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Something to play for
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Winning isn't everything. Just ask Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.

"I could care less about winning or losing this game," Popovich said in the huddle Thursday night against Oklahoma City.

What he meant to say was "couldn't care less" but you get the idea. When you have 962 career coaching wins, grammar mistakes are easy to overlook.

And true to his word, Popovich and the first-place Spurs proceeded to lose, seemingly on purpose. Tony Parker and Tim Duncan both saw fewer than 30 minutes of action while Manu Ginobili watched in street clothes. The 106-94 OKC victory ended San Antonio's winning streak at 19 games.

Of course, the Spurs have a luxury no other team has: a three-game lead in the Western Conference standings with six games to go. They could snooze through the rest of their schedule and still have home court advantage throughout the postseason.

For teams like the Mavs, Knicks, Suns, Grizzlies and Hawks, the situation is quite a bit different. These squads are fighting for their playoff lives.

There's no holding back in April. It's all or nothing.

This win or go home concept is something Kobe Bryant is all too familiar with. Last season, the Lakers needed a late surge to overtake Houston and Utah for the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference.

With L.A.'s season hanging in the balance, head coach Mike D'Antoni relied on his superstar more than ever, keeping Bryant on the floor for 45.2 mpg in six April appearances. During that stretch, Bryant put up 30.5 ppg on 44.4 percent shooting. Only New York's Carmelo Anthony averaged more points during the month of April (36.9 ppg in eight contests).

Al Jefferson's fantasy contributions last April were just as significant. He boosted his scoring average from 17.4 ppg to 21.5 during the final month while playing almost 35 mpg. Both of those were season-highs.

Jefferson's huge month wasn't enough to lift Utah into the playoffs but it certainly gave fantasy owners an edge. The same could be said of Dirk Nowitzki's performance in 2012 when the Mavs snuck in with the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference.

Like most great players, Nowitzki saved the best for last. His April heroics included 23.2 ppg, 7.5 rpg and a 94.7 free throw percentage in 36.5 mpg. Prior to that, Nowitzki had averaged 21.2 ppg in only 32.7 mpg.

The list goes on. Goran Dragic, a relative unknown at the time, exploded for 18.9 ppg in April of 2012 while leading the Rockets to within two games of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Houston leaned on Dragic pretty heavily down the stretch, playing him 36.4 mpg in 14 April appearances. During that time, Dragic heaved up 13.7 field goals, five three-pointers and 5.4 free throws per game. Dragic's numbers are even more astounding when you compare them to his pre-April averages (9.8 ppg, 23.8 mpg, 7.8 FG, 2.5 3PT, 2.2 FT).

Houston's playoff bid fell short in 2012 but Utah's did not. And for that, we have Paul Millsap to thank. Head coach Tyrone Corbin threw caution to the wind by letting Millsap play 37.2 mpg in April, a sizable increase from what he saw during the first four months of the season (31.8 mpg in 52 contests). The result was a season-high 18.3 ppg on 48 percent shooting.

But that was two years ago. This season, Dallas is already feeling that sense of urgency. And so far, Nowitzki has been up to the task. With the Mavericks' playoff hopes hanging on by a thread, Nowitzki has put up 29.5 ppg in 37.5 mpg over his last two contests.

More than any other month, April is when fantasy stars shine ... as long as there's a reason to.




Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Jesse Pantuosco at jpantuosco@sportsnetwork.com.

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