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NBA Playoff Races at Stake

   by Al McMordie - 03/18/2007

Two of the questions to keep in mind in the NBA are who wants to play and who is packing it in? Playoff seedings are taking shape and you will find teams on the bubble making adjustments that will affect their play and production, both straight up and against the numbers.

For instance, what is going on with the Miami Heat? Left for dead with the regular-season ending injury to star Dwyane Wade, they are suddenly red-hot. Since Wade went down against the Rockets on Feb. 21, the Heat has gone 10-2 SU/ATS. They are now battling Washington for the lead in the Southeast Division.

What are they doing? Going through Shaq and playing team ball! The Heat continued the all-for-one approach last Friday, with all five starters scoring in double figures, led by Shaq's 23 points, Jason Williams had 19, Eddie Jones had 19, James Posey scoring 16 and Udonis Haslem with 11.

Coach Pat Riley said his team has been keeping the strategy simple, playing through O'Neal in the post and Williams on the pick-and-roll. From there, the offense is relying on a group of veterans who know how to make the right play. “Until somebody makes that adjustment on us, we're going to continue playing that way,â€쳌 Riley said. Who can argue with that strategy? Even more important, who can bet against this team until opponents figure out a way to stop what they are doing? The Heat extended a season-long winning streak to nine games and a home winning streak to 14.

Meanwhile, the best team in the East, Detroit, continued to roll with an impressive winning streak out West, whipping Phoenix. The Pistons have won 10 of 11 on the road! Subbing for an injured Chauncey Billups, guard Flip Murray scored 25 points with six steals, helping the Pistons to a rousing 105-83 victory over the Suns. The Pistons had not swept five straight games on the West Coast since the 1991-92 season.

Surprisingly, the Pistons are doing it with defense, something that was lacking last year when they were more of an uptempo team under then first-year coach Flip Saunders. The Pistons took away the 3-point shot, allowing the Suns a season-low 1-of-9 in the first half and 2-for-15 for the game. The Pistons forced 22 turnovers, turning them into 28 points, and won the rebound contest, 37-28. The Suns' season-low 83 points were 27 below their league-leading average! They covered again as a home dog Sunday to Dallas, but lost the game.

Orlando is another team that made some key adjustments this week, hoping to keep its postseason hopes alive. Coach Brian Hill decided to change the roles and playing rotations for the final few weeks of the regular season, and veteran guard Keyon Dooling has been a key player in the new order of things.

Dooling played 21 minutes as the backup point guard Friday, a position he had not played all season, giving the Magic a defensive presence that neither Jameer Nelson nor Carlos Arroyo has provided there. There was a combined defensive tenacity and an offensive urgency that had been missing. The win over Utah went 'under' the total, so perhaps Orlando could be a good 'under' team the rest of the season with the new look.

Reserve guards Trevor Ariza, J.J. Redick and Dooling shared time, for a much tighter rotation without any experimentation. It's likely to continue as Orlando battles to stay afloat in the race for the final two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.
Speaking of totals, over in Houston, the Rockets have suddenly become an aggressive offensive team, going 5-1 'over' the total the last 6 games! What is going on? They just flattened Toronto, scoring 114 points. Tracy McGrady led the Rockets with 24 points and added seven assists while Yao Ming had 23 points and 12 rebounds. The Rockets won the rebound battle 47-33. Adding Yao has seemed to significantly boost the Houston offense, so perhaps they will continue to be a team scoring more, for more 'over' looks. Changes happen constantly in the NBA. A good handicapper needs to keep up on all the shifts as each one may influence sides and totals. Good luck, as always...Al McMordie.

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