Thursday , Mar , 25 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

Who wants to be No. 8 in the West?

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) – It appears that seven of the eight spots
that are available for the postseason in the Western Conference have been
filled. Who wants to be No. 8?

The Sacramento Kings and Minnesota Timberwolves have already clinched a
playoff spot, while the Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio Spurs, Memphis
Grizzlies, Dallas Mavericks and Houston Rockets are all headed towards
achieving the same thing.

With just under three weeks to play in the regular season, the Denver Nuggets,
Utah Jazz, Portland Trail Blazers and Seattle SuperSonics are all trying to
earn the final berth.

The Nuggets are currently in the eighth spot, a half-game ahead of Utah and
one game in front of Portland. The SuperSonics still have a chance, as they
trail Denver by four games.

Denver, which last appeared in the NBA playoffs in 1995, has nine games
remaining on its schedule. The Nuggets, who will play four games at home and
five on the road, will host Seattle, Houston, Portland and Sacramento. Denver
will visit the SuperSonics, Utah, the Phoenix Suns, Houston and the Spurs.

The Jazz, who have made the playoffs 20 straight years, have 10 games left on
their slate. Utah will play six more times at the Delta Center, where they are
24-11. The Jazz will host Denver, the New Orleans Hornets, San Antonio,
Memphis, Houston and Phoenix, while they will visit the Lakers, Clippers,
Dallas and Minnesota.

Portland, which has not missed the playoffs since 1982, still needs to take
the court 11 more times in the regular season. The Blazers will play six of
their final contests away from home, as they will visit the New York Knicks,
Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers, the Lakers, San Antonio and the Nuggets.
Portland will welcome the Hornets, Golden State Warriors, Spurs and Lakers to
the Rose Garden for its final games on its homecourt.

The SuperSonics, who did not qualify for last year’s postseason, are still
alive because they have won a season-high six straight games. Seattle plays
six of their final 11 games on the road. The Sonics will travel to Portland,
Denver, Minnesota, Dallas, San Antonio, and Los Angeles to take on the
Clippers. The Nuggets, Lakers, Hornets, Mavericks and Rockets are the squads
that will visit KeyArena for Seattle’s final home games of the season.

It will be very tough for Seattle to make it to the playoffs. The teams the
SuperSonics will visit have a combined 149-65 record at home. Seattle is just
a .500 team (18-18) at KeyArena this season. Expect the Sonics to miss the
postseason for the fourth time in the last six years.

The last spot will be determined in the final days of the season. Denver,
Portland and Utah all have challenging schedules. However, the difference here
is that the Blazers have a three-game road trip from March 29 to April 1
against New York, Boston and Philadelphia. All three games are very winnable
for Portland, which is also a solid 23-13 at the Rose Garden.

The youthful Nuggets’ schedule will prove to be too difficult, while Utah
should be commended for its surprising season.

Portland is my pick to earn the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western
Conference.