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Armstrong: Pressure on Raptors and Bulls to finish third

Jack Armstrong
4/14/2014 8:52:32 AM
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FIVE QUICK NBA THOUGHTS:   

1. EAST'S THIRD SEED (RAPTORS OR BULLS?): With Sunday's Raptors win at Detroit coupled with the Bulls' loss in New York, suddenly the Toronto Raptors are back in a tie for third place and hold the tiebreaker for the spot with two games to go. The opportunity to play either Washington or Charlotte rather than the Brooklyn Nets is a real possibility right now and keeps the pressure on both teams to play out the regular season trying to win outright. It should be fun to watch how both of these squads approach the urgency of that. Players always say they don't care who they play as long as they're in the playoffs, but coaches really care because they're the ones doing extensive prep for these match-ups and know all of the ins and outs as they pertain to the good and bad matchups. There's still lots to play for.

2. WESTERN CONFERENCE: In the East, only two teams (Indiana and Miami) will finish with 50 wins while we've got five teams with 50 wins already in the West and another three (Golden State, Dallas and Memphis) with a chance to get to 50 in the next few days. Pretty remarkable to see how strong this conference is. Consider the fact that the ninth place team in that conference (Phoenix) will come close to 50 and be playing golf in a few days if they don't get a few breaks here. It's been a terrific year and the playoffs in the West will be hotly-contested matchups.

3. MASON PLUMLEE (Nets): He won't win the Rookie of the Year award, but the more I watch him play the more I love his game. This guy plays hard all of the time, has nice bounce to his game and can score in the lane for you. Has a nose for the ball with great rebounding instincts. With various injuries to the Nets this year he's been able to get on the floor and has taken advantage of the playing time and looks quite comfortable now. He's earned coach Jason Kidd's trust and has a valuable role off the bench for them. Good development for him and their team.

4. ANDREW NICHOLSON (Magic): His playing time and his numbers are down this season and the second year Canadian hasn't been able to get any sort of rhythm going at all. He is your classic 'tweener' - a combo 3-4 who has good post and mid-range skills yet struggles (29 per cent) with his three-point shooting and his handle in the open court still needs improvement. Big off-season coming up for him as he needs to add a few 'tools' to his tool kit to create a niche for himself as a pro. He had some solid moments as a rookie but they've been few and far between as a sophomore. He's a worker and plays all out all the time. I have no doubt that he'll pay the price in the next six months and come back for Year 3 as a better player.

5. MO WILLIAMS (Blazers): Even though his career numbers are off this season, his role is smaller for him in Portland yet he's been a terrific addition to their team. Still a solid playmaker (4-plus assists per game) and can score (10 ppg) and shoot the three (37 percent) while providing veteran leadership and savvy to the backcourt. His knack for making the high percentage play and knowing/accepting his role in their scheme has helped coach Terry Stotts bring this team along and enjoy a fun season. Sometimes guys just fit and other times they don't - he's been an ideal fit for them.  




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