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[NY Times] In West, a Slip Can Send a Top Team Tumbling

Discussion in 'NBA Dish' started by jsmee2000, Mar 31, 2008.

  1. jsmee2000

    jsmee2000 Contributing Member

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    In West, a Slip Can Send a Top Team Tumbling

    By HOWARD BECK
    Published: March 31, 2008

    [​IMG]

    What should the mighty Dallas Mavericks be feeling right now? Exhilaration, or anxiety? Whither the inner compass of the resurgent Houston Rockets? On pride, or panic? What’s the emotion du jour in Oakland? Hope, or despair?

    Better check the Western Conference standings. And if a few minutes have passed, check again. There is a good chance things have changed radically.

    Nine teams are locked in a freakishly tight race that Commissioner David Stern breathlessly called “the most exciting race we’ve ever had in the history” of the N.B.A. No one could accuse him of hyperbole.

    As recently as Sunday, the West’s top five teams were separated by a single game. The New Orleans Hornets held the top spot, with San Antonio, Houston, the Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix clustered right behind them. Utah was only a game behind the Lakers and the Suns. The seventh-place Mavericks were four and a half games behind the Hornets — and two losses from the draft lottery. The Golden State Warriors were in ninth, out of the playoff field, but still only five and a half games out of first.

    Five teams have been rotating first place since Jan. 1. With one brief exception, none have held more than a one-game lead in that time. The Rockets climbed to first from 10th with a 22-game winning streak — then lost two of three games and fell to fourth.

    Suddenly, the standings are a mind-bending visual puzzle torn from an M. C. Escher painting. (Are those stairs ascending or descending? Are those teams behind me actually ahead of me? Oh, madness.)

    “The West is absolutely going gaga,” said Bob Rosen of the Elias Sports Bureau.

    Which sounds like fun, unless you are the one holding on for dear life.

    “I think stressful is a good word,” said Phoenix Coach Mike D’Antoni, whose Suns (49-24) were a game out of first, and four losses from playoff oblivion. “I don’t think anybody wants to be in the middle of it.”

    That is because the middle has never been this precarious, or this good. All nine teams in the race are on pace to win at least 50 games, which means that one is probably doomed to become the Best N.B.A. Team Ever to Miss the Playoffs.

    That title is currently held by the 2000 Rockets, who won 45 games and finished ninth. No team has ever won 46 games or more and been shut out of the postseason. And no conference race has ever been this close, this late, with a single loss sending a team tumbling.

    “I’ve never seen anything like it,” Nuggets Coach George Karl recently told reporters. “I call it the Halley’s comet year of the N.B.A. Once every 99 years, something like this happens. Why I have to be a part of it, I want to know why.”

    The cruelty took center stage Saturday night in Denver, where the Nuggets played host to Golden State. The Warriors had held eighth place every day since Feb. 26. Then the Nuggets — who had been mired in ninth for the same period — handed them a 119-112 defeat, and they traded places.

    They are hardly alone in their nail-biting existence. The Mavericks, who won 67 games last year, are now in danger of missing the playoffs. They had lost 8 of 14 games through Sunday, along with their star forward Dirk Nowitzki, who went down with knee and ankle injuries March 23. He may miss another week.

    As unlikely as it may seem, even the Hornets (50-22) and the Spurs (51-23) could fall out of the playoff field with a bad final two weeks; and the Warriors or the Nuggets could still win the top seed.

    “It’s crazy, to tell you the truth,” the Hornets’ Chris Paul said last week. “It’s like the playoffs have already started.”

    Every win, loss, bad call, botched free throw and untimely hiccup now looms large. Injuries, too. On Friday, the Lakers’ Derek Fisher learned he had a torn tendon in his right foot, which should require six to eight weeks of rest. Fisher plans to keep playing.

    “You can’t afford someone to have a nagging injury,” D’Antoni said. “They’ve got to play through it. Each game is that important.”

    In a normal season, teams have some idea by now of where they will finish and can keep an eye on possible first-round opponents. In a race in which any team can finish anywhere, that is an impossibility.

    In the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics (58-15 through Sunday) have a six-game cushion over the second-place Detroit Pistons and have blown out the rest of the field. Boston is 17 ½ games ahead of the fourth-place Cleveland Cavaliers and a laughable 25 games ahead of eighth-place Atlanta.

    Meanwhile, the defending champion Spurs are struggling to secure home-court advantage. The Jazz, a conference finalist last year, is sixth in the West, despite winning 32 of its last 41 games.

    As the leader of the Northwest Division, Utah would be the third seed if the season ended today. Then again, the Jazz could conceivably stumble for a few days, cede the division to the Nuggets and fall out of the playoffs.

    Then consider the madness the playoffs will hold.

    “There will be what you all call upsets in the playoffs. And you will be wrong,” Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich told reporters recently. “There won’t be any upsets, because there is no eighth seed and there is no first seed.”

    Any way it shakes out, a very good team will fall into the draft lottery — and perhaps petition for a move to the Eastern Conference.

    “I think when it’s over, you might say, ‘That was fun,’ ” D’Antoni said.

    So much for enjoying the moment.
     
  2. bbinchina

    bbinchina Member

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    quote:“I think when it’s over, you might say, ‘That was fun,’ ” D’Antoni said

    ^^ I have to say I quite agree with this guy. Anyway, games are only for fun for us.
     
  3. lovefion2005

    lovefion2005 Member

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    I call it the Halley’s comet year of the N.B.A. Once every 99 years, something like this happens. Why I have to be a part of it, I want to know why.
    It is droll. :)
     
  4. Yaozer

    Yaozer Member

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    Coming from the East, shouldn't he just write an article titled, "In East, anything you do is meaningless because the West is still far better"?
     

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