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NBA Stretch Drive Notes

   by Al McMordie - 04/08/2007


With the playoffs just around the corner, some teams are getting themselves ready for the real season, while others have already packed it in. San Antonio is quietly getting its playoff defense in line. Notice the Spurs are on an impressive 9-1 SU, 7-3 ATS run. San Antonio's stellar defense sent a message to rival Phoenix last week, holding the Suns to just 85 points! Their bench is helping to lead the run, too.

With a victory over the Golden State Warriors, Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said that with only six regular-season games remaining he has given up on the notion of returning to the starting lineup before the playoffs begin. Ginobili had another energizing performance off the bench. He scored 25 points and had seven rebounds, seven assists and two steals in the Spurs' 112-99 victory. He has come off the bench in 35 games after starting 39. Most important, he's been off the bench lately while the Spurs are on a 9-1 run. Teams want to be healthy and peaking at this time of the season.

Which brings me to Miami. Dwyane Wade is expected to return to the lineup soon, likely as 6th man. Wade's return will come at a crucial time for the Heat. It is a game behind Toronto for the third seed in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, with home-court advantage at stake. Probably more important than Miami's chances of repeating as champs is the health risk to their young star. A patient in Wade's age group who dislocates his shoulder and does not have surgery is 75 percent more likely to dislocate the shoulder again. At least we know Miami's defense is ready for the playoffs: They are 10-4 under the total the last 14 games, and one game only went over because of overtime against Cleveland.

A chief competitor to Miami and Detroit in the East is going to be Chicago. The Bulls will likely be the second seed in the Eastern Conference. Hard to believe this team started the season 3-9 (of course, Dallas started 0-4). The biggest difference between the Bulls now and the inconsistent bunch from two months ago is the improvement of rookie Tyrus Thomas.

Over the last couple of weeks, Thomas has taken a major step up. He is playing better defense, is rebounding on both ends and has learned how to use his explosiveness to score. The other major reason for the Bulls' improvement is more consistent play from guard Kirk Hinrich. He has done a better job of avoiding foolish early fouls and is more aggressive offensively. His scoring average had risen to 16.7 points and is shooting 41.1 percent from three-point range. After struggling on the road all season, Chicago is 6-1 SU, 5-2 ATS its last 7 away from the United Center.

A team out West to watch is Houston -- namely, are they healthy or not? Stars Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady missed a loss to Portland over the weekend because of back problems. They've been inconsistent, as well. In an 86-83 defeat to Utah the Rockets were outscored 9-2 in the final two minutes. Against Golden State, Yao was limited to four field-goal attempts. Even more distressing to coach Jeff Van Gundy is the Rockets' poor play came when Houston was so close to the No. 4 seed in the West.

"I don't know why, but they don't get the importance of the home-court advantage," Van Gundy said. "They just don't get it. Watch what we're doing right now. That's telling you that we don't get it." Think he’s a tad mad? The one bright spot: guard Bonzi Wells logged just over 22 minutes in Friday's loss to Portland, his first playing time since Feb. 28. Perhaps adding a key veteran can get them more focused, but they'd better hurry as time is running out on the NBA regular season! Good luck, as always, Al McMordie.

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