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Chaos theory reigns over NBA playoff scenarios

Apr 12, 2010, 2:17 AM EDT

Thumbnail image for bulls_game.jpgGame 1,230. The last one of the seemingly eternal NBA regular season. It tips off at 10:30 p.m. (Eastern) on Wednesday night, Utah Jazz at the Phoenix Suns.

Until that game ends well after midnight, we are not going to know all the first round playoff matchups. It has just been that kind of season. With just three days remaining of games we still almost need Stephen Hawking to figure out and explain all the potential playoff scenarios out there.

The Eastern conference is complex. For the Western Conference, maybe Hawking isn’t the guy, we need Edward Lorenz, the father of Chaos Theory. (Well, except he’s been dead for a couple years.)

Out in the West, we know the teams and that the Lakers are the top seed. That’s about it. It could be just about anybody playing just about anybody — four games still separate seeds two and eight. It’s so chaotic that one team with at least 51 wins this season (likely 52) will not have home court advantage.

In practice the West is really two tiers (behind the Lakers): The Mavericks, Suns, Jazz and Nuggets fighting for seeds two through six; then the Spurs, Trail Blazers and Thunder fighting for six through eight.  

Dallas is the current holder of the second seed out West, with a 53-27 record. Phoenix, Utah and Denver all are a game back at 52-28. With two games left, anyone of them can finish either as the two seed or the six.

Two big games will decide a lot of this and the Suns are in both — they play Denver Tuesday then Utah on Wednesday. Win both and they could be the two seed. However, that will most likely be Dallas because of their current one-game lead — and they have a gimme against the Clippers on Monday night. But then comes a game on Wednesday night against San Antonio where both teams could want to win for playoff positioning reasons.

Utah should get a win Tuesday against Golden State. Then comes the big Wednesday night showdown with the Suns. The scenarios for what that game could mean is where we need Hawking.

As for the lower tier of the West, Oklahoma City is likely facing the Lakers in the first round — unless they can beat Portland Monday night. The race in this second tier is actually tighter than the top — Oklahoma City, San Antonio and Portland all have 49 wins.

Which makes the Thunder/Trail Blazers game huge. At the same time as that game, San Antonio will almost certainly be beating the dead horse of Minnesota to get win 50. The bottom like is the loser of the Oklahoma City/Portland game almost certainly gets the Lakers.  

Just to make it more complex, San Antonio owns the tiebreaker over Oklahoma City but Portland owns it over the Spurs. That Monday night game between the Thunder and Blazers decide who has that tiebreaker.

Thank Buddha the East is a little more straightforward. A little. We know a couple things for sure: The Cavaliers are the top seed, but we’re not sure who they will play yet. We are also sure that Orlando is the two seed and will likely play first-time playoff participants Charlotte.

Chicago’s blowout win over the Raptors in Toronto Sunday gives them a one game lead and the advantage, for that eighth and final spot and the “reward” of playing Cleveland. But the Raptors own the tiebreaker with the Bulls. Chicago has two games left — Boston on Tuesday, then Charlotte on the second night. Two playoff teams. Toronto’s two games left are against teams bound for the lottery, Detroit and New York.

That said, the Raptors have yet to win since Bosh was injured, can they really overtake the Bulls now? Not likely. The Bulls should hold on to the eighth spot. But with unpredictable teams like this “should” means little.

Also out East, Boston and Atlanta will finish as the three and four seeds, in some order, and will face Miami or Milwaukee, in some order. The Bucks may have the most say in how this finishes up — they face the Hawks and the Celtics.

Atlanta has a one game lead on Boston for the three-seed, and plays the Bucks then the Cavaliers (who likely will rest a lot of players). Boston faces the very desperate Bulls followed by the Bucks. The smart money would say Atlanta remains the three seed. But again the Bucks get a big say.

And those Bucks need their wins, Miami’s two remaining games are against the Sixers and Nets, two games the hot Heat should win. Milwaukee will have a tough time getting two wins. Again, look for the Heat to be the five seed (against Boston) and the Hawks to get the Bucks.

But when Chaos Theory is operating, anything can happen.

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  3. Chris - Apr 12, 2010 at 7:54 AM

    The West is crazy. All those teams 4 games apart? that’s insanity. I hope the spurs come 8th and knock the Lakers off in the first round :)

  4. Dan Kirkpatrick - Apr 12, 2010 at 2:13 PM

    First of all, the Jazz do not play AT Phoenix. Unless the schedule is changed just for impact on this story. It has been scheduled for a long time that the Jazz plays at home.
    More than likely the drama will come from who might be the team with the home court advantage in the playoffs.
    Everyone acts like parity and competition is a bad thing. They want Eastern teams to dominate with below .500 records.
    No one says anything about how, for years, worst playing teams come from the Eastern Conference. The eastern reporters’ worst nightmare would be a Bucks vs Thunder NBA final.

  5. Michael in FL - Apr 12, 2010 at 2:29 PM

    Even the Lakers I think will play a 50 win team and they arent exactly jelling right now. 1 vs. 8 there could be interesting.

  6. Drew - Apr 12, 2010 at 2:55 PM

    Portland is probably the worst possible first round matchup for the Lakers. Then again, who else would they play? San Antonio, who is battle-tested and playing some pretty decent ball of late, including a recent blowout win in LA. Or, they play the explosive offense of OKC – a young team with nothing to lose. A second-round matchup with Dallas/Utah/Phoenix/Denver is no treat either. This could be like the 1987 season where the Lakers had to drag out three seven-game series to win it.
    Meanwhile, Cleveland is in a good position to steamroll the Raptors or Bulls in the first round while acclimating Shaq back into the flow of things. Then, likely an old and beaten Celtics team in the second round.
    When it’s all said and done, I like the same matchups as last year: Orlando-Cleveland, Denver-LA to battle it out.

  7. WyoMike - Apr 12, 2010 at 3:45 PM

    Not going to dis any other team. Just have to say. GO SPURS!
    Quietly finding ways to get it done year after year, no hype, no drama, just wins!
    I repeat, GO SPURS!

  8. Wallace - Apr 12, 2010 at 5:10 PM

    It’s All about Cleveland. The worst city in the nation to live; the best Basketball franchise in the world???? Hmmm Go figure….

  9. John Pileggi - Apr 12, 2010 at 8:28 PM

    Chaotic, sure. But is does make it interesting. Pretty wide open from all standpoints.

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