Still Much to Be Decided in NBA Playoff Race

Mike D'Antoni
The Lakers and Mike D'Antoni moved a step closer to the playoffs even without Kobe Bryant.

While certainly the attention of the National Basketball Association was focused squarely on the Kobe Bryant season-ending injury, there still remains some to be decided and that ‘some’ involves Bryant’s Lakers. With a one game lead heading into last night’s action (see update below), over the Utah Jazz, the Lakers still need help.

(LA defeated San Antonio 91-86 last night. They have a 1.5 game lead over Utah)

The Lakers have one game remaining and that one is at home on Wednesday night against the Houston Rockets. The good news for the Kobe-less Lakers is that they will know exactly what they need to do at tip-off. The Jazz start their season finale at 8pm ET in Memphis while the Lakers won’t crank things up until 1030pm PT.

Of course it all could be a moot point because the Jazz hold the tie-breaker should the two finish with the exact same record. The interesting thing here is that even though Houston and the Grizzlies are both securely into the playoffs, they are both also playing for key positioning. Neither of these teams are just going to lay down unless things break the wrong ways heading into the respective games.

Carmelo Anthony
Anthony and the Knicks could see the Celtics in the first round.

For Houston, they have a shot of moving out of the seventh spot and into the sixth. That’s huge considering they’d be forced to play either the Spurs or Thunder in the opening round. In the case of Memphis, they are locked in a three-way tussle with Denver and the Los Angeles Clippers for the third playoff spot. One game could mean the difference between being a three-seed or a fifth and that means match-up issues for all teams involved for both the first and potentially second round match-ups.

InĀ the Eastern Conference, we know who all eight playoff teams are going to be and the match-ups are nearly set. In the one-eight series, Miami will take on Milwaukee who couldn’t quite catch the Celtics to avoid playing the Heat. Regardless, I fully expect a Heat sweep in this one.

The two-seed is New York and more than likely they’ll be playing the Celtics in a series that very well could be the most entertaining of the first round. Obviously there is tremendous rivalry there so clearly the Celtics would love to derail the Knicks trip to the conference finals against the Heat.

Indiana and Brooklyn are still deciding the three/four seeds and Atlanta and Chicago are still battling for the five/six seeds in the Eastern Conference. I would expect that regardless of how these two match-ups end up, they’ll both be physical series relying on solid defense and clutch shooting.

Games to play in the final Days

Utah at Minnesota – The Jazz are in a must-win situation and while playing on the road isn’t ideal, I still expect a victory in the land of 10,000 lakes and so should you.

Toronto at Atlanta – You’d thinkĀ  this one would be a simple task for the Hawks with Toronto playing for nothing right? Not so fast because the Raptors have played well lately and I like an upset in Georgia.

Atlanta at New York – This one has a very slim chance of being a first round match-up but either way I don’t expect you’ll see the stars too long. Take the Knicks at home in Madison Square Garden.

Utah at Memphis – There is of course a chance this one could mean absolutely nothing but here’s hoping that it means a ton for both squads. If that’s the case, the urgency of the Jazz should prevail over the Grizzlies who just must start resting some guys one way or the other. What the heck, take the Jazz.