MMPG: The FourCast
1. New Orleans at Atlanta (Monday)
Of note: Thanks to the arrival of Mike Bibby, the Atlanta Hawks have already made the playoffs and are still holding on to the fourth spot in the Eastern Conference. But they will be hit with their annual reminder of what could've been this week. Back in 2005, the Hawks selected Marvin Williams over Chris Paul and Deron Williams -- the two best point guards to enter the league in this decade -- and both will visit Philips Arena on consecutive games with red-hot teams. Paul, whose Hornets have won seven in a row, and Deron Williams, whose Jazz has won 11 in row, have combined to win as many playoff series as the Hawks have total playoff victories (three) the past four years.
2. Houston at Denver (Monday)
Of note: Houston, Denver, Utah, New Orleans and Portland are all in contention for the third spot in the Western Conference, and are likely to switch positions between third and seventh for the rest of the season. The Nuggets had been relatively comfortable atop the Northwest Division for most of the season, but they have sputtered since the all-star break. Carmelo Anthony and George Karl had their little spat and the team has lost seven of 10 and fallen to third in its division. Denver needs to defeat the Rockets to even the season series at 2-2, which could come into play if tie-breakers are needed at the end of the season. The Rockets have not missed Tracy McGrady at all. Since McGrady was lost with season-ending knee surgery, the Rockets are 9-2.
3. Los Angeles Lakers at San Antonio (Thursday)
Of note: The San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Lakers meet for the third and final time in the regular season. Both teams have won at home this season, with the Roger Mason Jr. delivering a game-winning jumper in the first meeting, and the Lakers hammering the Spurs when they met 11 days later. The Spurs are not going to catch the Lakers for the top spot in the Western Conference, but this game will determine the season series between the two heavyweights. The Spurs already beat the Lakers in the competition over forward Drew Gooden, who has yet to play for his new team since signing with San Antonio last Thursday. This will also be the first time the Lakers have met the Spurs without Andrew Bynum.
4. Cleveland at Phoenix (Thursday)
Of note: The rumored merger of LeBron James and Shaquille O'Neal would've been bigger than AT&T and Verizon -- at least on paper. If anything, having two of the biggest names in professional sports and the league's two most physically imposing players on the same team would've provided some entertaining moments. The Cleveland Cavaliers were unable to pry O'Neal from Phoenix at the trade deadline, but the proposed deal to swap Ben Wallace and Sasha Pavlovic for O'Neal would've been disastrous for the Suns, whose playoff chances are dwindling by the week. Wallace is out for the next month with a broken leg and Amare Stoudemire will miss the rest of the season (and possibly, the postseason) with an eye injury. The Suns have gone 4-6 in their past 10 games without Stoudemire.
Others in consideration: Orlando at Detroit (Monday); Los Angeles Lakers at Portland (Monday); Charlotte at San Antonio (Tuesday); Dallas at Phoenix (Tuesday); Utah at Atlanta (Wednesday); Boston at Miami (Wednesday); Los Angeles Lakers at Houston (Wednesday); Dallas at Portland (Wednesday); Dallas at Golden State (Friday); Utah at Miami (Saturday); San Antonio at Houston (Saturday); Portland at Atlanta (Sunday); Dallas at Los Angeles Lakers (Sunday); Utah at Orlando (Sunday).
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