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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, April 20, 2012 at 9:35 AM

Let's face it ...The home-court advantage ain't what it used to be in the NBA playoffs where last year neither the Eastern Conference's #1 seed (that's the Chicago Bulls) nor the Western Conference's top seed (the San Antonio Spurs) managed to make their way to the 2011 NBA Finals and so we won't pretend to believe that just getting a top conference seed is the so-called be-all and end-all.

It's not!

Still, count the Oklahoma City Thunder (45-17) as one team that would love to sport the West's top seed and thus hold the home-court advantage right throughout these upcoming NBA Playoffs and so this weekend's road tilts - a game this evening in Sacramento (20-42) and a much-ballyhooed Sunday matinee tilt at the Los Angeles Lakers (40-23) on ABC-TV - become must-win affairs if Scott Brooks' club is gonna have any notion of being the West's best seed.

Obviously, the aforementioned Spurs (45-16 and holding a ½-game lead over Okie City while beginning play this April weekend) have a big say in where the Thunder is gonna finish but check out the remaining regular-season games for both squads and tell us who has the edge:

The Spurs have five games left starting with tonight's home game against the Lakers - paging Kobe Bryant! - and than that's followed by a Sunday home game against woeful Cleveland, a Monday night home tilt versus short-handed Portland, a Wednesday night game in Phoenix and a season-ending game next Thursday at Golden State.

The Thunder's above-mentioned weekend games are to be followed by a Tuesday home game against Sacramento and a Wednesday home game against the Denver Nuggets.

If Kevin Durant and his Oklahoma City mates can "run the table" in these final four games they would still need the Spurs to lose twice in their final five games - keep in mind San Antonio won the regular -season series two games-to-one against Okie City this lockout-marred campaign - and that may be too much for the Thunder to bank on ...

But you just never know!

The fact of the matter is the Thunder and Spurs are so, so, so close that - should they meet up in an NBA Western Conference Finals Game #7 - we'd have to believe the team wearing the home white "unis" likely would be the winner. Agree?

Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers will continue to rock this 2012 Major-League Baseball season and remember there's still lots more NBA Regular-Season Winners too this spring and so sign up today and be sure to check in with us either right here online or else at our toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 for all the daily/nightly winners. Remember the NBA Playoffs begin a week from Saturday, and you can sign up today for all the winnin' hoops action right through June.


THE NFL DRAFT - THE TOP RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS

Our official NFL Draft coverage at Jim Sez continues here as we bring you our position-by-position analyses - now here it's the top Running Backs and Fullbacks. Note that we will have our Jim Sez NFL Mock Draft Preview on Wednesday, April 25th. The NFL Draft will be held at Radio City Music Hall in New York City on April 26-27-28:

TRENT RICHARDSON, RB, ALABAMA - Here's the real intrigue in Round One when it comes to RBs: Richardson is expected to be the one-and-only running back tabbed in the opening round of Thursday's NFL Draft (there could be anywhere from 16-to-18 offensive/defensive linemen taken in Round I) but he could go #3, #4 or #5 as the rumor mill spins. The 5-foot-9, 227-pounder isn't on the radar screen of the Minnesota Vikings at pick #3 overall but the NFC North club could entertain last-minute trade talks with some 8-to-10 teams but a more likely scenario is that Richardson will get tabbed at #5 by the Tampa Bay Bucs. Note that the 2011 Doak Walker Award winner rushed for 1,679 yards with 21 TDs last year and isn't afraid of a hefty workload and most in-the-know folks believe he's a better pro prospect than one-time Alabama RB Mark Ingram who just so happened to have copped the 2010 Heisman Trophy award. Powerful runner who may not wow you with speed but he has that Emmitt Smith-type feel to 'em.

DAVID WILSON, RB, VIRGINIA TECH - Last year's ACC Offensive Player of the Year rushed for a school-record 1,709 yards and 9 TDs in 2011 but odds are this 5-foot-10, 205-pounder will last till Round 2 when Cleveland, Tampa Bay (f the Bucs don't select Richardson) or Miami could have interest. Wilson is a hard runner who gets lots of in-between-the-tackles yards but his detractors claim he doesn't wind up with enough big gainers to wow pro folks. Does he have star talent or was he more a product of a rough-and-tumble V-Tech offensive line that usually out-muscled enemy defenses? P.S., not considered great in picking up opposing blitzers.
 
DOUG MARTIN, RB, BOISE STATE - You might quibble whether this 5-foot-9, 225-pounder will get picked ahead of Wilson as that may merely be a matter of taste but the plus part of Martin's game includes good burst into and out of holes and the fact he often delivers the blow first with his bowling-ball type frame. Martin - who was last year's Las Vegas Bowl MVP against Arizona State with 301 all-purpose yards including a dandy 100-yard kickoff return for a score to start the game - is not a great blocker on blitz pick-ups (often subbed out in college) and there is some major question as to how fast is he after choosing not to participate in timing drills at a recent workout session. Gut feel is that he'll be picked somewhere in the top six or seven picks in Round II.

CHRIS POLK, RB, WASHINGTON - Last year's stats included 1,488 yards rushing on 293 carries (a nifty 5.1 yards-per-carry average) for a team that threw the ball plenty and so this kid can thrive despite the fact he lacks breakaway outside speed. Note that Polk - who stands 5-foot-11, 215 pounds - shined in a recent Pro Day in which one-time Huskies teammate QB Jake Locker (Tennessee Titans) threw him passes. It might add up that the Titans take Polk in Round II but major interest by the Cincinnati Bengals seems to show they'll pounce on him in Round II if he's still sitting there. Does have a bit of a history with shoulder problems as he underwent a second shoulder surgery in January of 2010.

EVAN RODRIGUEZ, FB, TEMPLE - Note that there have been favorable comparisons between this 6-foot-2, 240-pounder and New England Patriots TE Aaron Hernandez: Both have soft hands and can make the tough catch and Rodriguez did snag 35 balls worth 479 yards with a pair of TDs for a Temple team that was run-first on offense. Would expect him to last till the latter stages of Round 4 or early in Round 5 but NFL teams shouldn't sweat his apparent lack of speed as he will be a decent possession receiver whether lines up outside the backfield or not. Might San Francisco be interested in these middle rounds?

BRAD SMELLEY, FB, ALABAMA - Best way to describe this 6-foot-2, 237-pound H-back type is to call 'em a winner as this former Crimson Tide star nabbed 27 receptions last year (and scored four TDs) for the national champs and shows major toughness when latching onto passes in an open field. Some folks consider him an "ordinary athlete" but he is a superb blocker who brings a slew of intangibles onto the field. Likely will last till the fifth round but the aforementioned 49ers or perhaps the Miami Dolphins could have Smelley on their so-called radar screen.

NOTE: Lots more NFL Draft coverage in tomorrow's edition of Jim Sez plus stay with us right through the NBA Playoffs for all the hardwood news and notes.

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