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Old 02-25-07, 10:27 AM
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Mike Monroe: West will have fun stretch run

http://www.mysanantonio.com/sports/c...st.c5d02d.html

Mike Monroe: West will have fun stretch run

Web Posted: 02/25/2007 01:11 AM CST


San Antonio Express-News

Since mid-December, it's been clear at least one Eastern Conference team will make the playoffs with a record under .500. NBA commissioner David Stern and vice president for basketball operations Stu Jackson should begin each day by phoning Bryan Colangelo to thank him for revitalizing the Raptors, or there might have been a division champion with a sub-.500 record slotted in one of the top four seeds in the conference playoffs by executive order.
And what did not seem possible two months ago now appears just as likely — at least one Western Conference playoff team will have more losses than victories.

By sneaking past the SuperSonics by one point Friday, the Hornets (27-29) moved past the Warriors into the final Western playoff spot.

The way the West plays out this season should make for some drama in the final weeks of the season, particularly the final three playoff berths.

There are three distinct groupings:

The Mavericks and Suns clearly have established they are the West's best teams. The Suns' three-straight losses during Steve Nash's pre-All-Star injury absence created some separation for the Mavericks at the top, but not enough to cede the No. 1 seed to Dallas yet.

The Spurs, Jazz and Rockets are just below Dallas and Phoenix. Utah knows it will have the No. 4 seed in the playoffs, at worst, because it is far ahead of Denver and Minnesota in the Northwest Division.

The Spurs and Rockets, separated by two games in the loss column, ultimately could battle down the stretch for the other spot in the West's upper bracket.
Spurs: No. 8 - Larry Kenon

The Nuggets, Warriors, Hornets, Clippers and Timberwolves will scrap down the stretch for the final three playoff spots. That will be the most compelling of the Western races, and since the Spurs are currently in the No. 3 spot, it likely will determine who they'll face in the first round.

That makes it worth dissecting each of the five teams in this group.

The Nuggets just lost J.R. Smith to a knee injury. Lack of continuity has been the story of Denver's season, so this is a continuation of that. The Nuggets looked fractured mentally in a bad loss to the Spurs in the first game after the All-Star break.

Allen Iverson is ailing, too. This team is more apt to slide than rise.

Jason Richardson just returned to the Warriors' lineup after sitting out 22 games with a broken hand. And former Pacers Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington, who came to Golden State as part of an eight-player deal on Jan. 17, are fully ingrained in Don Nelson's offense.

"Nellie" has done one of his better coaching jobs, and should be a coach of the year candidate if he can get the Warriors back in the playoffs for the first time since 1994. My fondest hope: That the Warriors finish sixth. If they return to the playoffs, there is no reason the Spurs (and those who cover them) shouldn't get to visit one of America's greatest cities in spring.

The Hornets finally are healthy enough to be as good as some of us believed they would be. Even without Peja Stojakovic, they look like a team none of the Western elites will want to face in the first round.

Tyson Chandler has turned into a monster on the boards. Until Yao Ming returns, Chandler is the West's best center. New Orleans has more momentum than the rest of this group.

The Clippers didn't trade Corey Maggette. Hard to say how that will affect them. It is clear this is not a happy bunch, but perhaps the passing of the trade deadline will make a difference.

Mike James is still on the Timberwolves' roster and Kevin Garnett is increasingly frustrated that management seems as frozen as the lakes around Minneapolis.

Garnett's discontent puts more pressure on them to make the playoffs than the others in this group, and that never bodes well.

My picks: Hornets sixth, Nuggets seventh, Warriors eighth.



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Old 02-25-07, 11:08 AM
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My picks: Nuggets, Hornets, Warriors...
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Old 02-25-07, 11:23 AM
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Wow. Now I've seen it all. The guy totally forgot about the Lakers!
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Old 02-25-07, 11:49 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bnwhuxley View Post
Wow. Now I've seen it all. The guy totally forgot about the Lakers!
Burn! Will the Lakers finish 6th, or leapfrog Houston for #5? They would be a tough out in round 1, IMO.
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Old 02-25-07, 03:02 PM
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The lakers are falling fast, they won't overtake houston.
Dallas
phx
us
utah
houston
LAKERS
NO/OK
Denver.
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Old 02-25-07, 10:06 PM
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Yeah - he did lose the lakers - they'll be in and warriors out
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