By Dave McMenamin, NBA.com
Posted Mar 28 2009 6:38PM
Remember when the NBA was split into the almighty West and the also-ran East? If those days seem about as long ago as the time when the Dallas Mavericks were threatening to win 70 games in the regular season, that's because they are. There are four teams in the league this season with more than 50 wins and three of them hail from the Eastern Conference.
The team applying the most pressure on the East side of the seesaw is the Cleveland Cavaliers, whose 59-13 record is the best in the league. Celtics coach Doc Rivers has already conceded the No. 1 overall seed for the playoffs to the Cavs, but the Lakers at 58-14 remain just a game behind Cleveland and seemingly have chosen to ignore the conference power swap that's occurred over the last several seasons.
For the Mavericks, who finished with an NBA-best 67-15 record just two seasons ago, an eighth seed in the West would be a welcome finish after a 2-7 start to this season.
Here are a few things to watch for Sunday when the Cavs host the Mavs (1 p.m. ET, ABC).
Cleveland Cavaliers: 59-13 (34-1 at home), First in East
Pace: 88.8 possessions/game (25th)
Offense: 112.4 points scored per 100 possessions (4th)
Defense: 102.2 points allowed per 100 possessions (3rd)
Dallas Mavericks: 43-29 (17-20 on the road), Eighth in West
Pace: 91.7 possessions/game (14th)
Offense: 109.9 points scored per 100 possessions (9th)
Defense: 108.2 points allowed per 100 possessions (16th)
Nov. 3 -- American Airlines Center -- Cleveland 100, Dallas 81
1. Will Jason Kidd play?
He turned 36 years old last week, but after the Olympics gold medal run this past summer and a turn-back-the-clock triple-double of 21 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists two weeks ago, Jason Kidd hasn't shown many signs of aging.
That was until Friday when a balky back kept him out of the Mavericks' 103-101 loss to Denver. It was the first game Kidd missed after playing in 100 straight after joining Dallas last season.
Kidd is listed as day-to-day. The Mavericks started Antoine Wright and Jason Terry in the backcourt against the Nuggets.
2. Will Cleveland lose another game in the regular season?
"LeBron was too tough for us to handle," Minnesota coach Kevin McHale said on Friday after the Wolves lost 107-85 to become the Cavaliers' 11th straight victim. "You've got to be pretty darn good to beat them."
It's lucky for the Cavs then that only four of their remaining 10 games are against "pretty darn good" teams. There is good reason to think that Cleveland can run the table heading into the postseason and extend its winning streak to 21. Three out of the four tough games remaining (Dallas, San Antonio, Boston) are at The Q where the Cavaliers are nearly impossible to beat (34-1) and the other is on the road in Orlando when Cleveland will have revenge on the mind from its 99-88 loss from the last time it played the Magic at Amway Arena.
The rest of Cleveland's schedule is very winnable with one game against the injury-depleted Pistons, one against the Pacers, two against the Wizards and two against the Sixers.
3. Can Dallas keep Phoenix at bay?
When the Mavericks beat the Suns 122-117 on March 10, the race for eighth in the West was supposed to be all but over. Nobody told Phoenix that. Since that loss the Suns are 6-2 while the Mavericks are 4-4.
Dallas doesn't need to beat Cleveland on Sunday to secure a berth in the playoffs -- another battle with the Suns next Sunday on ABC will be more important in that race -- but pulling off an upset would give the Mavs some great momentum heading into the final stage of the season.
Seven of the Mavs' 10 remaining games are against playoff contenders (Cleveland, Miami, Phoenix, Utah, Houston and New Orleans twice) while only four of the Suns' last 10 games are against teams vying for the playoffs (Utah, Dallas, Houston and New Orleans).
4. What's left for LeBron James to do to lock up MVP?
James will appear on 60 Minutes later in the evening Sunday and a clip has already been leaked of the 24-year-old phenom swishing an underhanded shot from well beyond half court as part of the program.
That's not half as impressive as what he's been doing in real games this year. James is averaging 28.4 points, 7.7 rebounds and 7.3 assists on the season. While Kobe Bryant of the Lakers and Dwyane Wade of the Heat have had their names thrown into the MVP discussion, the rest of the season should be all about turning up the volume on the King James coronation conversation.
If you believe NBA.com's Race to the MVP column, we're all witnessing the second coming of Oscar Robertson this year and L-E-B ... is already being engraved into the Maurice Podoloff Trophy.
5. What about Jason Terry for Sixth Man of the Year?
In an up-and-down year for Dallas, one bright spot has been Jason Terry's play off the bench. His 19.8 points per game has him on pace to become the highest-scoring substitute since Ricky Pierce of the Milwaukee Bucks averaged 23 points almost 20 years ago. ESPN.com's Award Watch puts Terry at second in the Sixth Man race to New York's Nate Robinson, but Terry's points have been coming in the midst of a playoff run while Robinson's team is lottery bound.
"If we could get [him] in a few different sizes, a team full of 'Jets' would be amazing," Mavericks owner Mark Cuban recently told USA Today. "His value is off the charts."
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