Previewing the NBA's Week Ahead: The Final Week

Branden FitzPatrickCorrespondent IApril 23, 2012

Previewing the NBA's Week Ahead: The Final Week

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    This is an interesting week in the NBA. The last week of the season.

    Most of the upper echelon teams in the NBA will choose to rest their key players in order to avoid injuries. Others will be fighting for favorable playoff seeds. Some will try not to end the season with a loss.

    The matchups to focus on are the ones that have playoff seeding implications. The Suns have a big week. For them, the playoffs have already started. If they do not win out, they will end the Steve Nash era on a sad note. 

    Buckle your seat belts. Thursday is the last day of the NBA season. Then the real NBA season begins. 

The Possible East No. 5 Seed vs. the Possible West No. 4 Seed

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    Los Angeles Clippers at Atlanta Hawks

    The Clippers have been playing solid basketball lately, but they still cannot catch the Los Angeles Lakers in the standings. They will play hard for that No. 3 seed until they are mathematically eliminated. The Clippers do not want to face everyone's favorite upset team, the Memphis Grizzlies, in the first round. 

    (Side note: The Grizzlies would have a coaching advantage over the Clippers, but could they actually beat them in a seven-game series? The Clippers will have the two best players in the series. Just don't count the Clippers out purely because of Vinny Del Negro.)

    Once again, the Hawks will make the NBA playoffs without anyone considering them a threat to the NBA championship. 

    The Hawks lost a close game to the New York Knicks Sunday night, but they still have a stranglehold on the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference. The Hawks would have to collapse significantly to allow the Dwight Howard-less Orlando Magic pass them with only a couple of games left in the season.

    The Hawks and the Clippers met back in mid-March, with the Clippers winning 96-82. Mo Williams finished the game with 25 points. The Clippers' two stars, Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, spent most of the fourth quarter on the bench cheering.   

     

    When: Tuesday, 7:30 p.m. ET (FSN Prime Ticket & SportSouth) 

    The Pick: Clippers over the Hawks  

    The Reason: The Clippers are a much better team than the Hawks. Overall team talent will be the reason the Clippers prevail.  

    Bold Prediction: The Clippers will win by more than 15 points.  

Battle for the Eighth Seed in the West

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    Phoenix Suns at Utah Jazz

    These two teams will battle it out for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, or, as it should be known, the right to lose to either the Oklahoma City Thunder or the San Antonio Spurs in the first round.

    The Jazz currently have a one-game lead over the Suns for the Western Conference's final playoff spot. The Suns have to win this game, or else their game against the San Antonio Spurs Wednesday night may be the last time Steve Nash ever plays in a Suns' uniform.

    Tuesday's game is basically the beginning of the Suns' playoffs. The Suns have won both of their games this season against the Jazz. If they lose to the Jazz, their season will be over.    

    When: Tuesday, 10:30 p.m ET (TNT)  

    The Pick: Suns over the Jazz 

    The Reason: Steve Nash. There's a lot at stake in this game for both teams. Who do you trust? The scrappy youngsters from Utah or the group of role players led by Nash?   

    Bold Prediction: Nash will finish the game with over 12 assists. The game will be close, with the Suns pulling away in the final minutes. 

Highlight Factory of the Week

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    Los Angeles Clippers at New York Knicks

    The Clippers and the Knicks are set to meet for the first time this season. There will be no shortage of highlights.

    The Knicks have a shot at moving up to the No. 6 seed if they win the rest of their games and the Orlando Magic lose the rest of their games. There's a chance, just not a good one. The Magic play the Charlotte Bobcats Wednesday night. Every team beats the Bobcats. Even the Magic without Dwight Howard.

    The Clippers could be locked into their No. 4 seed, which means they could choose to rest some of their key players.   

     

    When: Wednesday, 8:00 p.m. ET (ESPN) 

    The Pick: Knicks over the Clippers 

    The Reason: The Knicks, in front of their home crowd, have every reason to play hard and win the game. The Clippers? They may just want to rest up for the playoffs.  

    Bold Prediction: Carmelo Anthony will continue his hot streak and finish the game with over 25 points.  

Déjà Vu Match of the Week

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    San Antonio Spurs at Phoenix Suns

    How many times have you seen this matchup before?

    Seems like déjà vu. Sadly, it could be the last game with Steve Nash as the Suns' point guard.

    This is a must-win for the Suns. If they beat the Jazz, they need to win to ensure themselves a playoff spot. If they lose to the Jazz, the Suns will try to send Nash out the right way at home. What better way than by beating the dreaded Spurs? 

    The Spurs may have the No. 1 seed locked up, so they could choose to rest their Big Three. Let's hope not. One last great game between these two squads would be a great way to end the NBA season. 

     

    When: Wednesday, 10:30 p.m. ET (ESPN) 

    The Pick: Suns over the Spurs 

    The Reason: This is a tough pick because we don't know if the Spurs will play their Big Three. The Suns will be inspired, playoffs or not, to win for Nash.  

    Bold Prediction: The game will be close, regardless of whether the Spurs' Big Three plays. Nash and Grant Hill will both have big games.  

The "Once Upon a Time" Matchup of the Week

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    Los Angeles Lakers at Sacramento Kings

    A year ago, the Kings and the Lakers squared off in what looked like the last game in the building formerly known as Arco Arena.

    The building was packed. The Kings played well. The Lakers won.

    Fast-forward a year later. The Kings are still in Sacramento, but who knows for how long?

    The Kings beat the pulp out of the Bobcats Sunday night, but who hasn't? They need to finish the season strong to encourage their downtrodden fan base. That will be a tough task. The Kings end the season with the Thunder and the Lakers. 

    That looks like two losses.

    The Lakers are getting hot at the right time. What better way to end the regular season by thrashing their former rivals?

    (Side note: Yes, at one point the Lakers and Kings were Western Conference rivals. It seems like ancient history now.) 

     

    When: Thursday, 10:30 p.m. ET (Comcast Sports Sacramento & KCAL-TV, Los Angeles)  

    The Pick: Lakers over the Kings 

    The Reason: Too much Mamba. Bryant has killed the Kings his entire career. He would love to finish the regular season strong by beating down his former fly bug. 

    Bold Prediction: DeMarcus Cousins will grab 15 rebounds.