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Tuesday, April 11

   by Larry Ness - 04/11/2006

Three games, all decided by just two points, had some significant impact on the Western Conference playoff picture last night.The Cavs edged the Hornets 103-101 on LeBron's game-winner with 0.5 seconds remaining in Oklahoma City. The Jazz held off the Rockets 85-83 in Salt Lake City and the Mavericks nipped the Clippers in the Staples Center 75-73, on Nowitzki's basket with 0.7 seconds left in regulation.

My free play for Tuesday is on the SA Spurs over the Sea Sonics at 8:35 ET. Coming off a heart-breaking last-second loss last night on the Hornets, I'm looking to bounce back with a 15* Playoff Race game in the NBA (11-5 69% run since Mar 28!). No need for bouncing back in Tuesday's MLB, as I'm off a perfect 2-0 Monday. Get my 15* "Best of the Best" play on an afternoon game plus my latest Technical Insider, where I combine my fundamental handicapping style with some oustanding team and pitching trends!

The Hornets' loss pretty much eliminates them from playoff contention as they now trail the Lakers and Kings by 3 1/2 games with just five games remaining. While the Jazz won, they are not in much better shape, trailing LA and Sacramento by 2 1/2 games. The Dallas win moves the Mavs within a half-game of the Spurs at the top on the Western Conference while the loss drops the Clippers (44-33) into a tie with the Grizzlies (also 44-33) for the West's fifth playoff spot.

Denver's 110-98 win in Portland last night clinched the Northwest Division title for the Nuggets. It marks the club's first division crown since the Nuggets won the Midwest Division back in 1987-88. Denver is just 44-34 on the year, a winning percentage of only .564, making them the only division leader this season not winning at least 60 percent of their games.

The 76ers got a much needed win at home last night over the Wizards, winning 105-97. The Pacers beat the Knicks in Indiana 101-82 and the Magic kept their slim playoff hopes alive by winning their ninth game in their last 10 tries, 105-88 over the Hawks. While the top-half of the East's playoff picture is fairly clear, the race for the final four spots is muddled.

Washington has now lost three straight games but is still holding on to the fifth spot by two games at 39-38. The Bucks (idle last night) and Pacers are next, both tied with records of 37-40. Philly's win last night moves them a half-game ahead of the Bulls for the eighth and final playoff spot. The Magic, who now own a 10-game home winning streak, are three games back of the 76ers with just five games left.

All six of Tuesday night's games offer some sort of playoff implications, even the games involving the Raptors and Warriors, who both enter on eight-game losing streaks, the longest active losing streaks of any team. The Raptors are in Miami at 7:35 ET and the Heat, who owned an eight-game lead over the Nets for the East's second-best record back on Mar 8, now find themselves just 2 1/2 games up on the Nets for that coveted second spot.

Since Mar 8, the Heat are just 10-7 while the Nets have gone 15-1. The Heat are favored by 11 points over the struggling Raptors (205 1/2) while the red-hot Nets are in Chicago to the face the Bulls at 8:35 ET. The Nets are favored by one point over the Bulls (182), who trail the 76ers by a half-game for the East's final playoff spot.

The remaining four games tonight all involve Western Conference teams. The aforementioned Warriors are in LA to take on the Lakers at 10:35 ET. LA opened its final five-game stretch of the season (all games are at home) by beating the Clippers Sunday night, 100-83. They are tied with the Kings at 41-37 but Sacramento owns the better division record. The Lakers have won seven of their last 10 games and have beaten the Warriors 21 of the last 23 times in LA. The Lakers are favored by nine points (198).

The Kings host the Suns at 10:05 ET and not only is Sacramento 13-2 SU and 11-3-1 ATS at home with Artest but the Suns have said that they plan on using Steve Nash for just limited minutes down the stretch. Phoenix is just 8-9 SU and 6-11 ATS since its season-high 11-game winning streak ended back on March 9!. Sacramento is favored by 5 1/2 points with a total of 216.

Minnesota will likely play again without Garnett and Davis, meaning the team will most likely lose its 14th straight road game tonight in Memphis against the Grizzlies. The T-wolves are an abysmal 3-26 on the road their last 29, while the Grizz have won nine of their last 10 at home. A win by Memphis, moves them a half-game ahead of the Clippers for the West's fifth-seed. Memphis is favored by 13 1/2 points (172 1/2).

The Spurs will host the Sonics at 8:35 ET and are favored by 10 points (200). The Sonics come in having won and covered four straight games. The last time these teams met (Mar 26 in Seattle), the Sonics won 106-102. However, the Spurs have won 10 of the last 13 meetings between the two teams and 13 of the last 16 played in San Antonio. The Spurs are 32-6 at home this year but just 18-20 ATS. A San Antonio win moves them a full game ahead of Dallas, while a loss drops them into a tie!

In yesterday's NL, the Pirates lost their home opener to the Dodgers 8-3, dropping the Pirates to 1-7 on the season, the team's worst start since opening 1-7 in 1974. The Cards opened the new Busch Stadium with a 6-4 win over the Brewers, as Mark Mulder not only pitched well but also hit his first career HR. The Braves won their home opener 5-3 over the Phillies, dropping Philadelphia to 1-6. Atlanta starter John Thomson went five innings while allowing just one ER. Atlanta starters had opened the year by posting an ERA of 10.09 through their first seven games!

In the AL, the White Sox beat the Tigers 5-3, Detroit's second straight loss after opening 5-0. The only White Sox player to have homered in 2006 entering the game was the newly acquired Jim Thome. While Thome did hit his fourth of the year, the better news for the defending champs was the fact that Crede had two HRs and Konerko had his first of the year.

Tampa Bay had just the franchise's fourth home sellout in nine years for its 2006 home opener against the Orioles last night, but the Devil Rays lost 6-3. It marked Erik Bedard's second win over Tampa Bay in six days. The Angels beat the Rangers last night 5-2, as Texas dropped to 2-6. Tuesday's MLB schedule features 12 games with five starting in the afternoon.

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

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