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Old 02-14-07, 12:01 AM
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Fighting for fourth

By Stan McNeal - SportingNews

The Suns and Mavericks (not necessarily in that order) have left no doubt about who is best in the West this season. Though the Spurs have slipped -- their 32-16 record entering the week was six games off last season's pace -- they're still a clear third. But the race for No. 4 -- and home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs that goes with it -- likely will go down to the wire. The four teams that will duke it out:

Utah

Losing Carlos Boozer until March hurts, but at least it could open up a spot on the All-Star team for Mehmet Okur, who has become the league's second-best outside shooter among bigs (after Dirk Nowitzki). With Boozer out, Andrei Kirilenko will get more shots and rookie Paul Millsap will get more minutes; the latter of those developments will please coach Jerry Sloan. Better news: Of the Jazz's eight remaining February games, half are at home against Eastern Conference teams. If Utah wins all four, it will remain the favorite to finish fourth.

Houston

Those who doubted Jeff Van Gundy (yes, that would include Sporting News) should turn pasty white and have permanent bags implanted below their eyes. The Rockets lead the league in scoring defense and won 13 of their first 19 games after Yao Ming broke his leg. Besides Van Gundy's coaching, credit goes to Tracy McGrady's chiropractor and Dikembe Mutombo's newfound youth. But with the Rockets' luck, when Yao returns in mid-March, it will be about time for McGrady's back to act up again. No way Houston can finish No. 4 without both stars on the court for the season's final month.

L.A. Lakers

L.A. is the league's biggest surprise for numerous reasons: improved athleticism, the emergence of Andrew Bynum and, most important, Kobe Bryant's willingness to be a good teammate. The Lakers entered the week 10 games over .500 and still have not reached their stride. If the Jazz and Rockets slip just a little, watch L.A. pass them by.

Denver

Since his return, Carmelo Anthony has been getting the same number of shots (though he hasn't been making quite as many) he did before Allen Iverson showed up and has been as dazzling as ever. But something is not right. The Nuggets lost four in a row late last month, including three against decidedly inferior opponents. Anthony was preaching patience, and rightfully so. Only one problem: patience won't help Denver make up a 6 1/2-game deficit in the race for No. 4.




Updated on Friday, Feb 9, 2007 11:17 am EST

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Old 02-14-07, 12:04 AM
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Somehow I think we might be there duking it out for fourth place too...
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Old 02-14-07, 12:18 AM
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I never noticed this untill Charlie said on game night react that Mavs are JUST TWO Games ahead of their last year's winning games, but just because Spurs had been losing so many games, it looked as if it was Mavs have won soooooooooo many, Suns too....

You never know what a motivated Pop + Spurs team would do. Anything can happen, anything...........

Nothing is set in stones in the NBA..
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