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NBA Eastern Conference Bubble Teams

   by Bryan Leonard - 04/01/2008

As we wind down the NBA regular season, just like college basketball, we find several teams fighting for their postseason lives. Atlanta is battling New Jersey, Philadelphia and Indiana for the final playoff spot in the East. The Hawks rely on their veteran backcourt for points. Joe Johnson and Mike Bibby delivered, combining for 41 points in the Hawks' 114-109 win over New York Sunday to keep their postseason hopes alive.

They did so much more than that, though, sparking a ball sharing party that resulted in the Hawks piling up 32 assists! But can this team play defense at crunch time? The Hawks had no energy when it came to guarding Knicks guard Jamal Crawford, who was 14-for-25 from the floor and a sizzling 7-for-10 from beyond the 3-point line. The Hawks are on a 7-2 run over the total.

"You can definitely tell this team is playing for a playoff spot," Crawford said. "You can feel the energy in the building from their fans." Atlanta has a tough back-to-back situation at the end of this week, hosting the 76ers Friday then playing at Philly Saturday.

The Nets start a stretch on Friday where they play 6 of 8 games on the road, not a good thing for a team on the playoff bubble. And look where they have to play: at Detroit, at Cleveland, at Toronto and at Boston. Yikes! They have six playoff teams remaining on their schedule.

If the Nets can put together their best stretch of the year, beat Cleveland in Clevland and Boston in Boston and go 6-2, the Hawks would still have to go 4-5, and the Pacers no better than 7-2. So New Jersey is teetering on the edge of the playoffs or lotteryland, and it’s closer to lotteryland.

They also haven’t been playing much defense, on a 7-3 run over the total. The Nets have yielded 110 points or more in eight of their last 10 games, which negates much of what is right with the team. They have become incapable of sustaining a defensive effort, particularly in the fourth quarters, which has wasted a very strong stretch of games by Vince Carter and Devin Harris. "Yeah, well, we just got to keep working," Harris said. "We got some more chances. We got, what, eight games left? We got to make the most of those nine games and see what happens." New Jersey is also 12-24 SU, 15-21 ATS on the road and 14-31 SU, 18-26 ATS as a dog.

Indiana is short on defense and talent, but they’ve been playing hard, on a 5-2 SU/ATS run. Even better news is that Jermaine O'Neal returns to the Indiana Pacers' lineup this week, at the start of a nine-game sprint to the season's finish line. He is making his first appearance since he played nine scoreless minutes against Golden State on Jan. 16. He has spent the past 21/2 months resting and rehabbing the left knee that was surgically repaired following last season. After two weeks of practice, he's ready to jump back in and see what he can contribute to a playoff run.

The Pacers are allowing 106.1 points per game, most since the 1992-93 season, and 21-13 over the total at home. "I haven't lost my defensive rhythm," he said. "Offensively it's going to take me a couple of games to get myself together, but we don't need me as much offensively now. If we play better defensively we can get in. I think I'll fit right in." Defense is what they need right now. After playing at Boston Wednesday, the Pacers have a pair of winnable games against defenseless Milwaukee.

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