Western Conference playoff race update

Monday, April 7, 2008
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

An updated look at the teams involved in the Western Conference playoff race, entering games of Tuesday, April 8:

1, NEW ORLEANS (54-22)
Five-game winning streak has put Hornets in excellent position to wrap up No. 1 seed.
Magic numbers: 5 to clinch top seed in Western Conference; 4 to clinch Southwest Division title; 3 to clinch homecourt advantage in first round.
Noteworthy: The Hornets have the tiebreaker edge vs. San Antonio and lead the season series 2-1 over the Lakers. However, if New Orleans loses at the Lakers on Friday, Los Angeles would earn the tiebreaking advantage. That should make Friday’s game in the Staples Center the most important for New Orleans among its final six games.
If New Orleans loses at the Lakers, it would still control its own destiny by winning each of the other five games on the remaining schedule.

2, SAN ANTONIO (53-24)
Spurs rebounded from one-sided loss in Utah on Friday by winning ugly at Portland.
Tiebreaker vs. Hornets: Spurs will lose it.
Noteworthy: Time is running out on division-title hopes. If they go 5-0 the rest of the way, they’d still need Hornets to go 3-3 or worse to capture the Southwest Division.

3, L.A. LAKERS (53-24)
Have won four straight after consecutive head-scratching home losses to Bobcats and Grizzlies.
Tiebreaker vs. Hornets: Lakers will have it if they beat Hornets on Friday, but will lose tiebreaker if they lose that game.
Noteworthy: Final weekend of the regular season will be huge, with home games vs. West’s top two teams, Hornets (Friday) and Spurs (Sunday). In good shape in terms of winning Pacific Division, with magic number down to 3.

4, UTAH (51-26)
For several weeks it looked like they’d settle comfortably into the No. 4 spot, but the Jazz now have an outside chance to move up after a 6-1 stretch.
Tiebreaker vs. Hornets: Jazz will have it, but a loss on Tuesday in New Orleans would mean they have virtually no chance of catching the Hornets.
Noteworthy: Utah plays at San Antonio on final night of regular season. If Jazz are within one game of Spurs entering that April 16 game, Utah would have chance to surpass Spurs in standings by beating them. The Jazz also have to try to catch Houston in order to have homecourt advantage in Round 1.

5, HOUSTON (52-25)
Three-game winning streak on road has put Rockets back in driver’s seat for homecourt edge in first round.
Tiebreaker vs. Hornets: Rockets will lose it based on division record.
Noteworthy: Biggest game left on schedule probably will be April 14 at Utah, the rubber match of the three-game season series between the Rockets and Jazz.

6, PHOENIX (51-26)
Sustained costly home defeat to Dallas on Sunday and now has tough road tests in two of next three games (at San Antonio on Wednesday, at Houston on Friday).
Noteworthy: Like the Lakers, Jazz, Rockets and Suns, could finish anywhere from No. 2 to No. 6. Now need substantial help to overtake Lakers for Pacific Division title.

7, DALLAS (48-29)
Mavericks registered best win since Jason Kidd trade on Sunday by winning at Phoenix. Dallas is now in relatively comfortable position to at least qualify for postseason.
Noteworthy: Magic number for playoff berth is down to 3. Mavs have tiebreaker advantage on Warriors, but would lose it to Nuggets.

8, DENVER (46-31)
With the season basically hanging in the balance, Nuggets lost back-to-back games over the weekend to out-of-contention Kings and SuperSonics.
Noteworthy: Nuggets have tiebreaker vs. Warriors, but play at Golden State on Thursday in what could be a make-or-break game for both teams.

9, GOLDEN STATE (46-31)
Warriors are in ninth place but control their own destiny, due to having Nuggets on their schedule Thursday. Three of Golden State’s five games are in Oracle Arena against opponents sporting losing records.
Noteworthy: Golden State will lose tiebreakers vs. Dallas and Denver.