Boston at Atlanta, 7:30 PM ET
No one would disagree that every game between the Celtics and Hawks has become must-watch television. Well, no one but ... the Celtics.
AGAIN, the Celtics seek to ensure you that, no Darla, this ain't no danged rivalry. Here's budding swag artist Rajon Rondo as quoted by Marc J. Spears of the Boston Globe:
"I don't like to talk trash, but in my eyes it's not a rivalry. I don't know if anybody else looks at it as a rivalry. People consider Cleveland a rival. We just went seven with Atlanta. That's about it."I must have missed the myriad other times Cleveland took Boston to seven. By my count, that only happened once, too. And that's partially because Boston had the league's second-worst team just two seasons ago. Man, swagger enters the bloodstream quickly! (I guess it's fair enough, considering the O'Brien resides in Beantown. But a little perspective would be fantastic. The Celtics haven't exactly been the Team of the Aughts or anything. And no, I'm not bitter about the Lakers' long refusal to respect the Kings earlier this decade. Why do you ask?)
Denver at Dallas, 8:30 PM ET
The Mavericks have a magic number of seven to clinch a playoff berth, with Phoenix helping out by stinking on the road. Denver, meanwhile, needs five wins to close out a bid. That loss in Phoenix this week ... that did not help.
It seems ignored or forgotten (guilty m'self) that Dallas can do better than No. 8. In fact, the Mavericks are only one game behind Utah for No. 7 and 1-1/2 behind New Orleans for No. 6! You don't need to be told the difference between visiting Staples and visiting the AT&T (that's in, err, San Antonio) is vast. For the Nuggets, staying ahead of Portland (and clinching a top-four seed) is better goal than match-ups.
Milwaukee at Orlando, 7 PM ET
... and just like that, the eight Eastern playoff teams are basically set. Milwaukee is one of the gang technically alive, but life support ain't even the analogy. The Bucks sit 3-1/2 behind the No. 8 Pistons (!) with 10 games left. Charlotte is doing a half-game better.
While Chicago looks suddenly safe (with a 95% probability of making the postseason, according to PlayoffStatus.com), the Pistons could conceivably drop out so long as half the starting line-up is spending more time with Arnie Kander than Michael Curry. But the Bucks can't rely on Detroit losing out, not with Charlotte, New Jersey and Indiana all crossing fingers, too. The Magic aren't unbeatable at Amway, but the Bucks will need to earn it treble.
The Magic, meanwhile, would hate to give up the No. 2 spot it worked so hard for on Wednesday.
Charlotte at Philadelphia, 7 PM ET
Oklahoma City at Toronto, 7 PM ET
Minnesota at Cleveland, 7:30 PM ET
L.A. Lakers at New Jersey, 7:30 PM ET
New Orleans at New York, 7:30 PM ET
L.A. Clippers at San Antonio, 8:30 PM ET
Memphis at Sacramento, 10 PM ET