1. Set in stone
While the East has been set for a couple of days now, nearly all the playoff pairings in the wild, wild Western Conference weren’t determined until the season’s final games were played. However, now that the playoff picture is crystal clear, everyone can see this is going to be one heckuva of run to the rings. The one/eight seed matchup between Los Angeles and Denver delivers plenty of firepower with three of the league’s top four scorers going at it in a best of seven series. The seventh seeded Mavericks won’t have far to travel when they go against New Orleans, but they’ll be packing a pitiful 17-24 road record to an arena where the Hornets are 30-11. The No. 3 Spurs are going to have their hands full with the Suns and a championship hungry Shaquille O’Neal while Houston has homecourt advantage against the Jazz in a rematch of the only playoff series to go seven games last year.
2. How it happened
When the Hornets face the Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs, they’ll have revenge on their minds. Dallas spanked the Southwest Division champions 111-98 behind Jason Kidd’s 100th triple-double. Kidd showed Chris Paul that he wasn’t quite ready to give up his crown as one of the league’s top point guards just yet, scoring 27 points to go with 10 rebounds and 10 assists. Dirk Nowitzki only scored 12 points on 4-of-16 shooting, but Jason Terry came off the bench to pour in 30 points, including 10 during a 32-8 run spanning the end of the third and beginning of the fourth quarters. The Hornets were led by David West’s 26 points and got solid numbers out of Paul (20 points, 10 ast). The Dallas victory also ensured that Denver would be traveling to Los Angeles for their opening round matchup.
3. The rematch with a little extra Shaq
Perhaps the biggest game of the night played a big role in setting up the biggest first round matchup in this year’s playoffs between two of the game’s most bitter rivals. The Spurs ensured homecourt advantage in the first round by beating Utah 109-80, locking up the third seed. The game was never close as San Antonio rushed out to a 65-39 halftime lead which, coupled with victories by Houston and Phoenix, sets up another instant classic between Shaquille O’Neal and Tim Duncan. Expect another bloody, bruising series when the Suns and Spurs go at it. San Antonio is 33-7 this year at home and after missing three consecutive games, they have Manu Ginobili healthy. And, oh, what a difference a healthy Manu makes! Ginobili played just 19 minutes off the bench in his return but, posted 12 points (4-4 FG, 4-4 FT), six rebounds, four assists and three steals.
Wednesday’s Player of the Day: Kevin Durant @ Golden State 43 min, 42 pts (FG: 18-25, 3FG: 1-2, FT: 5-6), 13 reb, 6 ast, 1 stl, 2 blk
Buzzer Beater: When Houston defeated the Clippers 93-75 in their season finale, they secured the fifth seed in the playoffs. A couple of hours later, Utah falls to the Spurs and we have a series. Despite having a higher seed, the Jazz must travel to Houston for their postseason opener because they have a worse overall record. Basically it’s a horrible situation for Utah who is 17-24 on the road this year. Luis Scola made Rockets fans say “Yao who?” after he dominated the Clippers with 22 points and 10 rebounds, covering up for Tracy McGrady’s pathetic 2-of-11 shooting performance. People continue to argue about Houston’s legitimacy , but you can’t argue with a record of 35 wins in its last 43 games, including a 22-game win streak.