Conspiracy or not, Denver's work is over. The Nuggets lost to Oklahoma City, beat Dallas, and lost again to Oklahoma City. Mission accomplished. Denver did what they could to help launch the Thunder into the #3 spot instead of Dallas (making life easier for the Nuggets in the process). Or, maybe it was all just a coincidence...
Will Denver admit to the strategy? I think people reading media quotes from George Karl this week sensed a wink. Let's say it this way. If they WEREN'T doing that on purpose, they're going to be in big trouble vs. OKC in a first round match up of #4 and #5 seeds!
Game One: Oklahoma City 101, Denver 94 (in Denver)
Game Two: Oklahoma City 104, Denver 89 (in OKC)
If you assume home court advantage is 3-4 points...then those results are right on the money. Oklahoma City grades out as 11 points better on a neutral site with a 7-point win at Denver and a 15-point win at home. Does anybody really think that Denver's that much worse than OKC?
We mentioned the other day that Denver showed poorly in key hustle stats like two-point defense and rebounding. That was true again Friday.
Two-Point Shooting: OKC 49%, Denver 44%
Rebounds: OKC 46, Denver 40
Let's see what impact Denver's week has had on the Western playoff picture...
Jockeying in the West (Spurs have clinched #1)
2...LA Lakers 55-24 (vs. OKC, vs. SA, at Sacramento)
3...Dallas 54-25 (vs. Phoenix, at Houston, vs. NO)
4...OK City 53-26 (at Lakers, at Sacramento, vs. Milwaukee)
Los Angeles is getting perilously close to blowing the #2 seed after an 0-4 week. The Lakers do own the tie-breaker over Dallas because they won the Pacific Division and Dallas will be runner-up to San Antonio in the Southwest Division. Oklahoma City also owns the tie-breaker over Dallas as winner of the Northwest division. Oklahoma City still needs some help if they are aiming for the #3 spot. Continuing on...
5...Denver 48-21 (vs. Minnesota, vs. Golden State, at Utah)
6...New Orleans 46-33 (at Memphis, vs. Utah, at Dallas)
7...Portland 46-33 (Lakers out) (vs. Memphis, at Golden State)
8...Memphis 45-34 (vs. NO, at Portland, at LA Clippers)
Denver's adventures this week have prevented them from locking up the #5 seed. It's unlikely they'll lose their last three games as favorites though. Portland, New Orleans, and Memphis is still a mess...and everyone's trying to avoid the Lakers as they grab a chair when the music stops. Two head-to-head games you see in parenthesis amidst the bottom three will have a big impact in determining who finishes where.
That will give us something to talk about next week.
Why is there such concern over the brackets? A glance at the updated won-lost records since the All-Star Break help make it clear...
Western Standings since ASB
LA Lakers 17-5
Oklahoma City 18-7
New Orleans 13-8
San Antonio 14-9
Even though the Lakers aren't playing at peak intensity this week, that 17-1 stretch before the downshift showed they were championship ready. You don't want to finish #7 and play them in the first round. You probably don't want to be in the 3-6 match up either because a series win just gives you the Lakers in the second round. That's a tougher call though because getting to face whoever finishes #6 may be a better option than playing #5 Denver. Picking your poison is hard enough. Many of the labels are still blank!
As expected, the Chicago Bulls wrapped up the top seed in the East with a Friday night victory in Cleveland. The #1, #4, #5, and #8 spots in the East are already locked in. Here are updated standings for the tweeners...
2...Boston 55-24 (at Miami, at Washington, vs. NY)
3...Miami 55-24 (vs. Boston, at Atlanta, at Toronto)
Boston currrently holds the tie-breaker edge. But, they visit Miami Sunday and will be road underdogs. If Miami wins that game, and wins out, the Heat get the #2 seed and home court advantage in a projected second round meeting with the Celtics. If Boston lifts its game significantly from Thursday's disappointing loss in Chicago and wins out, they'll win the coveted #2 slot.
6...New York 41-38 (at Indiana, vs. Chicago, at Boston)
7...Philadelphia 41-39 (vs. Orlando, vs. Detroit)
New York owns the tie-breaker based on a superior divisional record (the series mark was 2-2). They have a tough two-game tango to finish, but those games may be meaningless to Chicago and Boston at tipoff. Note that the Bulls still have a chance to catch San Antonio for best overall record (and home court in the championships).
San Antonio 60-19 (vs. Utah, at Lakers, at Phoenix)
Chicago 59-20 (at Orlando, at New York, vs. New Jersey)
Chicago would own home court over any other Western team if the Bulls reach the Finals. The Lakers 0-4 slide took them out of that race.
Might as well the Eastern records since the All-Star Break since we ran the Western numbers.
Eastern Standings since ASB
New York 13-12
Chicago's been in a class by themselves with a young hungry team.
Friday was a night where expectations largely held. So, no reason to post Transition Points. Sole addition I'd make is that Geoff Ogilvy is currently in 5th position at the Masters. Saying his name REALLY fast is the only way I'll ever get close to experiencing the leaderboard at Augusta.
No Saturday night report because there aren't any meaningful games (outside of the Spurs hoping to beat struggling Utah in their race for best overall record). Back late Sunday to review key numbers from Boston/Miami, and maybe New Orleans/Memphis in the 6-7-8 morass out West...