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Playoff shakeout: What the chase looks like with two weeks left


Two weeks from today — April 26 — is the final day of the regular season. It came up on us all sneaky fast. You can thank the lockout for that, too.

Let’s take a look at how the playoff races and seedings shake out with two weeks left:

Eastern Conference

Chicago and Miami will finish 1-2, and the Bulls have a three-game lead. The only way Miami catches Chicago is to sweep the two times these to teams play in the next two weeks (Thursday and April 19), then catch a break. That’s not all going to happen, but it’s possible.

Boston, Atlanta and Orlando are tied at 34-24 for the 4, 5 and 6 seeds (the Pacers are the 3 seed and pretty much are locked in unless they falter). With the way the Magic are struggling (and with Dwight Howard not right) if feels like they will fall to six, which means what the Celtics and Hawks are really playing for these next couple weeks is home court in their first-round matchup.

With New York’s win over Milwaukee on Wednesday, it is going to be very difficult for the Bucks to make the playoffs. They are two games back of the Knicks, three back of the 76ers (and Philly has more road games but against lesser teams the rest of the way). What this means is the Sixers and Knicks are playing to see who gets the Heat and who gets the Bulls in the first round. That is basically a game nobody wins. The Bucks need someone to totally fall apart to make the playoffs at this point.

Western Conference

At the top of the West, Oklahoma City is one game up on San Antonio for the top seed. Getting that spot matters a lot more to the Thunder than it does the Spurs — Oklahoma City is a younger team and may have the best home court advantage in the league. The Spurs are the definition of unflappable veterans and they don’t care if the game is at home, on the road or played outdoors on asphalt with a chain net, they will be the same team.

The Lakers and Clippers are battling for the Pacific Division crown and the No. 3 seed — but what they are really fighting for is the right to avoid the Grizzlies in the first round. Right now the Lakers are the No. 3 seed, the Clippers the 4 (1.5 games back of the Lakers, plus the Lakers have the tiebreaker), then the Grizzlies are the No. 5 seed and just half a game back of the Clippers. The Clippers got a big win at Oklahoma City and they need more efforts like that because not only do they not want Memphis, they really don’t want Memphis to have the home court in that series.

At the bottom Dallas, Denver and Houston are tied at 32-26 and are the 6,7 and 8 seeds — with Utah now 1.5 games back of all of them. The Suns’ loss Wednesday hurt, and they are now two back of all those teams. You get the feeling one of those teams in right now will slip and get caught by Utah or Phoenix. If I had to guess, it would be the Nuggets, as they are erratic — the Mavs better with their backs against the wall, and the Rockets give it everything they have every night. But basically there are five teams within two games of each other and every game matters a lot to all these teams the rest of the way.

Gallinari ready to take big role in new Nuggets offense

Danilo Gallinari, Jimmy Butler
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DENVER (AP) — Danilo Gallinari wants everyone to know this: His surgically repaired left knee, the one that took three procedures to fix and nearly two seasons to fully trust, no longer bothers him.

The Denver Nuggets forward doesn’t need to be on any sort of minutes restriction. He doesn’t need days off during the season. And he certainly doesn’t need to be coddled.

He’s Gallo again, the hard-to-guard Italian playmaker who can knock down the 3-pointer just as easily as drive to the hoop or even post up. He believes he will fit in quite nicely into new coach Michael Malone’s system.

“The thing I’m focused on is trying to get (this team) back to the same level that the Nuggets were when I got to Denver, when we were going to the playoffs easy. When we were clinching a playoff one or two weeks before the season was over,” said Gallinari, who was acquired in the 2011 blockbuster deal that sent Carmelo Anthony to the New York Knicks. “We need to get back to that level.”

Almost seems so long ago, given that the Nuggets have missed the playoffs two straight seasons after consistently making it for nearly a decade.

Gallinari returned last season for the first time since blowing out his knee in a game on April 4, 2013. His minutes were closely monitored early in the season. He never really got completely on track until late last season, when he averaged 20.5 points over the final 10 contests, including a career-high 47 against Dallas. He’s hoping to carry that kind of confidence this season.

“I’m good to go. I was good to go as soon as the beginning of last year,” Gallinari said. “I was not on the same page with the coach that we had.”

That would be Brian Shaw, who was fired last March after 1 1/2 seasons in charge and going 56-85. Exactly why he wasn’t on the same page with Shaw, well, Gallinari preferred the past remain the past.

“I’m ready to play the new season,” he said. “We need to win games, and get back to the same level we were before.”

Gallinari thinks the Nuggets have the personnel to do just that, especially with a rookie point guard in Emmanuel Mudiay and Gallinari’s knee feeling better than it has in a while. He feels like he has some ground to make up, too, since he said that knee robbed him of some of his prime.

“Playing my best basketball right before I got injured,” the 27-year old said. “Now, we’re back to the same level, hopefully better.

“My knee has been feeling great. It felt great last year. Feeling great during the summer. Feeling great now. I just feel good.”

He spent the summer playing for the Italian team at the EuroBasket tournament, where he averaged nearly 18 points a game. In those games, Gallinari saw quite a bit of time at the four spot on the floor, forcing teams to either use a bulkier big man to cover him and risk getting burned on a drive or a smaller player that Gallinari could simply shoot over.

Malone plans to employ a similar type approach, something they discussed over gelato when the coach visited Gallinari in Italy soon after he was hired.

“He’s 6-foot-10. He can handle the ball. He can play pick-and-roll. He can stretch the floor and shoot the 3,” Malone said. “There’s not a lot he can’t do offensively.”

Gallinari wants the responsibility of being the go-to player for the Nuggets this season, especially at crunch time.

“I’ve always been trying to do that, since I came to Denver,” Gallinari said. “That’s what I like to do. I feel good filling those shoes.

“I want to have the ball in my hands. I do want to have the ball in my hands a lot more.”

Knicks’ Rookie Jerian Grant gets up, throws it down (VIDEO)

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The Knicks did well trading for Jerian Grant on date night — he’s going to be able to walk in this year and play quality minutes off the bench.

And, he can get up and throw it down.

Carmelo Anthony had 18 points to lead the Knicks to a 94-88 win over the Sixers.