A Thrilling Finish
The last two days of the regular season are filled with plenty of suspense and enough playoff possibilities to make your head spin. Folks in these parts are interested in where Washington will wind up, with the Wizards battling with New Jersey and Orlando for the sixth, seventh and eighth spots.
New Jersey, which finishes the season at home against Chicago on Wednesday, took care of business last night against the Knicks to move within Â½ of the Wizards for sixth in the East. New Jersey and Orlando both believe they can catch the Wizards in some capacity - New Jersey can bump them to seventh and Orlando can bump them to eighth - but if the Wizards beat Orlando tonight at home and win tomorrow in Indiana, they get the sixth seed and Toronto, simple as that. A win over the Magic tonight secures no less than seventh for Washington.
That's why Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan said this morning that he isn't too concerned about the teams breathing down his neck. "Whether it's New Jersey or Orlando, we have to make a stand for ourselves. We were so good, the middle part of the season. We had a 7 Â½ game lead and we kept hearing, 'Miami is going to get us, Miami is going to get us.' Miami got us. Now we're hearing, 'New Jersey is going to get us. Orlando is trying to get us,' " Jordan said. "Our plan is, we've got two games left to stand on our feet and to hold our ground. Whether we're shorthanded or not, doesn't matter. Our will and determination, just on those principles, should say we want to work as hard as we can, play as hard as we can. Winning takes care of everything."
There are two other races to keep an eye on as well. Cleveland and Chicago are still in a fight for the second seed in the East, which is significant because the league's silly seeding plan - which awards division champions one of the top four seeds, regardless of record - means that the losing team gets the fifth seed - and the defending champion Miami Heat.
If the Cavaliers defeat Philadelphia tonight, the Bulls will be in a must-win situation tomorrow in New Jersey. A win and they don't have to worry about Miami, Cleveland or Detroit until the conference finals. Talk about prime real estate. But if the Cavaliers lose tonight, the Bulls would have the No. 2 locked up and you'd have to wonder if they'd want to go all out the last game of the season - against a possible first round opponent. They might be willing to give New Jersey the game, especially if the Wizards lose one or both of these last two and drop to seventh.
"We're ready for five, six teams," Bulls Coach Scott Skiles said earlier this week. "We're almost done and we've probably done a lot of meaningless work. We don't have a choice, because we want to be ready."
Then, you move over to the Western Conference, where the battle for the seventh/eighth spot in the Western Conference between the Los Angeles Lakers, Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers is quite interesting. The Lakers have already clinched a playoff spot, but could slip below Golden State with two Warriors wins and a Lakers' loss against Sacramento, which seems unlikely.
The Warriors need to win remaining games againt Dallas and Portland or hope the Clippers lose one more time to either Phoenix or New Orleans, so that they can secure the franchise's first playoff appearance in 13 years. Most around the league are rooting for the Warriors to get in, just so that we can see what kind of fireworks a series between Dallas (and owner Mark Cuban) and Golden State (and Warriors Coach and former Mavericks Coach Don Nelson).
So, in the words of Brendan Haywood, sit back with "the popcorn and the Twizzlers" and enjoy.
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