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Thursday, Mar 30

   by Larry Ness - 03/30/2006

The last time the Cavs made the playoffs, LeBron was in the seventh grade! James scored 46 points last night in leading Cleveland to a 107-94 win over the Mavs, clinching Cleveland's first playoff berth since 1998! It ends the league's third-longest active playoff drought (the Clipps will end theirs this year too, while the Warriors won't!).

The loss drops the Mavs to 54-18, 1 1/2-games behind the Spurs. Amazingly, Dallas lost back-to-back games for just the first time under head coach Avery Johnson, who took over in March of 2005!

With today's very light schedule, I have no free play. I won my first-ever Triple 15* NBA report last night and will likely have an NBA play for Thursday by 1:00 ET. In the NIT title game, I'm releasing just my second 22* play of the CBB postseason tourneys (NCAA or NIT). My first was a winner, part of my current 9-1 90% ATS run since last Thursday. Don't miss my final 22* of the CBB season!

New Jersey extended the NBA's longest active winning streak last night by winning their 10th straight game, 86-74. The Nets beat the Grizzlies at their own game. The Grizzlies entered the game with the league's second-best defense but NJ held Memphis to just 74 points. NJ is now 8-1-1 ATS in its winning streak (seven wins by double digits) and has held nine of its 10 'victims' to under 90 points. Memphis falls one game back of the Clippers in the race for the West's fifth seed.

Miami played without Shaq in Toronto but overcame a 16-point halftime deficit to beat the Raptors, 98-94. Miami has now won 18 of its last 21 but still trails the Pistons by nine games in the East. Detroit, owners of the NBA's best record at 57-14, won at Philly 101-91. The 76ers lost their 10th game in their last 12. Philly now leads the Bulls by just 1 1/2 games for the last playoff spot in the East.

Incredibly, the Pacers lost to the Hawks last night for the fourth time this year, 94-93. Atlanta had entered the game losers of nine of 10 and 11 of 13 but the win gives them a sweep of the season series with the Pacers for the first time since 1984-85. Those four losses this year to the Hawks will come back to haunt the Pacers (7th), as they now trail the Bucks (6th) by a half-game and the Wizards (5th) by two games in the East's playoff race.

Over in the West, all three teams battling at the bottom of the playoff picture won road games. The Jazz won in Denver 115-104, the Kings in Portland 106-90 and the Hornets in Oakland 86-85. The Hornets win was the most surprising as it marked just their second win in their last 14 games. The Kings currently hold the West's final playoff, with the Jazz 1 1/2 games back and the Hornets two games back.

Tonight the NBA has just two games scheduled, Phoenix at Indiana (8:05 ET) and San Antonio at the Lakers (10:35 ET). Both are being covered by TNT. The Suns are favored by 3 1/2 points (205 1/2) and the Spurs are favored by 4 1/2 points (193 1/2).

At Indiana, the Pacers will retire Reggie Miller's No. 31, honoring the man who played all 18 of his NBA seasons with the Pacers. Miller is the league's all-time leader in 3-point FGs and is No. 12 all-time in scoring. This current edition of the Pacers enter with a 35-35 record, fighting desperately for playoff positioning with the Wizards and Bucks in the East (see above). Phoenix has followed an 11-game winning streak by going just 6-5 in its last 11 games, including consecutive losses at NJ on Monday (110-72) and Milwaukee on Tuesday (132-110)!

Thanks to Dallas losing at Detroit and Cleveland the last two nights, the Spurs lead over the Mavericks is up to 1 1/2 games (two in the loss column!). The Spurs lost at home to the Lakers back on March 10 but have won four straight and six of the last seven meetings in LA. Parker (19.1) is expected back for SA tonight and Kobe (34.8) surely won't let back spasms allow him to miss this one. LA has won four straight entering this game but hasn't put together a five-game winning streak since 2004! How times have changed.

This year's NIT tournament is the first under the control of the NCAA, which purchased the rights to the preseason and postseason NITs in August as part of a settlement that ended a four-year legal fight between the two parties. Tonight's title game (ESPN2 at 7:00 ET) features a rare occurrence, as South Carolina is the NIT's defending champs, while Michigan won the title in 2004!

South Carolina head coach Dave Odom is 17-3 in NIT games, including titles with the Gamecocks last year and Wake Forest in 2000. Michigan's Tommy Amaker is 9-3 in NIT games as a head coach and Michigan is 7-1 all-time in NIT semifinal and final games. Michigan has won three NIT title in 23 years, although the school's 1997 title was vacated due to NCAA sanctions.

South Carolina enters this game having won eight of its last nine games (9-0 ATS), with that only loss coming to Florida in the SEC title game (49-47). Michigan blew an NCAA bid by finishing 2-7 SU and ATS down the stretch but has rebounded to win four straight in this tourney and takes a nine-game postseason winning streak into this contest.

It's been a great postseason this year for the SEC with both Florida and LSU in the NCAA Final Four and South Carolina in the NIT Final. As for the Big-10, supposedly the highest-rated conference according to the RPI, Michigan is its last chance. None of the six Big-10 teams that were invited to the Big Dance made it past the NCAA tournament's first weekend this year, for the first time since 1996. South Carolina is favored by three points with a total of 129.

Ness Notes is available by 1:00 ET Monday through Friday.

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