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News » Order still not restored in wild West

Order still not restored in wild West

Order still not restored in wild West
Barring something unforeseen, and something catastrophic enough to make the citizens of San Antonio want to strangle themselves with their "Go Spurs Go" car banners, the Spurs will soon gain entrance to the NBA playoffs for the 12th consecutive season.

Their invitation could come as early as tonight.

Who the Spurs might face in the first round of the postseason, and even where, is far less certain.

With 15 days to go in the regular season, positioning in the Western Conference playoff race is about as up-for-grabs as it was on opening night.

The Spurs departed New Orleans after a 90-86 loss on Sunday night still clinging to a half-game lead over both Houston and Denver for the second seed. If the playoffs started today, the Spurs would open at home against the seventh-seeded Hornets.

Of course, the playoffs do not start today. In the West, two weeks can feel like an eternity.

"We have no idea what seeds are going to be right now," Spurs forward Tim Duncan said. "There's a game or two between home-court advantage, and opening on the road. You know what the teams are going to be in for the most part. After that, it happens the way it happens."

To the untrained eye, the Western Conference playoff picture still looks like a Jackson Pollock - scattered dots, signifying nothing. The eight-team playoff field is all but mathematically set, with the Phoenix Suns holding on to fading hopes of sneaking into the eighth slot.

The Spurs could logically end up anywhere from second to seventh, and headed anywhere from the Louisiana bayou to the Pacific Northwest.

All that is certain in the West: The Los Angeles Lakers will have the top seed. After that, the rest of the presumptive playoff field might as well draw matchups out of a hat.

The Spurs are nine games ahead of ninth-place Phoenix with nine games to go and own the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Suns, making a postseason berth a mere formality. The Spurs clinch a playoff berth with one more win or one more Suns loss.

The only way the Spurs could miss the playoffs would be to wind up in an unlikely multi-team tiebreaker. They can render that impossible by beating Oklahoma City at the AT&T Center.

A victory would let the Spurs turn their attention toward sorting out the particulars of the postseason bracket.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has long said he worries more about things like health, freshness, and sharpness than playoff seeding. Still, the Spurs would prefer not to give up the No. 2 seed without a fight.

"We know what we're playing for," Duncan said, "and how easily it can switch."

In most normal seasons, the Spurs coaching staff has by now been able to identify two or three potential first-round foes, and has begun to put together scouting packages on them.

That isn't yet possible this season with so many moving parts.

How much the jumble affects the Spurs' playoff preparations will largely be determined by who they eventually draw.

"The last two seasons, we've played New Orleans 14 times," Popovich said. "We know each other pretty well. It's not like we would have to spend a million hours preparing for them."

Preparation becomes more vital if the Spurs attract a less familiar foe.

"If we ended up with somebody else we haven't played as much, like Portland, then it would take a little bit more time to prepare," Popovich said.

The Thunder, who visit the AT&T Center tonight, are one of the teams the Spurs cannot expect to meet in the playoffs. At 20-53, Oklahoma City is in the Northwest Division basement.

However, that doesn't mean the Thunder cannot have a profound effect on the race. They already have once this month, when they beat the Spurs 78-76 in Oklahoma City.

"At the end of the day, it's not about who we're playing," guard Roger Mason Jr. said. "Right now, we're preparing for something bigger. Every night, we need to come to play."

That might be the only way to inject some clarity into a playoff chase that remains uncommonly cloudy.

Author: Fox Sports
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Added: April 1, 2009


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