Thursday , Mar , 31 , 2005 C.Y. Ellis

Playoff race: Bubble trouble in the West

Words by: Jordan Rivas – NBAline

With May upon us and April fast approaching, the NBA switches gears, moving from the mid-season lull to teams frantically jockeying for crucial playoff position. It’s special because everyone from the top-tiers to the those just trying to make it to the postseason all feel the pressure to land that perfect spot in the seedings, or just nab a spot at all. For the bubble teams it’s more than just landing home court advantage or a favorable first-round match-up, their performance over the next month and a half will determine whether or not their season goes on. For this reason, we pay special attention to the teams trying to edge their way into the playoff race.

Today I’ll be taking a closer look at some of the teams in the race for a spot in the Western Conference Playoffs.

Playoff race: Bubble trouble in the West

Holding On –

Denver Nuggets:

To start the season most, including this writer, had the Nuggets chalked up for a return trip to the post season – and damn if they aren’t making us sweat. Up until March the Nuggets had been streaky at best, and down right ugly if I was trying to be honest. Denver endured an 11-19 streak over December and January, including a five game losing skid to start the new year. Things were looking bleak. Denver fans and small time sports writers like myself were biting nails hoping the Nuggets would turn it around. For different reasons of course, fans for the love of their team, myself for the love of my precious reputation. The Mile High City and Jordan Rivas thank you Nuggets. Since February 25th the Nuggets have run off an impressive 15-2 record suffering just two loses to the West leading Phoenix Suns. Center Marcus Camby has apparently awoken from a seven-year slumber and is provided the spark and defensive anchor for this Nuggets team. Camby has averaged 3.73 and 3.40 blocks per in February and March, respectively. Carmelo has also upped his game in the recent months. After a low start to the season, Melo’s shooting is as hot as it’s been all year and the Nuggets are reaping the benefits. Baring any type of injuries, the Nuggets should stay on this pace and head into the Playoffs in good shape.

Outside Looking In –

Minnesota Timberwolves:

Remember that bit about my reputation? Yeah, not looking so good. Anyone who read my season preview on NBAline knows I had the T’Wolves winning their division. Obviously that won’t be happening, and even the chance of sparing me, uh, I mean themselves, the embarrassment of missing the playoffs is growing slim. Minnesota is currently 37-34 and two games behind Denver for the last Playoff spot. After four straight wins, Minnesota is 6-4 over their last ten games and attempting to push their way into one of the final two spots (Memphis, currently in 7th, is just half a game ahead of Denver). Obviously, however, this Timberwolves team is not like the one we saw last season. KG has been bothered by injuries and Sam Cassell has been outright hampered physically, being held to just 26 minutes a game, his lowest in the past five years. And Spree, well Spree is old and bitter what do you expect. After contract extension pleas are shot down and you apparently can’t feed your family, I suppose actually earning the millions you are getting paid just isn’t worth it. Despite Latrell’s lackluster play, the T’Wolves are still just two games out of a playoff spot. If KG can manage to put this team on his back, and occasionally get a little help, we may be seeing Minnesota in the playoffs, if only to get back to those good old first-round exit days.

Los Angeles Lakers:

Rewind back to roughly a year ago. Picture two teams loaded with talent and looking primed at title runs for at least a few more years. These teams square off in the Western Conference Finals and put on a fairly entertaining show before one emerges victorious and eventually gets upset by the Pistons. Now fast-forward to present and those same two teams, the T’Wolves and Lakers, now make up two-thirds of this piece featuring teams on the playoff bubble. It’s a fast changing world. One in which Kobe Bryant is facing missing the postseason for the first time in his nine year career, despite averaging the second best points per game clip at 28.2. That seems to epitomize the Lakers’ season, Kobe has been brilliant, yet the Lakers struggle owing to an inconsistent supporting cast and lack of a real low-post presence. The Lake Show was able to keep their heads a few games above .500, before their current late season slump started. Since February the Lakers have gone a disappointing 9-18 including an eight game losing streak, six of which came on the road. The Lakers have dug themselves a six game hole that they need to climb out of fast if they’re going to make the playoffs for the eleventh consecutive year. The Lakers are falling fast and in spite of should probably be a valiant individual late season push by Bryant to get his team to the post season, he doesn’t have enough tricks in his bag – he isn’t getting out of this one and the Lakers aren’t getting into the playoffs.

Check in next week when I’ll break down the Eastern Conference Playoff hopefuls.

(all stats and win/lose totals are accurate as of the time of submission to the site)

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Rivas can be contacted at [email protected]