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By Jim Hurley:
Here's something you might not have known about the on-going battle for playoff berths/seeding in the NBA:
Heading into last night's action each/every team that would have made the playoffs "if the season ended today" were all on the plus side of the .500 mark.
No doubt that's how it should be but check back in recent seasons past and there were always one or two and sometimes three sub-.500 teams making it into the post-season party.
So, what does it say about the upcoming NBA Playoffs that swing into action later this month?
For one thing, there are more "good" teams in the league than there's been in a while although we'll be the first folks to admit that depth is a problem with many teams and so while Chicago, Miami, Oklahoma City and San Antonio are all playing better-than-.731 ball at the current time, the fact of the matter is those first-round playoff series likely won't be complete walkovers. Trust us.
The seventh- and eighth-seeded squads will be time-tested tough and could be major handfuls for the likes of the Bulls, Heat, Thunder and Spurs.
Secondly, look around at how some of the playoff-bound teams play on the road - especially in these upcoming first-round series you want to have confidence that your club can win a game (and maybe two) on the other team's court and note that aside from the aforementioned big wigs in this league the Western Conference's Denver Nuggets sport a winning road mark at the current time (14-13) while the Eastern Conference's Indiana Pacers (16-14) are sound players away from home. Keep that under your hat!
Naturally, there's still plenty of regular-season action on tap in NBA-land as everyone's got around 10-to-12 games remaining in this lockout-abbreviated NBA regular season but keep a close eye on how playoff-bound teams play on the road these final couple of weeks as it could well be an indicator of whether or not they can "steal" a series in the first or second round of play.
In other NBA News & Notes ...
While everyone's carrying on regarding that mess in Orlando involving head coach Stan Van Gundy and star player Dwight Howard, there's plenty of behind-the-scenes action with one question coming from central Florida as to whether or not Van Gundy will be back next year - doesn't seem likely, right? So, does that open up the pro door to Kentucky head coach John Calipari who all this past week has been rumored to fly the college coop and head to the New York Knicks (we say that's a 20 percent chance at best right now)?
Gut feeling is even though Calipari might love coming in and teaming with Howard - and maybe free-agent point guard Deron Williams (New Jersey) - for the next handful of years, we think "Coach Cal" will stay put but don't rule out Phil Jackson as the Magic's next head coach. Again, give the "Zen Master" the likes of Howard, Williams via free agency and maybe one other marquee name (perhaps Lamar Odom) and the former Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers head coach could spin his own magic for the next four or five years here and maybe even rake in a couple of more NBA titles. Take that, Red Auerbach! ...
Finally, two head coaches who will be gonzo should their teams not make it into the playoffs are New York's interim boss-man Mike Woodson and Utah's Ty Corbin.
The best guess-estimate with Woodson - whose Knicks enter the weekend up 1 ½ games on Milwaukee for that final playoff berth in the East -- is that he'll be back and signed to a deal the minute the Knicks clinch a post-season berth but if the short-handed New Yorkers (no PG Jeremy Lin and no F Amare'e Stoudemire these days) fall short than that coaching search will go full tilt and don't be surprised if the Knicks make some overtures to Boston coach Doc Rivers.
Meanwhile, Corbin's found it ultra-tough to walk in the shoes filled for years and years by tough-guy Jerry Sloan and there is some thought in the Jazz organization is that if Utah (28-27 and currently in 10th place in the NBA's Western Conference) fail to make it to the playoffs than the Jazz will reach outside the organization for a good fit ... did somebody say Bulls assistant Andy Greer or perhaps a highly-valued college "name" coach such as Washington's Lorenzo Romar?
And dare we remind folks of the fact that Hall of Famer Larry Brown wants back into the coaching world and there are worse choices the Jazz could make than Brown.
In NFL News & Notes ...
The entire New Orleans Saints "BountyGate" grows bigger and uglier with each passing day and it's become evident - at least to us - that NFL Commissioner really has no other choice but to suspend one-time Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams for life after that release of audio prior to the team's NFC Divisional Playoff loss at San Francisco this past January. Williams - who right now is listed as "suspended indefinitely" and thus is unable to take command of his new job as defensive coordinator of the St. Louis Rams -- will be fortunate to avoid player/team lawsuits here and he can kiss his coaching career goodbye but he's got no one to blame but himself.
Meanwhile, from a long-term perspective, the Saints are gonna be whacked more than this original two draft picks and season-long suspension of head coach Sean Payton - watch the NFL further punish this franchise and one possible tact is to disallow the Saints from signing any free agents for a one- or two-year period ...
One major question making the rounds a couple of weeks before this year's NFL Draft is what will the Minnesota Vikings do at pick #3 and what about the Cleveland Browns at pick #4?
Obviously, it's written in stone that the Indianapolis Colts will nab QB Andrew Luck (Stanford) with the numero uno pick and Heisman Trophy-winning QB Robert Griffin III (Baylor) will go #2 to the Washington Redskins who traded up for this key selection.
Word is the Vikes will tab OT Matt Kalili (USC) while the Browns continue to weigh out whether they want to choose a quarterback (see Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill), a RB (see Alabama's Trent Richardson) or a WR (see Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon) and our gut feel right here/right now is that the Browns should grab Blackmon who could be a 100-catch, 1,000-plus yard guy from his professional get-go.
Again, there's plenty of time before we get to the NFL Draft (see April 26th-thru-April 28th) but right now here's the way we see the top 10 picks:
- Indianapolis - Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
- Washington - Robert Griffin III, Baylor
- Minnesota - Matt Kalil, OT, USC
- Cleveland -- Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
- Tampa Bay - Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
- St. Louis - Mo Claiborne, CB, LSU
- Jacksonville - Luke Kuechly, ILB, Boston College
- Miami - Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
- Carolina - Michael Brockers, DT, LSU
- Buffalo - Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
NOTE: NFL Draft coverage begins Monday right here at Jim Sez as we tackle all the position-by-position reports.
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