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NBA Stretch Drive
by Al McMordie - 04/10/2006
It's interesting how final scores aren't always indicative of a way a game goes. For instance, on Saturday the Utah Jazz crushed a very bad team, Portland, 110-93 at home. They were expected to win as a 12-point favorite, and won and covered. However, take a close look at the game and a different picture emerges than what you at first might think.
Utah players were surprised after the game at how hard Portland played. They noticed that the players in the uniforms appeared to be the same ones that the Jazz had just played the week before at the Rose Garden, but they played with a different, aggressive attitude on the court. Jazz players were knocked to the floor a dozen times. The Blazers kept charging into the lane to draw contact. "They fought us," said Utah forward Andrei Kirilenko. "They didn't give up. Zach Randolph was trying to win." You wouldn't know that from the final score, though, would you?
Taking a look at the box score finds Portland, with the worst record in the West, winning the offensive rebound edge 12-11 and taking 38 free throws! Remember, that was on the road. A lazy team that has packed in the season wouldn't be attacking the boards like that, they'd be settling for outside jumpers the whole time, take their loss and get out of town. I'm not suggesting the Blazers are going to go on a run the final week of the season, or even be a good team to bet on, I'm just pointing out that final scores don't always tell the whole story. It's the job of every serious handicapper to understand these differences and to look for them.
It's clear Portland coach Nate McMillan is not giving up and is pushing the young guys. The game was important for Utah because they moved into a tie for ninth place and moved within 2 1/2 games of the seventh-place Lakers and Kings. So Utah is treading water, but still has a shot to make the playoffs.
The other key race is in the East with the 76ers and Bulls tied for the final playoff slot. The hard-to-figure Sixers have been slumping badly, but came alive Saturday in a huge 89-75 win at Chicago. The Bulls saw their four-game winning streak end and the two teams are now tied at 35-41 with six games to play. Why did Philly show up for the game? The Sixers got extra motivation from a news release stating that Bulls' playoff tickets will go on sale next Saturday! The release was taped to the grease board in the Sixers' locker room. Yes, all those stories you hear about coaches taking players' quotes or other things to motivate a team, it's true and happens all the time.
For those of you keeping up with injuries on those two teams, note that Sixers forward Chris Webber didn't play because of a lower back strain suffered Friday night in a home loss to Boston. The Bulls had a strange injury, as forwards Luol Deng and Eric Piatkowski were out because of an unusual shootaround collision Saturday morning. Piatkowski was bleeding and needed 15-20 stitches and Deng suffered a mild concussion. Practice is supposed to HELP a team get better, not ruin their playoff chances!
For the record the Chicago Bulls notice said: Tickets for the first two rounds of potential Bulls playoff games go on sale 11 a.m. Saturday at the United Center box office, Ticketmaster, Bulls.com or by calling 1-800-462-2849. Think that might come back to haunt them? It wouldn't be the first time a team printed playoff tickets and then had to eat them! Good luck, as always...Al McMordie.