The Daily Six Shooter April 12, 2011

1. We’re not nearly done with the Western Conference playoff race. While all eight teams have been set, the spots haven’t and the matchups and paths teams take may be as important as how well the teams are playing.

Seeding is also important. The only way that the Dallas Mavericks have a chance to beat the LA Lakers in a seven-game series is if they have home court advantage. There’s no guaranteeing that the Lakers will rest their starters in their last two games of the regular season because two losses could mean that they slip all the way down to the #4 spot and could play the red hot Denver
Nuggets in Round 1.

That’s why last night’s Dallas-Houston game was so important. The Lakers are reeling in a way no one expected. Just a couple of weeks ago, LA was just one game back of San Antonio for the #1 spot in the West and now they’re in danger of falling all the way to #4, tied with Dallas for the #2 and just one game ahead of Oklahoma City. As poorly as Dallas has played against playoff teams in the past month, you have to like their chances of advancing much better if they play the Memphis Grizzlies rather than the Portland Trailblazers in the opening round.

So when Jason Terry missed a free throw to win the game against the already-eliminated Houston Rockets, it seemed like a big opportunity had been missed. Luckily, Dallas was able to bounce back and make key stops at the start of overtime and take command right away to suck the air out of the building and tally an all-important victory in the playoff race.

With one more win, Dallas will “clinch” at least a tie for the 2nd seed.

2. Meanwhile, with a couple of days rest, the San Antonio Spurs head off to LA to play the Lakers in a nationally televised game… and I think the Spurs should play the starters their regular minutes in this game and play to win.

With playoff seeding on the line for the Lakers, they’re going to get LA’s best. It’s worth the risk to go out and try to play a good game and get a victory to extend their current winning streak and carry that momentum into the playoffs. With two days off, an opportunity to sit his key guys tomorrow in the finale against Phoenix, and a short break after that before the playoff start, Gregg Popovich can go after this one.

He’s already shown a willingness to leave his players in at the end of a blowout to work on their games. He needs to look at this as an opportunity to get their offense ready for the playoffs. A loss would be a great lesson as to what they should expect from the Lakers should they play them and show them what they really need to work on and improve going into the playoffs. A win would be a huge confidence booster and would allow the team to take it easy against the Suns tomorrow know that they’re clicking heading into the postseason.

It’s a win-win proposition that I hope Pop takes into consideration when putting together tonight’s game plan.

3. The Lakers will have to win both of their final games for a shot at the #2 seed. One win would “clinch” at least the #3 seed because they own the tiebreaker over Oklahoma City, but two losses could drop them all the way down to the 4th seed.

Would that be such a bad thing, though? The Lakers would play the Nuggets in the first round, a team 9-2 in it’s last 11 games, but that doesn’t match up well against the Lakers. It also sets up a matchup against the San Antonio Spurs in the 2nd round of the playoffs, which seems like an early test that could weaken them against any
opponent they face in the conference or NBA finals should they get past the Spurs.

Meanwhile, the bottom of the bracket sets up perfectly for San Antonio in Round 1. I heavily disagree with Buck Harvey’s column today about how there’s no inherent advantage to playing any one team in the first round in the Western Conference.

Dallas would much rather play Memphis than Portland in the first round. And any Spurs fan knows that Memphis is playing on another level right now, much better than the 7th seed would suggest. Meanwhile, the New Orleans Hornets are just 5-4 since David West was lost for the season. West averaged more than 18 points per game against the Spurs this season and helped destroy San Antonio in the Spurs last trip to New Orleans. A few years ago, the Spurs team not nearly as good as this one beat New Orleans in a seven-game series without home court advantage after losing the first two games of that series. While Chris Paul is extremely talented, he’s not a leader and that’s why his teams haven’t made it past the 2nd round of the playoff yet.

The Spurs would much rather play New Orleans than Memphis.

4. After winning a national championship for Texas A&M last week, Danielle Adams got some great news this week. She won’t have to leave the Lone Star State to play in the WNBA as the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player was drafted by the San Antonio Silver Stars yesterday.

5. Every year, there are a couple of teams that get off to ridiculously hot starts. I can recall previous seasons where teams like the Kansas City Royals looked unstoppable. But the Texas Rangers got to the World Series last year. Even though they lost Cliff Lee, everyone is taking this run seriously because Texas looks like a complete team and they’re finding lots of different way to win, from dominant power pitching to offensive explosions.

They finally lost their 2nd game today. The Detroit Tigers won 5-4 on a walk-off hit by Miguel Cabrera after Darren O’Day loaded the bases in the 9th inning. It’s a tough break for Texas, who fought back after CJ Wilson had a bad, but not terrible, outing. Nelson Cruz tied the game at the top of the 8th inning with a clutch two-out hit to drive home Michael Young. Young provided the best offense in the game by going 3-3 with two runs scored and an RBI.

Today was the first day in which the Rangers played and didn’t win. Their only previous loss was the opener of a double-header against the Baltimore Orioles where they bounced back to win the nightcap.

More bad news from this game is that Josh Hamilton had to leave with a strained right shoulder after sliding head first twice in the first inning. Hopefully the injury is just a precaution and we’ll have updates as to his future status tomorrow.

6. Sadly, their Houston counterparts aren’t faring well. The Astros are just 2-8 on the season and tied for the worst record in the majors (surprisingly with the Boston Red Sox).

As I wrote in this month’s issue of Playmaker Magazine, Houston is set up for the future with loads of young talent that can grow and improve together but they’ll have to deal with some harsh growing pains in the short-term. Two years from now they could be pretty solid, although it’s hard to concentrate on the organization doing the right thing while they play like the worst team in Major League Baseball.

And that’s why the Houston Chronicle’s Richard Justice says that he’s not poking fun at the team anymore.

About Javi Perez

Javi Perez is a contributing editor with Playmaker Magazine heading up the sports desk, as well as covering the San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Cowboys, Houston Texans, film, and TV. He currently lives in San Antonio.