With the bottom three spots among the Eastern Conference playoffs qualifiers still not nailed down, here's a look at how the last two regular-season nights might play out . . .
Net gain possible in seedings
It's pretty simple. As a team, you want to go through the playoffs on the path of least resistance. The Nets play as a perimeter-oriented team, and the path of most resistance is Chicago and its defensive approach. The Nets don't have a big center who can draw the double teams. They want to run the court and shoot the three. That's tougher to do against Chicago.
So, they are driven to face their Atlantic Division foes, against whom they split the season series this year?
The Nets want the No. 6 seed for sure. Their style is better suited to playing a team like the Raptors, who use more finesse and less of the physical style.
No matter who they play, what's the key for the Nets in the playoffs?
The biggest thing for Nets to remember is that when shots aren't falling, they have to get to the basket. They're getting good production from Mikki Moore, who leads the league in field-goal percentage. And of course they have their Big Three. Richard Jefferson has been up and down, but with Jason Kidd and Vince Carter, they bear watching. Carter can take over a game in the same way Kobe Bryant does.
It's admirable that Caron would want to play. I've come back from an injured hand and it's not easy. But to try and come back at the end of the season, it's impossible to be at your best.
So the Wizards are done?
It's a team with only one piece of its puzzle, Antawn Jamison. They are a professional team and they will give it their best. But what we have to remember is that these are role players filling the gaps. And if their role players were good enough to be starters, then they would be starters in this league already. Simple as that.
The Magic now sit in the No. 8 spot, and could move up, but that seems unlikely. What do they get out of the playoffs?
Experience. As an up-and-coming team, the playoffs are a place for that. For players like Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson, it's important to get a feel for that intensity of the third part of the season that the veteran players know about.
Especially good if they win one or two?
Detroit still has way too much firepower for them, and also happen to be a better road team than home team.
Finally, looking at the big picture of the coming playoffs, what's the big story you see looming?
I'm really looking at the Nuggets. I'd thought since the trade for Allen Iverson, the team hadn't been in rhythm. But that's changing, and you're even seeing them concentrating on the defensive end. Marcus Camby is a great 7-foot defender. Then you have an X factor in Nene, who really looks like he's in shape. They've got a solid point guard in Steve Blake. They're the team to watch. No doubt a tough out for the Spurs.
(All questions above posed by ESPN.com editor Andrew Ayres)
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A young Knicks fan holds up a sign during Monday's loss to the Nets that proves not everybody sees gloom enshrouding the once-proud franchise.
A little over a year ago, a little birdie who has been around the NBA almost as long as I have been alive told me a little story about Joey Crawford, who ejected Tim Duncan from Sunday's Mavs-Spurs game for laughing -- yes, laughing -- from the bench.
For the blow-by-blow of what happened Sunday, including Duncan's claim afterward that Crawford challenged him to a fight, be sure to check out Marc Stein's latest blog entry.
What I'm here to give you is a little Insider background, as well as the following quasi-prediction: It would not surprise me if Crawford loses his whistle for the upcoming postseason.
That little birdie I spoke of before told me that Crawford was summoned to the league office in New York by Commissioner David Stern nearly four years ago following his antics in Game 2 of the 2003 Western Conference finals.
Crawford had called four technical fouls in the first 10 minutes, 11 seconds and ejected Mavs coaches Don Nelson and Del Harris. Here's the way I reported that story way back then when I was the pool reporter who interviewed Crawford in the officials' locker room after the game.
Stern, from what I was told, was livid that Crawford had become the story of Game 2, and Crawford was told that if it ever happened again, the consequences would be serious.
Chad Ford and Chris Sheridan take a look at probable playoff matchups and break down the teams that ended up on the outside looking in.
Carter goes for triple-double, downs Knicks
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Yao Ming (34 points, nine rebounds) celebrates his team's win over the Suns. With the win, Houston clinched home-court advantage against the Jazz in first round of the playoffs. "We were so excited when the clock was running to zero. It feels like winning a playoff series," Yao said.
Quote of the Day:
-- Andrew Ayres
Spencer, Portland, Ore.: Do you feel that the Nuggets can take the series to 6? Duncan is going to play like a man on fire, at least for the first series.
John Hollinger: Tough draw for Denver getting the Spurs in the first round as a No. 6. Just think, in the East they'd be playing Toronto with that seed. Six games sounds about right.
Tim (Toledo): I think the Pistons would have been better off getting the 2nd seed. If I was Detroit I would rather play an inexperienced Toronto team in the 2nd Round then the defending champs.
John Hollinger: Completely agree, the Bulls/Cavs will have a real advantage in that No. 2 slot. But don't be so certain that you're playing Miami in Round 2.
Frank (LA): Speaking of moral victories, I say the Lakers win just 1 versus the Suns. They've totally backed into the playoffs this year.
John Hollinger: And if they keep backing up, they might be playing Dallas. Which would be great, because it would mean Golden State against Phoenix in the first playoff series ever in which all seven games had over 300 points scored.
Knicks guard Stephon Marbury addressed the crowd before the game, saying, "You guys stuck with us throughout the whole year." He added, "Us as a team, we're going to be together for next year," and predicted "better things to come." The Knicks are 32-49.
• The Nuggets finish the regular season Wednesday night at San Antonio, where they'll begin the playoffs, but coach George Karl is bringing his team home Thursday and will practice thrice in Denver before returning to Texas on Saturday.
• Carmelo Anthony is set to join Alex English and Kiki Vandeweghe as the only Nuggets to average at least 29 points per game.
-- The Associated Press
For Sunday's worst you should have put Joey Crawford rather than Sam Cassell. A second tech on Duncan, for laughing ... the league should want Duncan to show some emotion. It's not like he was acting like 'Sheed. He was on the other side of the court when Crawford gave him the tech. Anyways isn't laughter good for the soul or something? Crawford should try it some time when his blood boils over. He could have just laughed too. Well, he could have tried anyway. Sad twist in what could have been a really good game.
-- Calder (Las Vegas)