Plenty still to be settled in the wacky West
Having trouble figuring out how the wacky West will be won?
You’re not alone. Even veteran postseason performers aren’t
quite sure this year.
“More than any other years, we don’t know who we’re going to
play. We don’t know where we’re going to be,” San Antonio coach
Gregg Popovich said. “And usually, we have a pretty good idea of
where, at least, we’re going to be. And that helps limit the work
that you do before the playoffs. This year, it’s a little
As the season heads into its final days, this much is certain:
The Los Angeles Lakers will be the No. 1 seed.
That’s it. Just about everything else is up for grabs.
“The whole Western Conference is a free-for-all,” Dallas coach
Rick Carlisle said. “So much is yet to be determined with three
Four teams reached play Saturday with hopes of finishing second.
Three others were battling to avoid No. 8 and a first-round meeting
with the defending champion Lakers – who aren’t even playing as
well as some teams behind them.
“It’s interesting. It’s very competitive and teams are playing
really well and there are some very strong teams,” Lakers forward
Pau Gasol said. “It’ll be a big challenge for us even though we
are in the top spot.”
Dallas, Denver, Utah and Phoenix were all in the running for the
No. 2 seed. The difference between possible home-court advantage
for two rounds and not even having it for one was just a game.
So while the Lakers had the luxury of resting Kobe Bryant for
the postseason, everyone else out West was already facing
“It’s incredible,” Phoenix guard Steve Nash said Friday.
“It’s incredibly tight and close and exciting. We’ve just got to
keep fighting. We’ve got three games left and we’re going to try to
win all three.”
San Antonio and Portland lost Friday, leaving them the most
likely opponents for the Lakers – a scenario both teams want to
avoid. Just ahead of them were the Oklahoma City Thunder, about to
make their playoff debut and not afraid of a tough road when they
“Don’t get me wrong. The Lakers are a great team, a
championship team. … But we’re not scared to play anybody,”
All-Star Kevin Durant said. “If we happen to fall down to the
eighth spot or move up, we’re willing to play anybody.
“We’re not playing every game to go out there and say we don’t
want to get the eighth spot so we won’t play the Lakers. We’re just
trying to get as high as we can these last three games. We’ve just
got to come out and play. If we happen to slip up and play the
Lakers, then we’re going to go out there and play our game.”
The Lakers gave Bryant consecutive games off to rest, but the
decision Sunday against Portland is a little trickier. A win
increases the chances of a rematch with the Trail Blazers in the
playoffs, and Los Angeles has struggled at the Rose Garden in
A Portland win means a greater likelihood for the Lakers of a
series against Tim Duncan and the playoff-tested Spurs.
“We have to protect our home court no matter what,” Gasol
said. “Whoever we face later on remains to be seen. It’ll be hard
The race for the No. 2 seed is just as tight and may not be
decided until Denver visits Phoenix on Tuesday, the second-to-last
night of the season. A victory in that game could mean a difference
of three spots in the standings.
San Antonio visits Southwest Division champion Dallas on
Wednesday, and that could be a preview of a first-round series.
Then again, things could look drastically different by then, and
“It can change within a day or two, and you’ve got to flip
scripts, look at some other teams,” Popovich said. “It’s been an
unbelievably competitive year. Great for the fans. Great for the
The West mess resembled its race from two years ago, when all
eight playoff teams won at least 50 games and were separated by
only seven games in the standings. However, the postseason wasn’t
nearly as thrilling – the Lakers rolled through three rounds
against conference foes with a 12-3 record before losing to Boston
in the NBA finals.
It’s hard to imagine it being as easy this time, with San
Antonio, Portland or Oklahoma City all capable of providing a
first-round test. Win that, and then who knows what comes next.
“It gets better and better every year. It’s a fight,” Lakers
forward Lamar Odom said. “This is our third year winning it in a
row and something we should be proud of. But our goal is not over
yet. It’s not finished yet.”
Seems nothing is out West.
AP Sports Writers Jon Krawczynski in Minneapolis, Jeff Latzke in
Oklahoma City, Anne M. Peterson in Portland, Ore., and Paul Weber
in San Antonio contributed to this report.