The Home Stretch

With just about a month left in the pro basketball season, teams are getting ready for the home stretch. It's been a long season, as teams started playing around Halloween, and now is the time when perseverance and determination make a difference.

For first-place teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Lakers, the last month of the season is a time for players to rest some bumps and bruises and make sure they are ready for the playoffs. For many other teams, though, these few weeks of the season are the toughest&especially in the Eastern Conference.

In each conference, eight teams make the playoffs. With only a few weeks left to play, five Eastern Conference teams, the Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks, New Jersey Nets, Charlotte Bobcats and Indiana Pacers, are all chasing the Milwaukee Bucks for the eighth and final playoff spot.

For these teams, it's almost like every game is a must-win playoff game. The close race also shows how much every game on the schedule matters. Over a long 82-game season, it might be tempting for a player to not give 100 percent every game. But what if a player didn't give his all in a loss in January, then his team ended up just missing the playoffs in April? In sports at any level, it's absolutely necessary for all players to give their all in order to reach a common goal. For those Eastern Conference teams, that goal is the playoffs. For younger players, that goal is often to learn to work together as a team and improve as basketball players.

Sometimes it seems like a game in the beginning of the season doesn't mean as much as a game in March, when the season is coming to an end. But there is a reason why the season is 82 games long. After playing that many games, it's the teams that stick together and have tried hard all season long that get a shot at winning the championship.

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