Dropping in standings helps Lakers in playoffs (article also says Pacers are fav
YEAR AFTER YEAR, one of the most fascinating segments of the NBA schedule is the final couple of days in the regular season.
David Stern and his officers of political correctness annually have studied these games with a microscope, looking for evidence of teams intentionally losing to gain some type of advantage.
Everyone knows this occurs at the bottom of the standings, where a 13-game losing streak through Sunday assured Orlando the favorite's role at the draft lottery next month.
But you might be surprised to hear this kind of thing actually occurs quite often among teams gearing up (or down) for the playoffs.
The Warriors were victims of the commissioner's scrutiny in 1992, when they entered the final day of the regular season locked into the No.3 playoff position. Still to be determined was their first-round playoff opponent: Seattle or San Antonio.
Clearly, Don Nelson had a preference. His guys matched up much better with the Spurs, whom they had upset the previous year in the playoffs, than the SuperSonics, an athletic squad that beat the Warriors with regularity in the Nelson era.
Lo and behold, the Warriors, by virtue of a final-day matchup with Seattle, had a chance to assure a first-round pairing with the Spurs. A Golden State loss would have pushed the Sonics into the No.5 playoff spot, one game ahead of San Antonio, which then would have headed to Oakland for the playoff opener.
But having been warned Stern's people would be watching, the Warriors went all-out to beat the SuperSonics in the home finale -- and did so, 108-106. However, in what was in essence a meaningless game, they suffered a huge loss when Chris Mullin was injured in the game.
The All-Star proceeded to struggle through the playoff series against Seattle, shooting 42.9 percent and scoring 17.8 points -- well off his regular-season numbers (52.4 and 25.6) -- and Nelson learned a valuable lesson. The hometown crowd should have seen a lot more of Tom Tolbert in that regular-season finale.
A dozen years later, Nelson's Mavericks are battling Memphis for the fifth playoff spot in the West. The winner of their head-to-head tonight in Dallas will clinch that No.5 spot and a matchup with the fourth-place finisher.
The Lakers currently hold down that No.4 spot, and don't think the Mavericks -- and Grizzlies as well -- haven't noticed.
If it were assured L.A. would finish fourth, you could rest assured neither Dallas nor Memphis would have much interest in winning tonight.
But the Lakers still have the potential to move up -- not that they necessarily want to.
Presuming Minnesota captures top seeding in the West, finishing fourth has its advantages. If everything went according to form in Round 1, the Lakers then would draw the history-challenged Timberwolves in the Western semifinals, while the powerful Kings would have to deal with the defending-champ Spurs.
The road to the Finals is a lot rockier from the No.3 hole, where the Lakers probably would have to eliminate both the Kings and Spurs, the latter after having had a war with the former in Round 2.
One other team Stern's crew could have been monitoring was Houston, especially after the 69-point egg it laid in Salt Lake City on Saturday night. The Rockets would have loved nothing better than to drop from the seventh spot in the West to No.8, thus drawing Minnesota in Round 1 rather than the Kings or Lakers.
But the Rockets rebounded with a win Monday at Seattle, clinching the seventh seed and a matchup with the top team in the Pacific Division.
In the East, the team to avoid is Detroit -- and three teams (the Bucks, Heat and Hornets) are very anxious to do just that. Only in this case, just the winners will be rewarded (with a 4 vs. 5 series), whereas the least of the trio will finish in the No.6 spot and have the unenviable task of squaring off with the Pistons in Round 1.
After Monday's games, only one first-round pairing -- Boston vs. Indiana -- was set, but that won't stop me from making predictions:
Round 1: No matter who they play, the Kings, Spurs and Lakers will roll through the first round, one of them eliminating the Mavericks and prompting Mark Cuban to fire Nelson. But look for Denver to upset Minnesota as it has the key ingredient to stopping the Timberwolves -- a defensive stopper (Andre Miller) who can match up with Sam Cassell.
The Pacers, Nets and Pistons might as well have byes in their Eastern openers. The 4 vs. 5 series is the NBA equivalent of the NCAA Tournament play-in game. It might be close, but who cares?
Conference semifinals: Those concerned about the current form of the Kings should be reminded a lot can change in two weeks. It'll be at least that long before Sacramento faces a quality second-round opponent, and probably will do so riding the momentum of an easy Round 1 waltz.
It would be a shame if the Kings and Lakers met in Round 2, so it says here it won't happen. The Kings will outlast the Spurs, with the Lakers easing past the Nuggets.
As in the West, the East's 2 vs. 3 matchup should be a doozy. You know the Pacers, sitting pretty atop the East, are hoping the Nets give the Pistons a fight, because the longer that series goes, the less chance the winner has of surviving the Eastern finals. I'm picking the Pistons.
Conference finals: It's the Kings-Lakers and Pacers-Pistons. That's like having the NCAA and NIT title games on the same night. Two great series, but in the end, two best-of-7's decided a week earlier when the Spurs and Nets did the Lakers and Pacers a huge favor by taking their opponent the limit.
I'll take the Lakers and Pacers on that alone, with each series going at least six games.
NBA Finals: Now I understand why Pacers coach Rick Carlisle has been resting Scot Pollard all season. He usually gets his money's worth when battling Shaq and those six fouls could be critical, especially if the big guy is having problems at the line.
The Ron Artest-Kobe Bryant duel would be tremendous, but the Lakers have far too many weapons -- as well as the biggest one. I'm picking L.A. in six only because the Lakers haven't been in a rush to do anything this season.
(of course this article is out of California so you have to expect them to pick the Lakers and frankly I cant argue the point too much. I think we might make a decent show against them but we just dont have anything to match up with Shaq)
Re: Dropping in standings helps Lakers in playoffs (article also says Pacers are
I don't want to dispute the article on intentional losses for playoff jockeying but I don't really see how it applies much to the West other than interesting conversation. I actually thought it best that the Mavs tank the game against the Griz to avoid LA. But they didn't. They actually played finley who was reported out to rest injured ribs.
I realize the Griz had a nice year and the Mavs had a frustrating year but I find it hard to believe any of the top 4 seeds would rather play the Mavs than the Griz, Rockets or Nugtz for that matter just for what they think is a more favorable 2nd round matchup. I don't expect the Mavs to beat the Lakers or Spurs if they play but the mavs are now an experienced playoff team that has had some playoff success. They were 36-5 at home. It may be wishful thinking but IMO, the Mavs were not focused during the year. They got up for home games and games against the top teams. Throw in the Walker failed point forward experiment that consumed 2/3 of the year and they still were only a handful of stupid losses away from a top seed in the West. The Mavs will be a tough out for anybody that draws them.
I know I'm biased as a Mavs fan by my most desirable opponent is the Kings. The Kings have had the opportunity to get the best record in the league and blew it. Then they had the opportunity to get the best record in the West and have blown it. They have had the opportunity to clinch the 2 seed in the West and are on the verge of blowing that. Is Bobby Jackson that important to them. I think that team is more likely headed for big changes than the Mavs.
Plus the top 4 seeds in the West have really been a total mess for the last couple of weeks. Don't really see how the Lakers could predict anything about future playoff opponents. Two weeks ago it appeared that LA was headed for the 1 seed. Seems to me that would have been ideal for them. A 1st round matchup with Denver with a 2nd matchup againt the 4 or 5 seed. They blow it. It is quite likely the Spurs can overtake the Wolves. The Griz have been a very good team at home (one of the best in the league). A win over the Wolves almost guarantees they would face Minny instead of a potential matchup with the Spurs or maybe LA. I think Memphis plays tough tonight. If that happens then a 4th seeded team would probably clash with the spurs in the 2nd round.