Forget the notion that today's Spurs-Lakers game will have "playoff intensity" simply because one team or the other wants to send a message that will resonate during a potential playoff matchup.
The game is no "message game," despite the fact that a Lakers victory would give them a sweep of the regular-season series. That might sting Spurs pride a bit, but it won't mean a thing once the postseason arrives.
No, any playoff intensity attendant to today's matchup at Staples Center will be because it may well determine when that matchup occurs.
Should the Spurs get a victory, I believe the Midwest Division title is theirs. Since I also believe the Lakers will win the Pacific title, even if they lose today's game, the playoff matchup between the only two teams to have won a title since Michael Jordan last was a Chicago Bull would not take place until the Western Conference finals.
Should the Spurs lose, well, there is no telling where they may end up in the playoff seedings.
Fact is, there never has been a tighter race in the Western Conference, one through eight — and nine and 10, for that matter — in the past 20 years.
Were the Spurs to win out to season's end, they might wind up with the top seed in the entire conference.
Were they to lose even two of their remaining six games, they could be opening the playoffs at Memphis, in the shadows of Graceland.
It is going to make for some real drama in the remaining 10 days of the season after today. The intrigue at the bottom of the playoff picture is even more compelling than it is among the five teams jockeying above them.
Utah, Portland and Denver just want to be part of the postseason party. The three teams are engaged in a remarkably air-tight race to the finish line. The Spurs' victory in Utah on Friday night, coupled with Denver's victory over Houston, dropped the Jazz out of the final playoff berth in the West.
Denver and Portland entered the weekend in a virtual tie and Portland has two games left against the Spurs. Denver holds the head-to-head tiebreaker over both the Blazers and the Jazz.
How important is making the playoffs to these teams?
Well, it has been 20 years since the Jazz weren't part of the postseason and every Jazz player knows Jerry Sloan's cancer-stricken wife, Bobbye, finds occasional respite from unpleasant treatment and bleak prognosis in the team's successes.
Portland, a playoff participant for 20-straight seasons, desperately wants to make it as a springboard to a better future with new players that one of the league's most supportive communities has embraced as worthy of their affection.
In Denver, Carmelo Anthony says he feels more pressure to get the Nuggets into the playoffs than he did when he played in last year's NCAA Final Four.
Here is a fact you may find stunning: If Denver doesn't make it, you can expect the news conference announcing Jeff Bzdelik's dismissal as coach within days of season's end.
Even as Bzdelik is being included by some among those whose names should be considered for Coach of the Year, the wheels are turning in Nuggets general manager Kiki Vandeweghe's head to find a replacement.
The pressure Anthony feels to get his team in the playoff field?
It's not because he is trying to save Bzdelik's job. Anthony is known to believe the Nuggets need someone better equipped than Bzdelik to manage games, especially in crunch time. The rookie sensation's refusal to re-enter a game in Detroit a couple of weeks ago was not intended to torpedo Bzdelik, but it had that effect, regardless of intent and Anthony's subsequent apology.
Know what? Even if the Nuggets do make the playoff field, Bzdelik is gone, though I suppose an upset of the West's No. 1 seed in the first round might be enough to save his job.
When Bzdelik does get fired, look for former Spurs assistant coach Mike Brown's name to emerge at the top of Vandeweghe's list of potential replacements.
After three seasons as an assistant under Gregg Popovich, Brown now sits at Rick Carlisle's right hand in Indiana, where he is very much involved in game management. He is not merely an assistant coach for the team with the league's best record. He is listed as associate head coach.
Though he is just 32 years old and never played in the NBA, Brown has leapfrogged to the top of the list of assistants destined for head coaching jobs.
"There is no doubt in my mind Mike Brown is going to be a great head coach someday," said one Eastern Conference executive in San Antonio for the Nike Hoop Summit. "It's just a matter of when he is hired and who hires him."
If the Nuggets miss the playoffs for the ninth-straight season, when and where could begin to take shape sooner than later.
You have to register for the site so I just copied and pasted the whole thing. Looks like we will be losing Mike after this season if they are right.