I took the weekend and an extra day off to let the standings develop a little more and as a result it looks a lot clearer who is still in the race. At 36-39, I’m ready to eliminate Utah, for whom it would take the most miraculous of circumstances to pull through for a playoff spot. At 36-36, Phoenix looks all but eliminated as well, but I’ll leave them in the list until they cross the suggested threshold of 45-37 for the 8th seed.
Over the last few days we’ve seen a lot of the playoff teams in action. Houston lost its game at Miami but came very close to pulling off an upset. That occasion, of course, was completely ignored by the national media who instead decided to pour accolades all over the big-3’s impressive achievement of each of them recording 30-10 nights. The fact that the Rockets lost by just 6 points and were in the game going into the last couple of minutes was somehow lost in all the hoopla.
New Orleans lost David West but has so far coped well, with Carl Landry stepping in nicely into his place. The Hornets were not able to take care of the Lakers but they were able to squeeze past the Suns with a late push (that, in my opinion, eliminated the Suns from that last playoff spot). The Grizzlies have been on a freaking tear and seem like they’ll be impossible to catch down the stretch. They’ve won all the games they need to and also some that they don’t need to. They’re still a game behind the Hornets, but with one of the easiest remaining schedules in the NBA, they should be able to pull through to a 7th seed.
Finally, the Spurs have looked a little vulnerable. After losing Tim Duncan for a few weeks, the Spurs also listed Manu Ginobili day-to-day and gave Tony Parker and Antonio McDyess a night off yesterday against the Trailblazers. The Blazers, who were playing the Spurs twice in 3 games, ended up winning both and quite possibly the season series as well. The Spurs are in the middle of a 3-game skid (all three while missing Tim Duncan). While they have no reason to panic, I think they’re finding out how Duncan’s loss in the post closes off their three point game considerably.
1. San Antonio Spurs
2. Los Angeles Lakers
3. Dallas Mavericks
4. Oklahoma City Thunder
— already qualified —
5. Denver Nuggets
6. Portland Trailblazers
— probably qualified —
7. New Orleans Hornets (+1)
8. Memphis Grizzlies (+1)
9. Houston Rockets (+2.5)
10. Phoenix Suns (+1.5)
There are a only two games of interest tonight.
Houston Rockets (38-35) @ New Jersey Nets (23-49)
There is not much to say about this game except that it is a must-win (as will be the case with almost every game down the stretch). A loss here will almost absolutely eliminate us from the playoff race. A victory here won’t be anywhere near guaranteeing a playoff berth. So there’s everything to play for, for Houston, as we continue our final Eastern Conference road trip. This is the first game of a back-to-back and we need both games.
Phoenix Suns (36-36) @ Sacramento Kings (20-52)
Phoenix are in a similar situation to us in that a loss to a team like Sacramento will all but end their postseason hopes. The Suns do have one of the tougher remaining schedules of the teams competing for the last playoff spot, given that they are playing OKC, San Antonio twice, Chicago and Dallas in their last 10 games.
LeBron James returns to Cleveland for the second time this season. Watch out for angry fans and much hoopla about nothing. Last time the Heat visited Cleveland, LeBron dropped 38 on them and began a suicidal skid where I think the Cavs lost like 21 of 22 games and the Heat went on a similar positive run. Miami has already won the season series, leading 3-0, but we can always hope that LeBron trips over a Dwyane Wade who is feigning injury and twists his ankle as he barges into Chris Bosh’s nose, breaking it.