Yesterday’s loss to the Lakers puts our perch atop the West in serious jeopardy. And just a preliminary glance at various headlines indicates that Kobe Bryant will be this year’s MVP (lifetime achievement award, anyone?) regardless of seeding. All this begs the question: wouldn’t we better off with the number 2 seed?

First, I’ll rank the West teams in order of who I’d least like to face: 1. Utah, 2. L.A., 3. S.A., 4. Phoenix, 5. Houston, 6. Denver, 7. Golden State, 8. Dallas. I like the Dallas matchup most, because I think they are the least suited of all these teams to guard Chris Paul- pretty much all the other ones (save Phoenix) have a quick guard that can at least at least tail Paul (Ellis, Iverson/Carter, Alston, Parker, Fisher, Williams). Here’s how the West will probably shake out:

8. Denver (48-31) [@Utah, Houston, Memphis]. The Nuggets are one of the only teams in the West that basically know where they’ll be: the eighth seed (assuming they make it). The Utah/Houston combo, however, could be challenging, and we might see Golden State creep back into this race. For now, I think that’s something of a long shot.

7. Dallas (50-29) [Portland, Seattle, New Orleans]. The Mavericks know exactly where they’ll be come playoff time. There’s no way they catch Phoenix ahead of them, and there’s no way they drop to the eighth seed with just three games left. Keep that season closer with New Orleans in mind, more on it later.

6. Phoenix (53-27) [Golden State, Portland]. Their loss against Houston yesterday sewed up their number 6 spot. 2 and a half ahead of Dallas, and one and a half behind Houston with 2 games left to play, they won’t move.

5. Houston (54-25) [@Denver, @Utah, Clippers]. Just one game back of the Hornets, Houston and San Antonio are ganging up to make this the closest race in Southwest Division history. But given that Houston plays back-to-back road games at a desperate Denver and at Utah, I don’t like their chances of moving up.

4. Utah (52-27) [Denver, Houston, @San Antonio]. Having locked up the Northwest division, the Jazz are automatically assured of a top 4 seed. However, they’re two games back of the next highest seed (SA currently), have just 3 games to go, and play a brutal closing schedule. All this locks them into the 4 seed. Isn’t it ridiculous that Utah has 3 wins less than us and is guaranteed a top 4 spot, while we’ve been sitting at #1 for quite some time now, and could potentially fall to the 5 seed?

1./2./3. San Antonio/Los Angeles Here’s where we run into the big problem- SA still faces Los Angeles on Sunday. If the Spurs prevail, we would be virtually assured the 1 seed (we would have to finish 1-2 against the Kings, Clips, and Mavs since we own the tiebreak with the Saint Antwans). If the Lakers prevail, we would need to win out to pick up the 1 seed.

But here’s the thing- if the Lakers do win their last two games, I contend we would be better off resting the starters in the Dallas season finale. First of all, we would have the opportunity to “choose” our first round opponent- Dallas or Denver (I’d pick Dallas as I’m sure most will. Street style basketball is too much of a wildcard, and that’s exactly what Denver/GS play). That’s a positive, but there’s an even bigger advantage. If we sacrifice the 1 seed to L.A., we guarantee that we don’t meet LA or Utah until the Conference Finals. The playoffs work 1-8 vs. 4-5 and 2-7 vs. 3-6, and the 1 and 4 seeds would be Los Angeles and Utah. We make them take care of each other, while we could potentially win series against Dallas, and San Antonio/Phoenix.

The worst-case scenario* is that the Spurs beat the Lakers on Sunday. In that case, Los Angeles can’t pick up the number 1 seed, unless San Antonio loses again (against the Kings and Jazz, so possible). That would guarantee our spot on the same side of the bracket as either Los Angeles or Utah (as the 1 seed, Utah’s there as the 4, and as the 2 seed, L.A. would be there as the 3). This brings up another question: do you rather pick up the 1 seed as something you can take pride in, or the 2 seed for better playoff positioning? I go with the latter, but Paul’s postgame comments yesterday suggest the former: “I think we will win our last three games, so if that means we’ll win the West, I guess so.” Somebody on the Hornets’ staff had better know all these scenarios and explain them to Byron Scott.

*Okay, I lied. The real worst case scenario would be San Antonio getting the one seed, Houston passing us in the division race, and us ending up with the 5th seed. That would mean a first round series with the Jazz (our homecourt advantage).

So when you watch the S.A.-L.A. game Sunday, keep in mind two things- if the Lakers win, we’d have a choice of Denver or Dallas and an extra day to rest up for the playoffs (assuming we beat the Kings today in Cowtown and the Clips later). If San Antonio wins, we’d have either Utah or L.A. on our side of the bracket, and could potentially face Utah in the first round.

This is all massively convoluted, but we do dictate our own future. Let’s get some destiny control underway in Sacramento!


3 Responses

  1. I gotta think momentum and perception are plenty important. For the Hornets, I think the best thing that can happen to them is going 3-0 to end the season and believing they can beat anyone. Bring on Denver, because we’ve managed them pretty well this year. And whoever comes after that, just like the Hornets, I’m not going to look that far ahead. One win, one team, one series at a time. First thing’s first.

  2. Thanks for this. My brain has been hurting.
    #1 seed would be nice, but I have a bad feeling that national media would be on our ass if we didn’t at least hit the second round.

    And yeah, they don’t matter, but I want the national media to be our friend.

  3. Yeah, I see where you’re coming from mW. It would feel bad to “purposely” lose a game to set up positioning, and then have that positioning not turn out all that great at the end. Not that it matters any more after tonight… we might HAVE to win both just to avoid slipping to 5th.

    Terp, yeah this stuff is so much more confusing than back when we were in the East (and back when the division winners didn’t automatically gain a top 4 spot). I agree with you about the national media. They may be stupid and say stupid things, but I’d feel bad listening to them talk trash about the Hornets all summer long if we don’t make the second round.

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