Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Much still at stake; Hornets clinch 2nd

If the NBA campaign is a marathon – it’s a popular metaphor – we’ve passed Mile Marker 26. The finish line is a mere 385 yards or, in this case, one game away.

The Mavericks (50-31) close out the 82-game march of attrition Wednesday night with New Orleans visiting American Airlines Center. The Southwest Division matchup has definite playoff seeding implications and possible psychological ones on the last day of the regular season.

The Hornets (56-25) beat the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday to nail down the division title and the No. 2 seed. The Los Angeles Lakers locked up the top spot with a victory over Sacramento. The Hornets can still send the Mavs tumbling to eighth.

The Mavs can sew up the No. 7 seed by beating New Orleans or if Denver falls to Memphis. Nuggets-Grizzlies will tip off two hours after Mavs-Hornets at 6 p.m. CT.

So the Mavs can land either seventh or eighth and will play either the Lakers or New Orleans. Avery Johnson took the approach Tuesday that New Orleans was the more probable scenario. There won’t be anything to hide in the Game No. 82.

“Everybody knows each other’s plays,” Johnson said. “You still have to stop it. It’s just the way it is during this time of the year. We’ve played New Orleans three times already this year. When we play against them in the playoffs, it’s going to be pick and rolls with Chris Paul and [Peja] Stojakovic is going to be shooting the basketball from Slovenia somewhere and we’re going to have to stop them.”

As expected, the Wild West is going down to the last day.

“We’ve never had so many trades, that’s the reason why we’ve never seen anything like this,” TNT analyst Charles Barkley said. “The Dallas Mavericks go out and get a Hall of Famer in Jason Kidd. The Phoenix Suns go out and get the most dominant center in the last 20 years in Shaquille O’Neal. I don’t know what they are doing in Memphis, they gave up an All-Star [Pau Gasol] to go with Kobe Bryant, who’s the best player in the NBA.

“I can’t remember the last time we had this many great players traded this late in the season. That’s what made it so interesting. It’s going to be fun to watch.”

Read the rest of this notebook with a Hornets preview at mavs.com.

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