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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Sunday, April 1, 2012 at 9:38 AM

Let's give the college kids a break today as we get ready for Monday's NCAA Tournament National Championship Game - and so we roll out a couple of quick-hitter NBA Sunday Game Previews right here:

CHICAGO (42-11) at OKLAHOMA CITY (39-12) - 1 p.m. ET, ABC
The NBA's two best teams square off in the heartland and the Okie City Thunder guns for a sixth straight win here - and no doubt Scotty Brooks' club has been energized lately by the addition of veteran guard Derek Fisher. Okay, so this Thunder club still "belongs" to Kevin Durant (averaging a haughty 27.8 points per game) and Company but keep an eye here on Fisher's minutes and let's see if the Bulls have anyone off their bench that gives 'em a boost ... could that be F Taj Gibson who chipped in 8 points and 5 rebounds in Chicago's 83-71 win/cover against 11 ½-point underdog Detroit this past Friday night?

Note that Derrick Rose - the defending NBA MVP - was a "DNP" in that tilt two nights ago as he's now missed nine consecutive game with a groin injury and he's questionable here but be advised that Chicago is 14-5 SU (straight-up) without Rose in the lineup this 2011-12 season.

MIAMI (37-13) at BOSTON (29-22) - 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC
Okay, Heat, so here's your opportunity to prove that you're a better road team than 16-11! Miami's North-of-the-Border triumph in Toronto this past Friday night - a convincing 113-101 win against the 7 ½-point underdog Raptors - was one of those "mega-star" specials where all three big buck guys were stat-sheet stuffers with Chris Bosh (30 points and 8 rebounds), LeBron James (26 points and 9 assists) and Dwyane Wade (30 points with 6 rebs and 6 assists) all having monster nights but let's see what gives here against the defense-first Celtics who have held recent foes to 79 and 82 in their last couple of games.

Boston enters this nationally-televised matinee tilt winners of four in a row and six of its last seven and note that Celtics PG Rajon Rondo has totaled 99 assists during this span (or 14.1 per game) and the Heat could put James on Rondo here and try to shadow him the length of the floor - although by now everything possible has been thrown at the Celtics' lead guard who (we say) deserves some MVP talk this year. If the C's - who exited Friday night's action a full game ahead of Philadelphia in the Atlantic Division - can stay on a roll these final 15 regular-season games than Doc Rivers' squad might be able to hurdle Orlando for the #3 seed ... so stay tuned.


Wasn't this lockout-abbreviated NBA 2011-12 season supposed to wear down the likes of the "old" San Antonio Spurs?

Hey, that's hardly been the case as the Spurs - winners of nine of their last 10 games while heading into Saturday night's home game against Indiana - actually enter this last weekend in March with the fourth-best regular-season record in the NBA with a sizzling 35-14 mark and who is counting them out now as possible NBA champs? Not us!

In fact, while the Spurs have been hot-hot-hot lately, there have been other high-powered NBA squads not exactly playing lights-out basketball these days as Sunshine Staters Miami and Orlando both were just 6-4 SU (straight-up) in their last 10 games at last look while the grouchy Los Angeles Lakers may be playing .620 ball despite all these in-game benchings (see Kobe Bryant and Kevin Bynum) but really have to hold on strong to fend off the LA Clippers for top prize in the NBA's Pacific Division.

True, there's still a month of pro hoops before we even get to the playoffs - the final night of regular-season play is Thursday, April 26th - but count the Heat, Magic and Lakers as three "championship-caliber" clubs that would like to be playing better than this right about now.

And talking about the playoffs, there remain fierce battles for playoff berths/seedings and here's a couple of what-to-watch items:

In the NBA's Eastern Conference, there are a batch of teams looking to avoid finishing in seventh and/or eighth place so that they can avoid playing Chicago (41-11) and/or Miami (36-13) in the first round of playoff action and so it's vital that the injury-strapped New York Knicks make a real run at the Atlantic Division where Mike Woodson's guys are 2 ½-games back of both Boston and Philadelphia and it'll be interesting to see where Atlanta winds up as the Hawks have star Joe Johnson back in the fold and note Atlanta's a solid 23-13 against fellow conference foes - finishing in fourth best gets 'em home court in Round I and steers 'em clear of Chicago/Miami/Orlando for the time being.

In the NBA's Western Conference, don't mark down the Oklahoma City Thunder (38-12) as the sure-shot conference champ and #1 seed out West just yet as those aforementioned Spurs could make a run at 'em even though head coach Gregg Popovich wisely rests his star players here-and-there. Count us among the folks that will be fascinated if/when the Utah Jazz makes the playoffs as this club has won seven of its last 10 games overall and somehow rebounded from last Sunday's four-OT loss in Atlanta to win handily in New Jersey the very next night. If the Jazz finishes as high as sixth, than it could be fun stuff watching Al Jefferson and mates battle the Lakers who have become a reality TV show of their own lately. And, yes, it's quite possible that the Dallas Mavericks - last year's NBA champs - won't have home court advantage for any playoff series this spring as the Mavs right now are fifth in the West (would play the Clippers in Round I if the season ended today).

NOTE: Get our NCAA Championship Game Preview in the next edition of Jim Sez.


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