Tuesday April 14th, 2009

Two of the three games on Tuesday's schedule are potential first-round playoff matchups. The other game is a first-round matchup. Here's a breakdown of what to watch for on the penultimate day of the regular season.

What's at stake: Utah would clinch the No. 8 seed with a loss.

Skinny: Utah has lost six of eight and owns only one road victory against a Western Conference playoff team (at New Orleans on April 5). The Jazz need a win at Los Angeles to avoid, at least for the moment, a first-round matchup with the top-seeded Lakers, who eliminated Utah in the conference semifinals last season. Utah, which trails Dallas and New Orleans by one game but holds the tiebreaker over both teams, can still climb as high as No. 6 with a victory and losses by the Mavericks (vs. Houston) and Hornets (at San Antonio) in their season finales Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the Lakers' bid for home-court advantage throughout the playoffs ended Monday when Cleveland beat Indiana. Nevertheless, coach Phil Jackson plans to play his starters in a game in which the Lakers can help determine their first-round opponent.

"I wouldn't think of sitting players," Jackson told Los Angeles reporters. "I don't think that's the right thing to do when people buy season tickets, special-game tickets and things like that. The league has asked us not to do that, so we have to [respect] that."

What's at stake: The seventh-seeded Sixers trail No. 6 Chicago by a half-game. A loss would bring them closer to a first-round series with Boston, which has clinched the No. 2 seed.

Skinny: Two weeks ago, the Sixers were eyeing Atlanta in the No. 4 hole. Now, they are just trying to stay out of the seventh spot. After this game against defending champion Boston, Philadelphia closes the season Wednesday at No. 1 Cleveland, which is one victory away from matching the 1985-86 Celtics for the best home record in NBA history (40-1).

Kevin Garnett will not play for the Celtics (though Leon Powe is expected to be available for the first time in 13 games) while the Sixers may have Thaddeus Young, who is hoping to return from a sprained ankle. Philadelphia's recent slide, which includes its current five-game losing streak, began when Young went down March 31. Getting the starting forward (15.2 points a game) back before the playoffs would be a big boost.

"In the fast break, [Young] helps us tremendously," Sixers coach Tony DiLeo told Philadelphia reporters. "He's a great runner, a guy that just plays and gets tip-ins and hustle plays. He will block some shots and do things. We do miss that element; it changes our dynamic a little bit."

What's at stake: Seeding-wise, nothing. No. 4 Atlanta will face No. 5 Miami in the first round.

Skinny: The name of the game in Atlanta is injuries -- as in, how to avoid them. With the first round beginning this weekend, neither team is likely to risk seeing one of its star players limp off. That probably means cameo appearances, at most, from Joe Johnson and Dwyane Wade, who would reach 80 appearances in a season for the first time in his career if he plays. Miami's Jermaine O'Neal (strained calf) will not play and Atlanta coach Mike Woodson said he plans to give his bench players extended minutes.

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