Assessing the playoff picture (cont.)
Los Angeles Lakers
Best case: Andrew Bynum looks like he hasn't missed a beat, scoring double figures in three consecutive games since returning from a knee injury. Bynum stands as the only question mark in a loaded lineup. The Lakers can use the final two regular-season games to work on his timing (he maxed out at seven rebounds last week) and chemistry with the first unit.
Worst case: Other than a potential injury, the Lakers don't have too many concerns.
Best case: Denver is one of the few teams in the West that doesn't turn into the Washington Generals when playing a top contender on the road. Nevertheless, the Nuggets would much prefer playing the majority of their playoff games at home, where they are 32-8 this season. That means winning their last two games, against visiting Sacramento on Monday and at Portland on Wednesday.
Worst case: Getting Kenyon Martin ready for the playoffs may take a lot of duct tape and Krazy Glue. Martin has missed four straight games with sore ribs, another in a long line of injuries for the veteran power forward. Denver has no chance of competing with the Lakers without Martin's presence in the lineup.
San Antonio Spurs
Best case: Ordinarily, no coach cares less about seeding than Gregg Popovich, who ignores the standings and makes his players' health his primary concern. But with Manu Ginobili sidelined for the playoffs and Tim Duncan's knees hurting, the Spurs need as much home-court advantage as they can get. That makes beating Golden State and New Orleans in their final two games -- and hoping for help from Denver, Houston and Portland -- a priority.
Worst case: Falling to the No. 5 spot would mean opening the playoffs on the road and likely facing the Lakers in the second round if the Spurs get that far.
Best case: Since Tracy McGrady went down, Houston has used a committee approach to its crunch-time scoring, with Ron Artest, Aaron Brooks and Yao Ming all taking turns. Artest, who has the size and strength to create his own shot in traffic, is the most likely candidate to have the ball in his hands late in playoff games. A little practice before the second season starts wouldn't hurt.
Worst case: The Rockets probably would prefer avoiding a first-round matchup with Utah, which has eliminated them in each of the last two postseasons.
Portland Trail Blazers
Best case: Few teams are playing with more confidence than Portland, which beat the host Spurs and visiting Lakers in back-to-back games last week and extended its winning streak to four with Saturday's victory against the Clippers. The Blazers, who are 32-7 at the Rose Garden, close the season with home games against Oklahoma City and Denver. A six-game winning streak going into the playoffs would certainly help a young team that is lacking postseason experience.
Worst case: Earning home-court advantage in at least the first round is important. As good as Portland has been at home, it has struggled to beat quality teams on the road.
New Orleans Hornets
Best case: The Hornets have been reasonably successful on the road (21-18), so missing out on home-court advantage isn't as crippling for them as for other teams. Their first-round opponent is less important than the status of Tyson Chandler, who has missed the last 14 games with an ankle injury. New Orleans is hoping its starting center will return for Wednesday's season finale at San Antonio.
Worst case: It's all about Chandler. If he can't go in the playoffs, the Hornets will be without the linchpin of their defense and Chris Paul's favorite pick-and-roll partner.
Best case: Dallas is 3-0 this season against Portland, a potential first-round opponent. The Mavs, however, have been less successful against Denver (0-4), San Antonio (2-2) and Houston (1-2, with the last meeting Wednesday).
Worst case: Nobody wants a piece of the Lakers in the first round. Dallas has put itself in position to dodge that matchup; now it must hold off Utah.
Best case: The best-case scenario for the Jazz is already out the window, thanks to an April swoon that cost them any shot at home-court advantage. A pushover on the road against the West's elite, Utah can at least build a little momentum by defeating the Lakers in Los Angeles on Tuesday.
Worst case: Utah could head into the playoffs playing poorly and be forced to deal with the Lakers in the first round.
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