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Thursday, April 20

   by Larry Ness - 04/20/2006

The Bulls, Lakers, Pacers and Wizards all needed wins last night and all four won their games. Only the Pacers, who beat the Magic 89-83, didn't cover. Indiana did finish with wins in five of its final six games to finish 41-41 (and claim the sixth seed) but the Pacers also finished the year on a 2-11 ATS run. Conversely, the Bulls and Lakers finished strong, while the Wizards salvaged their season by winning their final three games.

I do not have a free play on Thursday but I am following my 10* NL Getaway Day Game of the Month winner on the Braves (2-1 over the Mets) with my 10* AL Getaway Day Game of the Month winner this afternoon. Tonight, it's my NL Game of the Month. NBA playoff selections will be available Friday afternoon.

The Bulls scored a season-high 127 points in their 21-point win over the Raptors, their 13th consecutive win over that team. Chicago closed the regular season on a six-game winning streak and won 12 of its final 14 games (11-3 ATS) to also finish at 41-41. The Bulls get the seventh seed and will face Miami in the first round, avoiding the Pistons, who have beaten them 12 consecutive times.

The Wizards had lost five straight games when Caron Butler returned to the lineup on Sunday. Butler averaged 25.3 PPG and 9.7 RPG (had 33-12 in last night's 96-80 win at Detroit) as Washington won its final three games against playoff teams Cleveland, Milwaukee and Detroit. Washington was able to secure the East's fifth seed with last night's win, giving them a first round matchup with the Cavs, a team they've beaten three of four times this year.

The Lakers routed the Hornets last night 115-95 (game wasn't that close!), giving them 11 wins over their final 14 games (10-3-1 ATS). The win secured the seventh seed for LA, which finished 45-37. This year's strong finish is in stark contrast to last year, when the team lost 19 of its final 21 games to miss the playoffs for just the second time in 30 years with a 34-48 mark.

Friday's column will preview the playoff matchups plus offer some playoff history but here's a few end of the season notes.

The Pacers and Spurs both qualified for their ninth consecutive playoff seasons, the longest active streaks in the league (the Kings have made eight straight appearances). The Clippers ended an eight-year playoff drought this season, while the Cavs ended a seven-year drought. The Warriors failed to qualify for the postseason for the 12th straight season, the longest active streak in the league (Hawks have missed seven straight postseasons).

The Philadelphia 76ers own the longest consecutive-year playoff streak, qualifying 22 straight times from 1949-50 (as the Syracuse Nationals) through 1970-71. More recently, the Trailblazers made 21 straight postseasons from 1982-83 through 2002-03 and the Jazz 20 straight, from 1983-84 through 2002-03. To prove how quickly things can change, the Blazers and Jazz have now missed three straight postseasons since their streaks ended!

The Warriors 12-year drought may be the longest active streak but they've got a few years to go before they catch the Clippers for playoff futility. The Clippers missed the postseason for 15 consecutive years beginning in 1976-77 and lasting through 1990-91, the longest playoff-less streak in NBA history.

Detroit's 64-18 record was the league's best and the Pistons' 64 wins are the most by any NBA team since the Lakers went 67-15 in 1999-2000. The Spurs 63-19 mark was the league's second-best and their 29-12 road record was a league-best. The Spurs were one of only five teams this year to post a winning record on the road. This is mentioned because in NBA playoff history, not a single team owns a winning record on the road.

In fact, just three franchise's own road winning percentages of better than. 400! The short list includes the Lakers (133-167 .443), the Celtics (97-135 .418) and the Spurs (48-68 .414). If you think this year's group of just five teams with winning records on the road is a small number, you're right (but not by much). It's the lowest number since 1990 but three seasons have seen just six teams post winning road records, most recently in 2004.

There were 10 teams that posted winning road records in 2001, the most of any season in NBA history. You may find it interesting that in the 1976-77 season, not a single team finished with a winning record on the road, for the only time in NBA history. The Philadelphia 76ers had the league's best road record that year at 18-23, a season in which the Bill Walton-led Portland Trailblazers won the title.

Walton's Blazers went 14-27 on the road that year, the worst regular season road mark of any champion in NBA history! However, they Blazers were able to go 4-4 on the playoff road, which went just fine with their perfect 8-0 home mark.

MLB notes

The Royals lost their 10th straight game on Wednesday, 4-0. They didn't get their first hit until there were two outs in the seventh and finished their three-game series with the White Sox by scoring just one run on 11 hits. The team's 2-12 start is the second-worst in franchise history. KC had a 19-game losing streak last year, so the Royals still have a way to go to match that streak.

The league's longest active winning streak is owned by the White Sox (10-5), who have now won five straight. The Red Sox (11-4), who won 9-1 over the Devils Rays, are the only other team with a winning streak of greater than two in a row. Boston's won four straight games, as Curt Schilling has now opened the 2006 season 4-0 with an ERA of 1.61 ERA. The Mets (10-4) and Astros (10-5) are the only other teams in MLB with double digit win totals to this point.

Both the AL and NL Central Divisions are unique in that each division has just one losing team. In the AL, only the Royals own a losing mark among the division's five teams while in the NL, the Pirates (5-12) are the lone losing team among that division's six teams. The NL East owns just one winning team (Mets), while the AL West doesn't have a winning team (Angels and A's are tied for first at 7-8).

If you were wondering why you had to lay more than two-to-one if you wanted to play Chris Carpenter and the Cardinals last night in Pittsburgh, consider this fact. After last night's 4-0 St Louis win, Carpenter is now 14-1 over his last 18 regular season road starts, with the Cards winning 15 of the 18 games!

Thursday's MLB schedule features nine games. ESPN2 will air the Tampa Bay/Boston game at 7:05 ET. The AL also has three afternoon games, highlighted by the final game of a three-game series in Baltimore, between the Indians and the Orioles (3:05 ET).

The Indians won the first game on Tuesday, pounding out 21 hits in a 15-1 win. The Orioles returned the favor last night, matching Cleveland's hit total from Tuesday, in an 18-9 win. Today, it's Carmona vs Bedard and the total is 9 or 9 1/2. Any takers on the UNDER?

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

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