NBA teams are down to their final dozen or so games in the regular season. It’s now or never for that final playoff push, whether it’s for seeding or staying in/ getting in.
The Celtics and Bulls each earned their 50th win of the season last night and they remain tied a top the Eastern Conference. The C’s lead the season series with Chicago 2-1, but they play an all important fourth game on Thursday, April 7th in Chi Town. If the Bulls (who just got Carlos Boozer back after missing 5 games) beat the Celtics in a couple weeks, and they finish with the same overall record, since they are both division leaders, the tie breaker then becomes conference record.
The way things are going it could very easily come down to one of those tiebreakers, meaning that April 7th game becomes extremely important. A win there might be the difference between facing the Pacers/Bobcats in the 1st round or the Knicks/76ers.
What about the Heat? Miami bounced back from their 5 game losing streak by winning 5 of their next 6 and find themselves 2.5 games back of the Celtics and Bulls. I am not ready to rule them out yet at making a run for the top spot, only because 9 of their final 12 games come against non-playoff teams. Their three toughest games are home to the 6ers and Celtics and at the Hawks.
Speaking of the Hawks they seem to be locked in to a 1st round series in Orlando. These two teams have been matched up seemingly all season making up Tier 2 in the East all by themselves. I like the Magic in this series, one which will be highlighted by the two best centers in the conference, Dwight Howard and Al Horford, going at each other. It would surprise me if either team advanced past the 2nd round.
6-7-8… right now it’s the 76ers, Knicks, Pacers. Philly is a full game up on New York, who by the way dropped to just 7-9 with Carmelo Anthony after their tough loss to the Celtics at MSG last night. Two of those losses game at the hands of the Indiana Pacers. They will try and hold off the Bucks and Bobcats (2 game lead over both) for the 8th and final spot in the East.
Most years I would say that if a team is below .500 and has no shot at even an upset in the 1st round of the playoffs, they should just conveniently lose a few to land in the lottery. But not this year, and not this team. Because the Draft appears to be quite weak, I think the playoff experience is far more valuable for a young team with guys like Paul George, Darren Collison, Tyler Hansbrough, Josh McRoberts, and Brandon Rush all of whom have never played in a playoff game. Even Danny Granger has only played 6 post season games. Toss in new coach Frank Vogel and getting swept by Boston or Chicago would actually be better for this team than a pick 4-5 higher in this year’s draft.
The fact that it is a weak draft, which is being highlighted by the weak NCAA tournament, it makes it impossible to find a silver lining for the Cleveland Cavaliers. They could get the 1st pick in the draft, but a LeBron, Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose, Blake Griffin will not be waiting for them. That’s a shame…
In the West, despite Tim Duncan getting banged up, I fully expect the San Antonio Spurs to hold on to their 7 game lead over the Lakers for the 1 seed. LA and Dallas are only separated by 1 game, which will be an important race as these two are likely to see each other in the 2nd round and a potential Game 7 could be in LA or Dallas.
The 4-5 match up is looking like it will be Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Kendrick Perkins, and the Oklahoma City Thunder against the new look and energized Denver Nuggets. I already mentioned New York being 7-9 with Carmelo, how about Denver being 10-4 without Carmelo. I didn’t see that coming. The Nuggets are a dangerous team and the Thunder could be in trouble in Round 1.
6-11 in the West is separated by just 4.5 games. Right now the Trail Blazers, Hornets, and Grizzlies are in while the Rockets, Suns, and Jazz are out. Memphis does have a 2 game advantage over Houston. I think the teams that are in right now, stay in, although their seeds may change.
One major difference between the top 4 in the West compared to 5-8 is their road records. The Spurs, Lakers, Mavs, and Thunder can still win big games on the road, while those other teams like Nuggets, Blazers, Hornets, and Grizz (younger teams) will have a real difficult time pulling an upset in a 7 game series where they only get 3 of them in their own building.
I can not wait for the NBA playoffs next month. Out of the eight 1st round match ups, seven of them will be must see, and it could be all eight if it’s the Celtics hosting the Pacers/Bucks/Bobcats. Let’s hope that it is, because clearly it’s the easiest road back to the finals. Pacers-Magic-Bulls? or Knicks-Heat-Bulls? Yeah, me too.
You can follow Rich Keefe on twitter: @Keefe21