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Playoff Push: Four-way tie in West? Could happen

4/16/2008

San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili has missed the past three games heading into Wednesday night's game (ESPN, 9:30 p.m. ET) against the Utah Jazz, but resting the super sixth man on the final day of the NBA season could cost the Spurs' home-court advantage.

Ginobili, who is battling a groin injury, has said in recent days that he's ready to return, but Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has resisted rushing him back, keeping his shooting star under wraps for the past three games.

However, Popovich appears to have a decision to make: sit the creative scorer (19.6 points per game) and risk losing home-court advantage -- and also risk facing the team with the best home record in the NBA in the first round, the same Jazz team they face Wednesday. A loss could mean the playoffs start on the road in Salt Lake City for the defending champs. In the Spurs' favor, Utah has not won in San Antonio since 1999.

So much for meaningless finales.

Here's why. San Antonio, Utah, Phoenix and Houston could all finish in a 55-27 tie for third place in the West, with the first tiebreaker coming down to head-to-head winning percentage among the four tied teams. However, as a thorough accounting of the various scenarios in the Salt Lake City Tribune notes, the Jazz are removed from the tiebreaking procedure because they are a division champ.

San Antonio could actually finish as the sixth seed if it loses to the Jazz. That could happen if two other entirely plausible and likely results come to pass: the Rockets beat the visiting Clippers and the Suns beat the visiting Blazers. That would create the four-way tie for third.

The complicated tiebreakers would slot in the Jazz, Suns, Rockets and Spurs as the order of the seeds 3 through 6.

Of course, the Spurs now sit at No. 3 and would retain that spot with a win. Brent Barry returned to action in Monday's win over the Kings but was held scoreless, missing three 3-point attempts.

Sounds like a team that needs its main Manu back sooner than later.


NBA Playoff Seeding Scenarios

Here's another way to look at it:

HOUSTON-PHOENIX-UTAH-SAN ANTONIO (Seeds 3 to 6)
(Higher Seeded team has homecourt in first round unless otherwise
indicated)

If Houston and San Antonio win:
3-San Antonio
4-Utah
5-Houston (homecourt)
6-Phoenix

If Houston, Utah and Phoenix win:
3-Utah
4-Phoenix
5-Houston (homecourt)
6-San Antonio

If Utah wins and Phoenix loses:
3-Utah
4-San Antonio
5-Houston
6-Phoenix

If San Antonio and Phoenix win and Houston loses:
3-San Antonio
4-Utah
5-Phoenix (homecourt)
6-Houston

If San Antonio wins and Houston and Phoenix lose:
3-San Antonio
4-Utah
5-Houston
6-Phoenix

If Utah and Phoenix win and Houston loses:
3-Utah
4-Phoenix
5-San Antonio
6-Houston

DALLAS-DENVER (Seeds 7 to 8)

If Dallas wins or Denver loses:
7-Dallas
8-Denver

If Denver wins AND Dallas loses:
7-Denver
8-Dallas


Wednesday's Playoff Push Games Of Note

New Orleans at Dallas (ESPN, 7 ET) -- The Hornets come into this one with nothing to gain or lose, having locked up the No. 2 seed the night before. Look for major Ryan Bowen action and extended Hilton Armstrong face-time. The Hornets starters can rest up.

If you believe Dallas would rather face the Hornets than the Lakers, then the Mavs have a big incentive to win. If Dallas loses and Denver wins, then the Mavs would fall to the eight seed because the Nuggets hold the head-to-head tiebreaker. That would mean a first-round playoff series with Kobe Bryant for Dallas.

Memphis at Denver -- If the Mavs lose earlier in the evening, that opens the door for the Nuggets to pick their first-round opponent. In that scenario, look for a full-out effort by the Nuggets who probably would prefer the No. 7 seed and a date with No. 2 New Orleans.

LA Clippers at Houston -- The Rockets are likely rooting for their fellow Texans to knock off the Jazz, because that could diminish the chances of the Rockets ending up at home-court disadvantage in a possible Jazz matchup.

Portland at Phoenix -- The Suns will either play the Jazz, Rockets or Spurs in first round, and still have a crack at home-court advantage.

Andrew Ayres is an NBA editor for ESPN.com.

ESPN's Peter Newmann also contributed to this story.