HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The Spurs have the top spot in the Western Conference locked up.
The Hornets’ ticket to the postseason has been punched. The Pacers are in, too. Wednesday night’s action around the NBA cleared up a few outstanding issues in regards to the playoffs.
There’s only one spot left, the eighth and final slot in the Western Conference. And the Hang Time Grizzlies have it within their grasp — they can lock up the spot with a win over Sacramento on Friday night.
We still don’t know exactly how the playoff matchups will play out, there is still plenty of jostling being done in the bottom halves of both the Eastern and Western Conference standings. But we could have all 16 playoff teams locked in before the final weekend of the regular season is 12 hours old.
A few notes, quotes and an opinion or two after eyeballing as much of Wednesday night’s action as we could …
Heat Limping Without Wade
All this LeBron James-for-MVP talk has overshadowed an equally impressive season by Dwyane Wade. Just how different are the Heat without Wade in the lineup? They found out last night when they lost to the Bucks while he sat our resting a bruised thigh. The Heat has a 5-8 record when James, Wade or Chris Bosh doesn’t play or doesn’t finish a game due to injury.
ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst offered up a rather pointed analysis of the Heat’s current state of affairs (you can cover your eyes now, Heat fans):
If the Heat win their last four games, their huge free-agent haul will have meant a grand total of 11 more regular-season wins than the expiring free-agent crew Wade carried around all of last season in overachieving purgatory.
Unless the Celtics lose twice and the Heat win out, adding James and Bosh will have earned the Heat a mere two higher seeds in the standings, unimpressively going from No. 5 to No. 3. Indeed, the playoffs are the time for salvation, but the data doesn’t add up to an inspiring projection.
“What does the 2 seed guarantee you?” asked James, who had 29 points and eight assists in the loss.
“It doesn’t guarantee you win the series. … I’m a prime example. The last two years, I have been the first overall seed of everybody, all 16 teams, and it didn’t pay off for us.”
That’s one of the few things LeBron and Cavaliers fans will agree on!
Spurs Seal The Deal
While the rest of us have been obsessed with who gets the No. 1 spot in the Western Conference, the Spurs seemed a bit indifferent after sealing the deal with a blowout win over the Kings and the Lakers’ surprising loss to Golden State, per the Express News:
“We’ve had it and won and had it and lost,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “The best team usually ends up winning.”
Under Popovich, the Spurs have owned the No. 1 seed four other times, parlaying it into championships in 1999 and 2003. In 2005, they won with a two seed. In 2007, they did it from the third slot.
“We knew it wasn’t the end of the world to finish second,” Manu Ginobili said, even before the seeding was official. “At the same time, after the kind of season we had, we wanted it.”
Something tells us the Spurs will appreciate the No. 1 seed a whole lot more if and when they have to use it to their advantage, to get out of a series with a Game 7 on their home court.
Mavs Can’t Stop The Bleeding
Chris Webber‘s words about them being soft will serve as background music for the Mavericks this season if they don’t turn things around in the postseason. Losers of four straight games after the Nuggets popped them last night, we’re officially nervous about a team we thought might challenge for a championship earlier this season.
Granted, Jason Kidd was given the night off to rest. But the fact is, the Mavericks are 8-9 in their past 17 games and haven’t inspired much confidence during this recent slide, losing to the Lakers, Warriors, Trail Blazers and Nuggets. They finish with four very winnable games — Clippers and Suns at home, on the road against the Rockets and the season-and home-finale against the Hornets, a potential first-round foe in the playoffs.
“Right now with our team, it’s not about measuring sticks or anything like that,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle told ESPNDallas.com. “It’s about getting our health, getting our physical and mental disposition where it needs to be and then moving forward every day feeling like we made progress.”
Celebration Time In Indy
Carlisle’s former team, the Pacers, spent last night celebrating the playoff bid they clinched with their win and the Magic’s overtime win over the Bobcats. It’s been five years since the Pacers have sniffed the postseason, five long years for Danny Granger, who was on the last Pacers’ team to work beyond the regular season.
Not everyone remembers the promise Pacers boss Larry Bird made, but as my main man Mike Wells of the Indianapolis Star points out here, Granger did:
“It’s been a trying time,” said forward Danny Granger, who was on the 2005-06 team that last went to the playoffs. “We’ve had a lot of trades where we re-hauled the whole team and then had the off-court stuff that happened. (Team president) Larry Bird said three years ago we’d be back in the playoffs in three years. He was right. It’s great to be here, honestly.”
CP3 Delivers For The Hornets
As they have all season, the Hornets rebounded from adversity to clinch their playoff berth. They were down 17 to the Rockets in the first quarter before an 80-55 surge punctuated their entrance to the postseason party.
Not bad for a team that’s endured its fair share of drama since last summer, starting with Chris Paul‘s supposed unhappiness with the franchise, as Jimmy Smith of the Time-Picayune points out:
Burdened at the outset of the season only with the expectations of a rebuilding season and his own head-coaching inexperience, [Monty] Williams navigated his way through an offseason of uncertainty surrounding All-Star point guard Chris Paul’s reported unhappiness with the team’s direction. In early December, the NBA assumed ownership of the financially troubled franchise, then the team coped with the tragic death of guard Willie Green’s sister and cousin shortly before Christmas in an automobile accident after a Hornets’ loss in Detroit, and last month’s season-ending injury to leading scorer David West.
Working with a roster that included only four holdovers, Williams instilled a defensive work ethic into the Hornets from the first day of training camp, a mindset that has served the team well and was instrumental in an 8-0 start to the season, and a 10-game winning streak in January.
“It has been a constant all season long,” said Paul who led the way Wednesday night with a game-high 28 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds. “The first quarter, we looked like the Bad News Bears, and the last three quarters, we showed up. It’s been our philosophy all season to defend. …Defend, run and rebound. That’s what we did.”