NBA Playoff Handicapping Feb 14th, 2008
By: Picks Online
CappersPicks.com NBA Handicapping Staff
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Dave Cokin Editorials – NBA PLAYOFFS: OF HOT AND COLD FINISHES
Does it matter if a team is hot going into the playoffs? This week gives us a good snapshot of what teams are thinking, especially in the West with a logjam battle for first place. The Spurs and Lakers had a showdown Sunday in a battle for the No. 1 seed, a game the Lakers won easily, 106-85.
“You don’t want to have a game like this going into the playoffs,” Spurs forward Bruce Bowen said. “If we lose playing our way, we deal with it. But when you don’t bring it and you’re not competitive, it hurts.” The loss knocked the Spurs from contention for the top spot in the Western Conference, turning the race into a three-way battle between the Lakers, Hornets and Rockets. History tells us it’s more important to be healthy heading into the postseason than in any kind of slump. Some good news for the Spurs is that Manu Ginobili should be back soon from a strained groin. “He’ll definitely play the first game of the playoffs,” coach Gregg Popovich said.
Ginobili leads them in scoring at 19.6 points per game. Looking back a year ago, the Spurs lost their final three games of the regular season, including a blowout loss at Denver.
One of those wins was important, as San Antonio had to settle for the third seed in the West. Yet, it didn’t matter in the end as San Antonio went on to win the NBA title again. Let’s not forget that the team that took the No. 1 seed in the West, Dallas, won 15 of its last 19 regular season games, then went belly-up in the first round of the playoffs, a stunning 6-game series loss to No. 8 seeded Golden State. Forgotten is the fact that Dallas rested players late last season and appeared rusty against Golden State.
Of greater concern to the Spurs, however, is that the defeat to the Lakers sent the Spurs to their third blowout defeat against a playoff-bound team in nine days. Sunday’s massacre joins losses by 26 points to Utah and 17 points to Phoenix on the Spurs’ lowlight list, an unsettling trend as they approach the postseason. Still, the playoffs are a whole different breed of games.
The Lakers have already clinched the Pacific Division title, but they would earn the conference’s top playoff seeding if they win Tuesday at home against Sacramento. The Lakers are hot, on a 11-4 SU, 7-8 ATS run.
A year ago the Pistons were red-hot down the stretch, on a 10-4 run heading into the playoffs. They then swept Orlando, knocked off Chicago in 6, then went up 2-0 on Cleveland. That was their last win of the season, though, as the upstart young Cavaliers won 4 in a row to win the East. You might say there was little indication the Cavaliers were going to be champions of the East, as they ended the regular season on a 9-7 run.
One of the hottest teams now is the new-look Phoenix Suns, on a 13-5 SU, 12-5-1 ATS run. A sixth-seeded fate appears most likely for Phoenix, though they could overtake the Spurs. Phoenix owns the tiebreaker with San Antonio, which plays at Sacramento Monday and faces Utah at home Wednesday. The Suns could weigh the value of facing Utah as a fifth seed, possibly with a home-court edge, against being the sixth seed and possibly facing Houston, a team most contenders would prefer playing. “I don’t think it really matters,” Suns guard Steve Nash said. Suns coach Mike D’Antoni summed it up best with, “The new season starts in the playoffs.”
And what about Houston, the team that won 22 in a row but is now the squad everyone wants to play? Houston is still playing well, on a 5-1 SU/ATS run, even beating Phoenix as a home dog. Everyone wants to play them because Yao Ming is out, but be careful what you wish for. After all, everyone wanted to play No. 8 seed Golden State a year ago and the Mavs got saddled with the biggest surprise in playoff history. Playing your best basketball of the season the last few weeks isn’t as important as it will be….starting Saturday!
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