After hitting the rookie wall, Click and Roll has found its second wind ... With the excitement building as the regular season draws to a close, Click and Roll has returned to duty every weekday until the playoffs. This way, we can break down the numerous postseason races. So, without further ado, here's what's going on.
Playoff Picture: Race for the postseason | TV: No NBA games on Monday
The Weekend: Saturday Night's All Right For Fighting for a Playoff Spot
That's a lot of fighting, but then again, that's how some deal with the playoff pressure. (The Oregonian)
But enough about playoff pugilists. Before we take you to the weekend, let's take a quick glimpse of what transpired Thursday.
"Standings squeeze" makes its second straight appearance, as the Hornets clinched a playoff spot, giving each conference five playoff teams. And, thanks to the Blazers' loss to the Jazz, the Kings have clinched the Pacific and at least the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference.
Speaking of squeeze, the Wizards are feeling it. In 0.6 seconds, the Wizards went from 1.5 games out of the eighth and final playoff spot to 2.5. Wizards fans have to get a queasy feeling watching Shareef Abdur-Rahim's shot -- over Michael Jordan, no less -- bounce once, twice, three times before falling through the hoop to give the Hawks the 91-89 win on Thursday. This should also make them queasy: Wizards coach Doug Collins has said he may soon turn the team over to the kids. (Washington Post)
The Lakers' 100-89 win over the Mavericks was no child's play, as Shaq showed that he could still be (put in quotes?) The Man. (Orange County Register)
Dallas' loss sliced their lead over the sizzling Spurs to a mere game. But more on the Mavs' predicament below. (Fort Worth Star-Telegram)
Here's the list of story lines to follow over the weekend (yes, I'm giving you homework).
The Fight for the Atlantic
The Sixers have won 20 of 26 games since the All-Star break to move within one-half game of the Nets, who have gone 12-14 in that time. Both play two games this weekend, but have no games remaining against each other. If the two end their seasons with identical records, the Sixers win the Atlantic thanks to their taking the season series from the Nets, 3-1.
The Fight for the Midwest (and West and possible home-court advantage)
With Dallas' loss to the Lakers on Thursday, the Spurs have moved within one game of the Mavericks in the Midwest. It is likely that either the Mavs or Spurs will finish with the best record in the West (the Kings are a scant 2.5 games behind the Mavs) and therefore will get home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. So finishing first in the Midwest could be the key to the playoffs.
Also, it would behoove the Mavs to finish No. 1 for another reason. If they were to finish second in the Midwest, they would be third in the West overall. As of now, their matchup would be with the Jazz. But guess who lurks one game behind the Jazz for the West's No. 6 seed? Yep, the Lakers. Ruh-roh! Still, the season may not be decided until the final day, when the Mavs head to San Antonio.
The Fight for the Middle of the West
As the Blazers smack each other around, the Timberwolves will try sneak by the Blazers for the No. 4 seed in the West. Minnesota is one better in the win column and one worse in the loss, putting the teams in a virtual tie. That tie can be broken this weekend when the Wolves head to Portland on Sunday. The Wolves lead the season series 2-1 and they need Wally Szczerbiak to step up. (Minneapolis Star Tribune)
The Fight for Right to Make the Playoffs
With three precious playoff spots left in each Conference, every game is important for those teams within sniffing distance of the No. 8 seeds. In the East, Milwaukee now has a 2.5 game lead over the Wizards, while the Suns are 1.5 games ahead of Houston in the West. Six of the seven teams in the hunt for the eighth spot in each conference has two games this weekend, while the Wizards play once.
And finally, the league fined Indiana's Ron Artest $20,000 yesterday. For non-math majors, that's 10 grand per finger. (NBA.com)
Rob Peterson, NBA.com
Can You Trade Loyalties for Playoff Position?
Can you root for the Lakers and not lose your supper? Can you root for the team that has bounced your favorite team out of the playoffs the past two seasons? Can you do it for just one night? Just one?
This is the situation Spurs fans find themselves facing tonight. With an easy 18-point win over the Hornets on Wednesday, the Spurs moved within 1½ games of the Mavericks and the No. 1 seed in the West. (San Antonio Express-News)
Tonight, the Spurs will put up their feet, turn on TNT and hope that their long-time foes, the Los Angeles Lakers, will topple the Mavs in Dallas (9:30 ET, TNT).
The Mavericks know the importance of tonight's game. Not only could a win give them a two-game cushion in the race for the No. 1 seed, but it can exorcise some demons, as the Mavericks have a 5-42 record against the Lakers in the last 12 seasons. (Dallas Morning News)
As for the rest of the pre-playoff news, "standings squeeze" made another appearance as the Hawks were officially eliminated from the playoff race on the same day they gave their GM the bum's rush. (Atlanta Journal Constitution)
These same Hawks tonight will host the playoff hopeful Wizards (7 ET, TNT), who fell two games behind the Bucks for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East after losing to the Kings. Even the usually rah-rah Washington columnists were glum after this one. (Washington Post)
Out West, another potential No. 8 seed had reason to be glum too, as the Rockets lost to the Bucks on Wednesday. The defeat dropped the Rockets 1½ games behind Phoenix for the final spot in the West. (Houston Chronicle)
Meanwhile, Portland, which was idle on Wendesday, clinched a playoff spot. That may not the ease the sting of this bill, however. (Salt Lake Tribune)
Also, if the Pistons hang on to the East's No. 1 seed, should they be worried about who finishes eighth? (Detroit News)
And finally, although the Pacers have a playoff mentality right now, people are still questioning what's going on in Ron Artest's head after last night's two finger salute to the crowd at Gund Arena. (Indianapolis Star)
By Rob Peterson, NBA.com
Holding Steady in the Standings ... For Now
And you know, maybe that's OK. (All right, I know it's not OK with Rockets and Wizards/Michael Jordan fans, but bear with me.)
If the season were to end today, (my favorite phrase in all of sports) the playoff matchups in both conferences would be intrguing.
Out West, we'd have:
In the East, the first-round matchups would be perfect:
Ah, but all of the above is only speculation. For teams still in the playoff hunt, the reality is every game remains vital.
For example: The Spurs won their sixth game in a row on Tuesday with a 118-105 triumph over Orlando, but could get no closer to Dallas because the Mavericks took care of New Orleans. (San Antonio Express-News)
Here's another example: After decimating Denver by 30 on Tuesday, the Suns moved one full game ahead of Houston for eighth and final playoff spot in the West. (Arizona Republic)
The Rockets need a win tonight in Milwaukee (8 ET), but it won't be easy as the Bucks need a victory to remain in the East's final playoff spot ahead of the Wizards, who host Sacramento (8 ET, ESPN).
A Wizards win would make Charles Oakley happy, we think. (Washington Post)
With a six game lead over the Trail Blazers in the division, the Kings, who won a tough one over the Pacers on Tuesday, nearly have the Pacific and at least the No. 2 seed in the West sewn up. It doesn't matter to the Kings that they're winning ugly, just that they're winning. (Sacramento Bee)
Also the Sonics are showing some spunk. Seattle notched a tough overtime win in Chicago on Tuesday, leaving them 2½ games behind the Suns for the eighth playoff spot. The road, however, gets a little tougher for the Sonics, as they head to Minnesota tonight (8 ET).
Meanwhile, former Sonic Desmond Mason drove from Milwaukee to Chicago to see some of his old teammates. (both stories Tacoma Tribune)
By Rob Peterson, NBA.com
Teams Fighting for Playoff Spots Feeling the Squeeze
(OK, so there's no such thing as a "postseason-ologist." Not yet, anyway. And "standings squeeze" is a alliterative phrase I made up on the fly, but hang with me.)
"Standings squeeze" happens when teams near the top of the standings clinch playoff spots while the teams at the bottom have quietly made tee times for the afternoon of Thursday, April 17.
Visually, this phenomenon becomes noticeable in the standings when a team makes the playoffs and a lower case "p" is placed next to that team's name. When a team gets booted, an "x" marks that team's spot out of the playoffs. This leaves the teams still playing for their playoff lives looking as if they have been "squeezed" between the haves and the have-nots.
The standings squeeze became a bit more pronounced Monday as the Sixers took a thrilling 118-113 overtime victory against the Magic in Orlando. (Philadelphia Inquirer)
The win clinched a playoff spot for Philly , making it the fourth team to clinch a spot in the East. The win also kept the Sixers 1½ games behind New Jersey for the East's No. 2 seed. The Nets maintained that margin Monday when they heaped a helping of hurting on Houston, 110-86.
Dikembe Mutombo also made his second appearance since being activated, playing 16 minutes, grabbing eight rebounds and scoring four points. And while Dikembe's game may be a trifle rusty, his elbows are ready for the playoffs as he clocked Yao Ming in the throat with a sharp one.
"The center that I went up against today gave me a very deep impression," Yao told the New York Daily News.
Y-ow, indeed. The loss also hurt the Rockets in the standings, as they fell one-half game behind idle Phoenix for the West's final playoff spot. But you couldn't blame the Rockets' if their minds may not be on basketball considering Rudy Tomjanovich is on indefinite leave to fight bladder cancer. (New York Times)
Still, Rockets fans can look at the standings and see that although their team is one-half game behind the Suns, Houston holds the tiebreaker. This means the Suns must be a game up on the Rockets to get the final spot.
So, that brings us to the final spot in the East, where a one-game lead isn't truly a one game lead for Milwaukee. The Bucks, with a win over Miami on Monday, moved one game ahead of the Wizards and three ahead of the Knicks for the East's final playoff spot. (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
But since the Bucks hold the season tiebreakers over the Wizards and the Knicks, either team would need to finish with one more win than Milwaukee to get the final spot.
"You can't scoreboard-watch," Gary Payton told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "If you win, you don't have to scoreboard-watch. If you lose, that's when you've got to scoreboard-watch because you're hoping the other team loses. If you keep winning, you don't have to worry."
By Rob Peterson, NBA.com
The More Things Change, The More Seedings Stay the Same
Not in the East, not in the West. Sure, games were played, records have changed and margins have been squeezed, but seeds one through eight in both conferences are exactly the same on March 31 as they were on March 24.
Some things, however, are becoming more clear as the season winds down. After recently courting the No. 8 seed in the East, the Knicks have lost three in a row and have only themselves to blame if they fail to advance. (New York Daily News)
But enough about the Knicks. So, what else have we learned this week?
We've learned that although Michael Jordan played no more than 15 games in Denver, the Nuggets thought enough of him to give MJ a Harley on Sunday. They didn't think enough of him however to give the Wizards a win, as the Nuggets made like Hell's Angels and whipped the Wizards. (Denver Post)
The loss dropped the Wizards one-half game behind the Bucks for the East's eight seed, who trammeled the Heat 109-87 in Milwaukee.
Now, we also know that this guy may be the key to the Bucks' playoff run. (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
We've also learned that some teams, like the Sonics, won't give up. With two wins in a row including a 21-point thumping of the Lakers on Sunday, the Sonics live 2 1/2 games out of the West's final playoff spot. (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
As for Monday night, each game has playoff implications. The top two teams in the Atlantic Division play tonight, as the Sixers head to Orlando and the Nets host the Rockets. New Jersey currently holds a 1½-game lead over Philadelphia for the division lead and the East's No. 2 seed. (Florida Today)
In the West, the Grizzlies visit the Lakers, who are a game behind Utah for the sixth seed. If L.A. catches Utah, it holds the tiebreaker, which would currently give us a Spurs-Lakers first round playoff matchup. Interesting, indeed.
KG has received an MVP endorsement from some foes. (St. Paul Pioneer Press)
When we start cloning humans, maybe you can order a tall kid. As for getting a tall (say, 7-0, 7-1) kid the old-fashioned way, it's still a genetic roll of the dice. (Unfortunately for me, my parents rolled snake eyes.) (Newark Star-Ledger)
Speaking of passing things down through the generations. Here's an interesting story on how Popeye Jones' kids have ditched the high tops for ice skates. (Denver Post)
A must-read one-on-one with Vlade Divac. (Sacramento Bee)
And in this piece, Divac refuses to look away. (Houston Chronicle)
Will the real Dallas Mavericks please stand up? (Dallas Morning News)
We know what we prefer. Here's one man's opinion on the NBA vs. college. (He likes us, he really, really likes us!) (Orlando Sentinel)
A lot of people in Chicago have gone to see the Bulls lose. (Chicago Tribune)
And finally, did anyone see Kobe's 55-point game against the Wizards on Friday night? He had 42 in the first half! Who else was hoping he would score 70 in front of Jordan, whose career high was 69?
By Rob Peterson, NBA.com