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NBA Stretch Run Notes
by Al McMordie - 04/07/2008
In the East, the Celtics and Pistons have wrapped up the No. 1 and 2 seeds. In the West, itâ€™s a different story, with the Hornets, Spurs and Lakers all with a shot at No. 1. The amazing Hornets are certainly playing like a hungry team that wants that No. 1 slot, on a 9-1 SU, 8-2 ATS run. It will be their first postseason since 2004.
The Hornets have three tough games against the Jazz, Lakers and Mavericks sandwiched around 3 cupcakes (T-Wolves, Kings, Clippers). New Orleans also will be looking to extend its 10-game home winning streak, a run that dates to late February. Friday's game was the first at home for the Hornets since March 22, after New Orleans finished its longest road trip of the season at 5-1 SU/ATS. Hornets point guard Chris Paul, who will be headed to the playoffs for the first time in his career, finished with 33 points and 15 assists.
One note about Hornets coach Byron Scott: Many are saying Scott is a good coach as he guided the Nets to consecutive Finals in 2002-03. However, I question his ability to make adjustments at the key moments. In an article two years ago I wrote, â€œI recall a playoff game where New Jersey was battling the Lakers in the NBA Finals. The Nets took the lead with five minutes remaining and Shaq had just gone to the bench to get a quick breather.
â€œJust about everyone watching the game was thinking the same thing: Push the ball up the court and try go down low. It was the perfect time to attack the basket with Shaq on the bench. Incredibly, New Jersey coach Byron Scott called a full timeout at that point. A few minutes later, after a few TV commercials, the players returned to the court - including Shaq! A golden opportunity was wasted, and it wasn't a surprise to see the Lakers go on a quick run from that point, reclaim the lead and win the game.â€쳌 That was real bad coaching. Next month weâ€™ll see if that was a fluke or if Scott makes some questionable moves at crunch time.
Defending champion San Antonio is also playing its best ball at the right time of the season, on an 8-1 SU, 7-2 ATS run. They were a dog at Orlando and Dallas yet won both games. Like New Orleans, the Spurs have a pair of easy games (Kings, Sonics) and three tough games against the Suns, Lakers and Jazz. They will be hosting the Jazz in the finale, and it would be a revenge spot after losing 90-64 this weekend at Utah. It was their worst defeat of the season.
"You don't want to forget about it," Mike Finley said. "You want to learn from it and move on." The Spurs scored only 26 points in the second half. "We've got to play these games as preparation for the playoffs," said Tim Duncan. By the way, we know the Spursâ€™ calling card is defense, and notice they are on a 6-3 run under the total.
The Lakers, on the other hand, are trying to get healthy. They also might be wondering if they peaked too soon, riding a 4-3 SU, 1-6 ATS run. In fact, the Lakers are 6-12 ATS the last 18 games. They were 13-point favorites over Memphis and Charlotte and lost BOTH games at home! The big story is 7-foot center Andrew Bynum, as Phil Jackson said there's 'a very good possibility' that the center will miss the rest of the regular season.
Bynum's been out since he went down Jan. 13 against Memphis with a bone bruise in his left knee. The Lakers will bring Bynum off the bench when he returns, although they are also looking ahead a little bit by letting Pau Gasol play more often at power forward in practice. The Lakers have a three game road trip this week and end the regular season with three straight home games. The bad news is two of those final three home games are against New Orleans and San Antonio. The fireworks might be flying for the No. 1 seed.
Perhaps the most interesting battle is for the final seed in the West, between Denver and Golden State. The Nuggets didnâ€™t have a good week, on a 1-3 SU/ATS run, losing to Phoenix, Sacramento, and Seattle. Consider that Sacramento was without injured forward Ron Artest (20.5 points per game) and center Brad Miller (13.4 points and 9.5 rebounds). And Kevin Martin spent the day feeling nauseous. "It's just unacceptable," said Denver guard Allen Iverson, who scored just 13 points, about half his season average. "There's just no excuse for it." If the Nuggets had won the game, they would have tied Dallas for seventh place in the Western Conference. There are just six games left for Denver, including a game Thursday at Golden State. Denver is on a 10-3 run over the total, focusing more on offense than defense.
Golden State just finished a tough stretch playing 4 straight on the road. Now they play 4 of their final 5 games at home. Better yet, there are only two tough games against Denver and at Phoenix. The Warriors made a great run a year ago to sneak into the playoffs. Can they do it again? I hope so, as I love watching their brand of basketball. Best of luck in this exciting stretch...Big Al McMordie.