange deliciousness.)
Ok, so today's NBA column was a little dry. Hypothetically looking at an uneventful last week will tend to do that, but next week I'll be back with some awards for the 08/09 season that are hopefully modestly original and also match up breakdowns of the first round games. I'll also share thoughts on Vegas bets that will be on the boards.
Enjoy following the Masters. I'll be live blogging some of it.