The 16 teams entering the NBA play-offs have been determined, and the tournament begins Saturday. A final batch of games late Thursday night settled the matter of specific first-round match-ups.
"When the play-offs begin and these teams have at it, people will look back and say, 'Well, they got here'," said David Stern, the NBA commissioner.
"And we are glad they got here with a 66-game schedule rather than a 50-game schedule."
The season began two months behind schedule, and in the push to play as many games as possible in 124 days, many players were left exhausted by the pace. Tyson Chandler, the New York Knicks centre, is one of those ready for the more leisurely schedule of the play-offs.
"I'm ready for the play-offs," he said. "This season has been long. Long enough. It's time."
The eight teams in the Eastern Conference play-offs are Chicago, Miami, Indiana, Boston, Atlanta, Orlando, New York and Philadelphia.
The eight in the Western Conference are San Antonio, Oklahoma City, the Los Angeles Lakers, Memphis, the Los Angeles Clippers, Denver, Dallas and Utah.
Thirteen games last night settled six of the eight pairings in the play-offs. Of particular interest was the New York Knicks' game at Charlotte.
A victory would give New York the No 7 seed and a first-round series with the Miami Heat, still considered the team to beat in the East despite finishing behind the Chicago Bulls.
A victory by the Knicks also would have established Charlotte as the worst team in NBA history, as evaluated by winning percentage. A defeat would have left the Bobcats 7-59, a success rate of 10.6 per cent, worse than the 1972/73 Philadelphia 76ers, who were 9-73, an 11 per cent win rate.
Barring a Knicks defeat and Philadelphia win, the Sixers would get the Bulls in the first round. Chicago have impressed despite the frequent absences of Derrick Rose, the league MVP last season.
Indiana will meet Orlando, and the Magic will be without their standout centre Dwight Howard, who is out after back surgery.
Boston will face Atlanta, with the games last night determining whether the Celtics or Hawks would play host to the first game of the series.
The San Antonio Spurs are the surprise No 1 seed in the West. They carried the same distinction into the play-offs last year but were promptly ousted by Memphis. This time they get Utah, and the question remains whether the Spurs, whose top players are veterans, can step up their game.
Memphis and the Clippers will meet, and Oklahoma City and the Lakers will have home court against either Dallas, the defending champions, or Denver.
Kobe Bryant, the Lakers veteran who needed 38 points last night to snatch the scoring championship from Kevin Durant of Oklahoma City, said his team can win their 17th NBA title, matching Boston's all-time mark.
"I think the thing that's our biggest strength is our versatility and our size," he said.
Also, the New Jersey Nets passed into history Thursday night with a game in Toronto.
The franchise is moving to a new arena in Brooklyn next season and will be known as the Brooklyn Nets.
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