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Art Garcia

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The Nets are on course for infamy, but overlooking them would be a big mistake.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

As season wraps up, playoff-bound need to watch for spoilers


Posted Mar 24 2010 11:48AM

In a league in which more than half the teams make the playoffs, and with just three weeks left in the regular season, you'd think a bucket full of squads would be in the running for the final few spots in the postseason. Think again.

Barring a few monumental collapses, the Western Conference contingent of eight for the tournament is set. Drama in the East is confined to one team on the outside (Chicago) still in striking distance.

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For the other 13 teams completely out of the running, the rest of the regular season is chiefly an exercise in early preparation. It's a time to evaluate while laying the groundwork for the Draft and free agency.

But if those lottery-bound teams could win a few games and play spoiler ... well, that's a bonus.

"Guys try to pull motivation from anything they can," veteran Warriors forward Devean George said. "Why not make it tough for someone? Why come and just lay down? We've still got to play.

"Fans are still coming to see good basketball. They're not coming to see us just lay down for a team in the playoffs. They want to be entertained and get their money's worth, so that's what we're going to do."

Playing spoiler in the traditional sense is unlikely given that nearly all the teams currently in playoff position will likely make it. What those out of the mix can do is impact the order. Seedings in both conferences remain fluid with about a dozen games left for everyone.

While the contenders are obviously going to lose to each other down the stretch, dropping a game or two to someone outside the playoff party could have dire consequences.

"People are trying to jockey for position, and we're not just going to lay down and let them get their position," George said. "We're going to finish the season as best we can. If that means beating some teams that are in the playoffs or trying to get a [higher] seed, then I guess that's what it has to be."

So which teams are best suited to play spoiler? New York and Indiana have already sprung a few upsets over the last several weeks. Houston and Memphis, hanging on to faint playoff hopes in the West, could easily have a say in where those they're chasing end up.

And even for those limping to Game 82, the Any Given Night rule remains in effect.

"Every game is the same for us," Golden State super frosh Stephen Curry said. "We're just trying to win as many as we can and finish the year strong. With a team that's playing this well, you want to get a good win. I wouldn't call it our playoffs, because next year, we'll be working toward the real deal."

Here's a look at the best candidates to play spoiler and some games to watch. I haven't included games against teams already reasonably secure in their seedings.

GRIZZLIES

Spoiler games: Dallas (3/31), @Dallas (4/7), @San Antonio (4/9), @OKC (4/14)

Spoiler qualifications: Spending most of the season with a winning record had the Grizz thinking postseason. Several playoff-caliber games remain for a young squad looking to take the next step. Zach Randolph is putting the finishing touches on a monster season, while Rudy Gay may be looking to leave Memphis with a bang.

ROCKETS

Spoiler games: @OKC (3/24), @San Antonio (3/31), Utah (4/7), Charlotte (4/9), @Phoenix (4/11)

Spoiler qualifications: The boys in Houston also feel playoff worthy. They'd love nothing more than knocking their chief rivals down a peg or two. The backcourt of Aaron Brooks and Kevin Martin is explosive enough to give any contender fits.

HORNETS

Spoiler games: Portland (3/27), Charlotte (4/7), Utah (4/9)

Spoiler qualifications: Chris Paul is back. New Orleans doesn't have many chances to impact the playoff race, but a timely win over any of the above would help soothe the sting of losing CP3 for 25 games. Beating the Mavericks in Paul's first-game back shows they have the horses to get it done.

KNICKS

Spoiler games: @Phoenix (3/26), @Utah (3/29), @Portland (3/31), Boston (4/6), Miami (4/11), Toronto (4/14)

Spoiler qualifications: Beat the Hawks, Mavericks and Nuggets already this month. The Knicks of today won't be the Knicks of next year, so just about everyone up and down the roster has to approach each game as an open audition.

PACERS

Spoiler games: Utah (3/26), Miami (4/2)

Spoiler qualifications: Knocked off the Bobcats and Thunder in the span of a week. If the Pacers do the same against the Jazz and Heat, it could mean loss of home-court for Utah, and a date with either Cleveland or Orlando for Miami.

KINGS

Spoiler games: @Boston (3/26), Portland (4/3), San Antonio (4/6), Dallas (4/10)

Spoiler qualifications: Paul Westphal's goal is for his team to be a tough out, and they've been just that for most of the season. The Kings' five-game homestand is another opportunity to sock it to their West brethren. Tyreke Evans should be back for all the fun.

WARRIORS

Spoiler games: Dallas (3/27), @Utah (3/31), @Toronto (4/4), OKC (4/11), Utah (4/13), @Portland (4/14)

Spoiler qualifications: Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry give the Warriors a shooter's chance. Don't forget their latest NBA D-League sensation, Reggie Williams. Don Nelson needs five more wins to set the all-time record. And there's also a potential new owner to impress.

NETS

Spoiler games: San Antonio (3/29), Phoenix (4/3), Charlotte (4/12), @Miami (4/14)

Spoiler qualifications: Why not? There aren't any teams more overlooked than the Nets. The Spurs and Suns both are at New Jersey on the second night of back-to-backs. The Bobcats and Heat are jostling at the bottom of the East race. The Nets have to beat someone. Right?

Quotable

"5-0. 4-1 is acceptable, but that's not what champions look for when you go on the road. And these are all tough games."
-- Lakers coach Phil Jackson on his expectations for the road trip starting Wednesday night in San Antonio.

Starting 5

1. Michael Jordan wants to be like Mark Cuban. Geeks rejoice.

2. Ron Washington may actually be having a better week than Kevin Pritchard.

3. Company's name is already on the building. Oracle CEO Larry Ellison might as well own the team that plays inside.

4. Union disputing league's claim of $400 million in losses this season. In related news, smoking is bad for your health.

5. Could the Nets beat St. Mary's?

Give-n-Go: Drew Gooden

Insider: Disappointed leaving the Mavericks?

Drew Gooden: I was kind of upset because I committed myself to the team and I was so focused on winning and making a run to get in the playoffs. I knew how valuable that was and I wanted to do whatever it took to help the team accomplish that goal. I totally committed myself and bought into what coach (Rick) Carlisle was saying from the time he brought me in here. To leave that way, I was highly upset. At the same time, I had an opportunity to go somewhere else and continue doing what I do.

IN: Hoping to be released by the Wizards?

DG: I didn't know what direction that team was going in. I'm in the last year of my deal and I want to be in a winning situation. It seemed like they were just cleaning house. I was in a similar situation in Sacramento the year before. The perfect world would have been if I would've been bought out in D.C., I would have with no hesitation signing back with Dallas because I feel like I had some unfinished business here. That didn't happen. Fortunately, Mr. Grunfeld at least traded me to a spot right here that's a little bit better situation for me. Now here I am, a Clipper.

IN: Thoughts on next season.

DG: I'm to the point where the GMs and other teams know what I can do by now. I think that people need to look at it is that he has been in a lot of different situations and continued to find his way, no matter who the coach is, or what the system is or who he's playing with. He finds his way somehow to be productive.

I haven't thought too far ahead. It puts added pressure when you start thinking about it. I've matured enough in this league to know that I need to handle my business today and not worry about what's going to happen tomorrow. I can only control what happens today. I want a home.

Art Garcia has covered the NBA since 1999. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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