NBA @ 2: Predicting the Final 16
The 2011/12 NBA Regular Season is nearing a close with just over two weeks left. Four teams have officially clinched playoff spots: the Chicago Bulls, Miami HEAT, Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs. Nineteen teams in total are still realistically in the race . . .
Eastern Conference Race
The Bulls (43-14) and HEAT (40-15) will be the top two seeds in the East. It’s not official but it might as well be. The Bulls are currently up over Miami by only one game in the loss column.
This race, for what could be home court advantage in the conference finals, is wide, wide open given these two square off on Thursday and then the following Thursday. So far the season series is tied at one apiece. The biggest concern is the health of reigning MVP, Derrick Rose, who is currently dealing with some ankle issues.
The next group of teams includes the Indiana Pacers (35-22), Atlanta Hawks (34-23), Orlando Magic (34-23) and Boston Celtics (32-24).
The Celtics are fourth but would need to overtake all three to climb a spot. As the potential winner of the Atlantic Division, Boston can’t drop any lower than four. It’s also important to note that they won’t have home court advantage if the fifth-seeded team has a better record.
Boston has the tiebreaker over the Magic and currently the Pacers (via conference record). The Celtics also has a one-game advantage over the Hawks but they still play two more times. It won’t be easy for Boston to outpace their competition but if they get hot enough?
The Hawks have the tiebreaker over the Pacers and Magic. Orlando has the tiebreaker over the Pacers.
For Boston to fall below four, the New York Knicks or Philadelphia 76ers (both at 29-27) would have to climb a three-game gap in the loss column, a difficult task with 10 to play. The Sixers hold the tiebreaker over Boston but while the Celtics have taken two of three from the Knicks, they meet one last time in New York on the 17th.
Boston currently has a slightly better division record, which would be the tiebreaker over the Knicks if the season series ends up even. New York has the tiebreaker over Philadelphia.
The Milwaukee Bucks (28-29) are the one team outside the top eight looking to break in. They host the Sixers on the 25th to determine tiebreaker (and possibly who makes or misses the playoffs).
The Bucks can even the series with the Knicks on Wednesday in Milwaukee (and conference record is awfully close). They may be a game and a half out but the Bucks have a real shot.
Prediction: 1 – HEAT, 2 – Bulls, 3 – Pacers, 4 – Celtics, 5 – Hawks, 6 – Magic, 7 – Knicks, 8 – Bucks
Western Conference Race
Similar to the Eastern Conference, the top two teams in the West stand alone. The Thunder (42-15) and Spurs (40-15) are tied in the loss column but San Antonio has the tiebreaker.
The Los Angeles Lakers (36-22), Los Angeles Clippers (34-23) and Memphis Grizzlies are fighting for the next three slots. At least one of the Lakers or Clippers will get a top-four seed via the Pacific Division title.
The Lakers hold the tiebreaker over the Clippers and Grizzlies. The Clippers hold the edge over Memphis.
The Houston Rockets (32-25) are two losses behind the Clippers and Grizzlies, three back of the Lakers. Houston has the tiebreaker over the Lakers but not the Clippers. The Grizzlies and Rockets split their season series and are very close in both division and conference records.
None of the four will see each other again during the regular season.
The surging Rockets will have a major hand in what’s to come. They still play the Mavs (31-26), the Nuggets (31-26) twice, Phoenix Suns (30-27) and Utah Jazz (30-28).
The Mavs have the tiebreaker over the Rockets (even with the final meeting in Dallas on the 18th).
If Houston and Denver split their final two, it may come down to conference record where the Rockets have the advantage.
If the Suns can even the season series with Houston, it goes to a very close race at conference record.
Winner of Rockets/Jazz on Wednesday will have the tiebreaker.
Houston could go on a major run, notch losses on everyone and give the Clippers, Grizzlies or even Lakers a scare – or fall apart and end up out of the playoffs altogether. The margins in the West are razor-thin.
Meanwhile the Mavs have the tiebreaker over the Nuggets, Suns and Jazz (who they play on the 16th). The Nuggets play again on the 21st but Denver has the tiebreaker locked in.
Similarly, the Jazz get one more crack at the Suns but Phoenix already has the tiebreaker.
Prediction: 1 – Thunder, 2 – Spurs, 3 – Lakers, 4 – Grizzlies, 5 – Clippers, 6 – Rockets, 7 – Nuggets, 8 – Mavericks
Nuggets Harrington Knee Injury
The Denver Nuggets are a talented, young team but they’ve had a serious problem staying healthy this year. Just when Danilo Gallinari returns from his second lengthy injury of the year, Al Harrington reportedly has torn his meniscus.
Per Chris Dempsey of the Denver Post, Harrington revealed the injury Monday saying it was injured “a couple of games ago.”
Al has actually tried to play through it but now is exploring different treatment options. He hopes to not to sit out although it’s unclear exactly what his future will be the rest of the season.
Veterans Andre Miller and Harrington are the only two Nuggets to play in every game this season (57). Gallinari has missed 23, Rudy Fernandez 26, Ty Lawson five and Arron Afflalo four. Prior to the trade with the Washington Wizards for JaVale McGee, the Nuggets had a difficult time keeping Nene healthy as well.
Arguably Denver’s 31-26 record, currently eighth in the West, has more to do with injuries than effort. Certainly a healthy Gallinari could have meant a few more wins and easily a higher seed.
The Nuggets, as predicted above, should still finish in the top eight but Harrington is a crucial reserve, averaging 14.5 points a game on 45% shooting.
Denver will host the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday night.
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