Of the NBA's 16 available playoff spots, only four seeds are locked in entering the season's final full week. In the Eastern Conference, we know Miami will be the top seed and own home court, while defending champion Detroit will be the No. 2. In the West, Seattle will be the No. 3 seed and Dallas the No. 4, with both playing host to the first two games in their first-round matchups.
Sorry, but that's all we can tell you with certainty. Now, if it's conjecture you want, we can deliver that by the boatload:
Best in the West decide the rest
The road to the Western Conference championship will go through San Antonio. Sorry, Phoenix, you had your chance.
|Tony Parker and the Spurs need a well-rested Tim Duncan back in time for the playoffs. (Getty Images)|
In the Golden State visit, the Spurs suited up without injured big men Tim Duncan and Rasho Nesterovic as well as Manu Ginobili, who sat out with a stomach virus the night after dropping 40 on the Clips. Maybe he and Shaquille O'Neal are swapping recipes.
Phoenix extended itself in back-to-back games, too, but where San Antonio caught its breaks, the Suns came away empty-handed. After losing a track meet to a Warriors team that has rapidly become the conference's ultimate spoiler, they nearly rallied from a 16-point deficit against Houston in the game's final 10 minutes, only to see Steve Nash miss a jumper and Steven Hunter foul up the dunk attempt follow at the buzzer.
"I don't understand it," Hunter said. "Nine times out of 10, that dunk falls."
Not when the home-court edge isn't meant to be.
Remarkably, the Spurs have made it through life without Duncan, going 7-4 while his ankle mends, and are now awaiting his imminent return. He has been ruled out of Tuesday's home game against Portland but could be in the lineup Saturday for the first of a pair of games against the Memphis Grizzlies, the team San Antonio will likely face in the first round if it does indeed take care of business and claims the top seed. It seems to be a blessing for the Spurs; not only can Duncan get re-acclimated and find his groove, he can do it against the team he'll potentially become very familiar with in the coming weeks.
Phoenix, still up a game in the loss column, loses a head-to-head tiebreaker with the Spurs since it dropped the season series 2-1. In order to avoid squandering the home-court edge that appeared locked up when Duncan went down, the Suns have to plan on being perfect in upcoming home games against the Hornets, Clippers, Kings and Nuggets. That's certainly doable, but given how well both the Nuggets and Kings are playing, we're not counting on a sweep.
Denver has lost only two games in its past 23 -- both to Phoenix. The Nuggets are intent on removing that monkey before the postseason, especially considering the Suns could be their first-round opponent. Their other chief task is leap-frogging Houston, which could be cemented in Saturday night's visit to the Toyota Center. The Rockets have lost both games they've played at home this month and must find a way to regain their edge there as they close the season with four consecutive home games.
Here's how we see the West shaking out: 1. San Antonio, 2. Phoenix, 3. Seattle, 4. Dallas, 5. Sacramento, 6. Houston, 7. Denver, 8. Memphis.
East's Friday night fights
On April 15, make sure your taxes are taken care of and then kick back to watch the Eastern Conference jockey for position. While no East game is more important than Boston's visit to Philly on Tuesday night, we're going to go out on a limb and say the Celtics take advantage of the absence of Allen Iverson to lock up the Atlantic.
|Monday||Detroit at Chicago|
|Monday||Memphis at Dallas|
|Monday||Houston at Seattle|
|Tuesday||Boston at Philadelphia|
|Wednesday||New Jersey at Indiana|
|Thursday||Miami at Philadelphia|
|Friday||New Jersey at Toronto|
|Friday||Miami at Boston|
|Friday||Philadelphia at Indiana|
|Friday||Cleveland at Washington|
|Friday||Memphis at Denver|
|Saturday||Denver at Houston|
|Saturday||Memphis at San Antonio|
|Saturday||Sacramento at Phoenix|
|Sunday||Indiana at Miami|
|Sunday||Cleveland at Detroit|
|Sunday||Seattle at Minnesota|
|Sunday||Philadelphia at New Jersey|
As of this writing, Iverson was unlikely to play because of two sprained thumbs that have left him, oddly enough, all thumbs. Understand that when Iverson is ruling himself out, he must a.) be in a lot of pain and b.) can't see himself helping much. We did notice the Sixers won a huge game at Washington without him and Chris Webber over the weekend, but this one, even at home, will be much tougher given the stakes involved.
A loss would leave Philly to scramble to gain one of the final remaining spots, which comes down to a three-team race that also includes New Jersey and Cleveland. Friday night, we'll get a clearer picture of how things will shake out when the Wizards and Pacers, still jockeying for playoff position, play host to the Cavs and Sixers. These two games, starting simultaneously, makes us glad we subscribe to League Pass, cheesy commercials aside.
Despite enjoying the services of Jermaine O'Neal in two of the three meetings with the Sixers, Indiana hasn't won once. Reggie Miller, playing his next-to-last regular-season home game, will have to pull out another age-defying performance to help the Pacers avoid a sweep; we assume both Iverson and Webber will be in uniform.
Washington remains in traction despite the return of Antawn Jamison and must find a way to build some momentum and step up to meet the challenge of big games. With LeBron James coming into town looking to make sure his own team's freefall doesn't end with Cleveland on the outside looking in, the MCI Center will have the same electric feel enjoyed before the novelty of having Michael Jordan in town wore off.
To top it off, Vince Carter and his Nets are also in action, continuing their admirable last gasp effort to make the playoffs. Guess where?
Carter will wear an opposing uniform in the Air Canada Centre for the first time in his career and will no doubt draw the ire of disillusioned fans now watching as their former idol tears up the league after dogging it to get out of town. He has led the Nets in scoring in 15 of the team's past 16 games, joining Jason Kidd to help lift into the conversation a depleted team that would normally have no business thinking playoffs. In fact, if the Nets notch a home victory over Philadelphia on Sunday, they would own tiebreakers over both the Sixers and Cavs.
Here's how we see the East shaking out: 1. Miami, 2. Detroit, 3. Boston, 4. Chicago, 5. Washington, 6. Indiana, 7. Philadelphia, 8. New Jersey.
No Cavs? Call it a hunch.