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The perfect fit? (cont.)

Posted: Monday April 9, 2007 1:10PM; Updated: Monday April 9, 2007 3:50PM
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3. How is the new seeding rule affecting the playoff races?

ANSWER: Remember last year when the West's best teams -- Dallas and San Antonio -- were forced to meet prematurely in the second round of the playoffs? The NBA was hoping to avoid another anticlimax this year by altering its seeding format. Last year the top three seeds automatically went to the three divisional champions, but now those teams are guaranteed no better than a top-four seed.

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It's having no effect in the West, where the divisional winners are currently seeded in line with the overall conference standings.

In the East, however, the seeding format continues to skew the overall rankings. If the conference were seeded strictly according to record, the top five teams (as of Monday) would be:

1. Detroit
2. Chicago
3. Cleveland
4. Toronto
5. Miami

But because Toronto and Miami are going to win their divisions, both must be seeded in the top four. Thus with 10 days remaining on the schedule the official standings are:

1. Detroit
2. Chicago
3. Toronto
4. Miami
5. Cleveland

If the season ended today, the Cavaliers would face an opening series against the Heat -- which means that one of the top draws in the East will be knocked out before its time.

Everyone in the East wants to avoid the defending champs. It's going to be hard to dislodge the Heat from their controlled tempo, which in turn allows them to play through Shaquille O'Neal in the post. Now that Dwyane Wade is back -- even if he's restricted to shooting jumpers -- the Heat will be all the more dangerous.

Both of the key playoff races in the East involve Miami. The Heat want to earn the No. 3 spot because it will ensure home court advantage in the first round against a week No. 6 seed. (If Miami remains No. 4, the Heat will also lose the home court advantage, which is awarded strictly by won-lost records.) From the No. 3 spot, Miami also could avoid Detroit until the conference finals.

The Heat face only one winning team on the remaining schedule: at Charlotte, a homestand against the weakened Wizards, Pacers and Celtics, and a finale at Orlando.

Toronto must travel to Minnesota and Detroit, with home games coming against the Pistons, Knicks and 76ers. The Raptors lost their tiebreaker by losing 92-89 at home to Miami last week.

The other key race involves Cleveland vs. Chicago for the No. 2 spot. The loser of that race will drop to No. 5 and risk an opening matchup with Miami, should the Heat fail to overtake Toronto. The Bulls and Cavs split their four-game series, but Chicago has clinched the divisional tiebreaker.

4. What is at stake in the West over the remaining 10 days?

ANSWER: The surging No. 6 Nuggets hold a half-game lead along with the tiebreaker over the No. 7 Lakers. Would the No. 2 Suns rather deal with the hot, up-tempo Nuggets, or Kobe Bryant, who took them to seven games last year?

The top-seeded Mavericks must be hoping that the No. 8 Clippers will hold off the Warriors, who trail by one game (they have also lost the tiebreaker) in pursuit of their first postseason in 13 years. As Mavs head coach, Avery Johnson is 0-3 at home against the Warriors -- and 76-8 at home against the rest of the league. The bottom seed has never upset No. 1 since the NBA went to its best-of-seven format, but Don Nelson would make things interesting against his former team.

5. Can O.J. Mayo be an NBA point guard?

A GM who watched Mayo go for 20 points, four assists and five turnovers Saturday during the Nike Hoop Summit in Memphis predicts that Mayo has the feel to eventually run an NBA team. Others aren't so sure.

"I prefer the traditional pass-first point guard,'' a league personnel director said. "But he's a tremendous talent and he'll receive excellent coaching next year [from USC's Tim Floyd, a former Bulls and Hornets coach].''

Mayo was surprisingly frank in his self-assessment. "Right now if I were in college or the NBA, I think I would be a marginal point guard,'' he said. "So all summer I'll watch a little Steve Nash and some old stuff -- old Tim Hardaway, I'll watch some John Stockton. I'll just try to take a little bit from everyone's game and hopefully I can do something a little bit different.''

Mayo intends to play point guard during his summer workouts, though he admits, "I'll shoot a lot too.'' He insists that he can improve his court leadership by studying video of the best point guards.

"I've really just got to do a lot of film work,'' he said. "I've got to fully understand it, to put the ball in the right spot at the right times in the right positions. Those are the little things I need to work on -- understanding when to take the shot and when not to, and putting players around you in positions to be better players.''

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