Jockeying for position
Some high-stakes finales will affect playoff seedings
Posted: Wednesday April 18, 2007 11:02AM; Updated: Wednesday April 18, 2007 11:02AM
The 2006-07 regular season ends Wednesday night, and there is plenty at stake. The Warriors and Clippers are battling it out for one playoff spot in the West. The Bulls and Cavs are fighting for the all-important No. 2 seed in the East. And there are two playoff previews (Spurs-Nuggets, Rockets-Jazz) just for good measure.
Here's a look at some of the key games on the slate:
Bulls at Nets, ESPN, 7:30 p.m. EST
Both teams have a lot to play for in this contest. The Bulls need a victory (or a Cavs loss against the Bucks) to secure the East's second spot. The Nets don't want to give Chicago any more confidence heading into a likely first-round playoff showdown.
The battle for the No. 2 seed between Central Division rivals Chicago and Cleveland is crucial. Because of the NBA's quirky playoff seeding system, which guarantees an automatic top-four seed for the division winners, the loser drops all the way to the No. 5 spot. That means the winner not only gets to open against either New Jersey, Washington or Orlando, but it also avoids top-seeded Detroit until the conference finals.
The loser? It gets an opening-round date with the defending champion Heat, followed by a likely matchup with the Pistons in the second round. Ouch.
As for the Nets, they can still get the No. 6 seed with a victory and a Wizards loss at Indiana. It would enable them to avoid the Bulls in the first round and open against the more inexperienced and less defensive-oriented Raptors instead. Then again, the way Toronto has been playing of late, New Jersey might prefer to take its chances with a Chicago club that it has defeated in two of three previous meetings this season.
Warriors at Blazers, 10 p.m.
Golden State can end a 12-year playoff drought -- longest in the NBA -- with a win at Portland. The Warriors are one game ahead of the Clippers, but L.A. owns the tiebreaker. If Golden State loses, therefore, it can only get in if the Clippers also lose at home to the Hornets.
The good news for the Warriors is that the Blazers are one of the worst teams in the league. They also are minus several injured regulars, including Zach Randolph, Brandon Roy, Joel Przybilla and LaMarcus Aldridge. Golden State should be able to get the job done without much trouble, even on the road.
Lakers at Kings, 10 p.m.
The Lakers are already in the playoffs, but need a victory at Sacramento to assure the No. 7 seed and a first-round matchup with the Suns. If they lose, and Golden State wins at Portland, the Lakers would drop to No. 8 and get a first-round pairing with the Mavs. While a Lakers loss and Clippers victory would give the two L.A. teams identical 41-41 records, the Lakers would own the tiebreaker by virtue of a better division record.
Heat at Magic, 7 p.m.
The Magic are already in the playoffs, but they could move up to the No. 7 seed in the East with a victory over Miami combined with a Washington loss to Indiana. The Magic would no doubt rather face the Bulls or Cavs (which they would get to do as a seventh seed) than the Pistons (their opponent if they finish eighth). Orlando is 2-1 this season against both Chicago and Cleveland, but 0-4 against Detroit.
Nuggets at Spurs, 8 p.m.
Although these two games feature first-round playoff matchups, don't look for much insight to come out Wednesday night. With all four teams locked into position, they will want to stay healthy and not give away too many secrets. It probably means a short night for most of the starters.