Updated at: 03/29/2013 8:09 PM
By BRIAN MAHONEY
The races are on in the NBA, both on and off the court.
With now less than three weeks remaining in the regular season, the eight teams that will be in the Eastern Conference playoffs are nearly set. Miami is on the verge of the No. 1 seed, though the jockeying for position beyond that will take a while.
Things are less certain out West. The Lakers have recovered from their turbulent first few months to grab a tenuous hold on the No. 8 spot, while the other race in Los Angeles has the Clippers trying to hold off Denver and Memphis for the No. 3 seed.
These other races could be tight right to the finish:
LAKERS VS. JAZZ AND MAVERICKS. Los Angeles will either make the playoffs as one of the most intriguing underdogs ever, or go down as one of the biggest flops in NBA history. An expected title contender after Dwight Howard and Steve Nash were brought in to join Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol is instead just trying to hold onto the eighth and final spot in the West _ a task that might’ve grown tougher with the loss of Metta World Peace for the remainder of the regular season because of knee surgery.
HEAT VS. SPURS. This would’ve said Heat vs. 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers before Wednesday, when Chicago stopped Miami’s 27-game winning streak, six shy of the Lakers’ record 33-game run. But the Heat won enough during the streak to move two games ahead of the Spurs for the best record in the league and home-court advantage throughout the NBA Finals, and they’ve said all along another title is what they’re really after.
KEVIN DURANT VS. CARMELO ANTHONY. Durant is leading the league with 28.2 points per game as he tries to join Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan as the only players to win four straight scoring titles. Anthony is at 27.5 but may have blown his chance when he struggled while trying to play through a recent knee injury, totaling 29 points in three games, but insisted last week he doesn’t care about the scoring title, anyway.
SACRAMENTO VS. SEATTLE. Winner gets the Kings franchise. A Seattle group has a deal to purchase 65 percent of the team from the Maloof family, with plans to move it back to the Pacific Northwest and restore the SuperSonics name. But the NBA gave Sacramento a chance to submit its own bid, and Mayor Kevin Johnson is adamant that his city, which approved plans for a $448 million arena, is keeping the team. Both sides will make their case at a meeting in New York on April 3, with owners expected to vote on it during their meetings two weeks later.
KNICKS VS. NETS. Or, Manhattan vs. Brooklyn, as fans in New York might say. The Knicks have led the Atlantic Division virtually all season, but the Nets actually clinched a playoff berth first and have cut New York’s lead to 2 1/2 games as they try to hang a banner in their first season since moving from New Jersey. Both franchises have also submitted bids to host the 2015 All-Star game, a decision that could be announced sometime around the NBA Finals.
MAGIC VS. BOBCATS: Loser gets the best chance at the No. 1 pick in the draft. Charlotte is a half-game behind for the league’s worst record, and staying there gives Michael Jordan’s team a 25 percent chance of winning the lottery and the right to draft someone like Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel. Then again, the worst record didn’t help the Bobcats last year, when they fell to No. 2 and missed a shot at Anthony Davis. The last team to win the lottery with the best chance? The Magic themselves, when they took Dwight Howard in 2004.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)