Slumps a sure-fire ticket to lottery

Slumps a sure-fire ticket to lottery

March 01, 2019 7:05 AM
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The first few games after the All-Star break couldn’t have gone worse for a number of teams.

The Los Angeles Lakers lost “must-win” games in New Orleans and Memphis, teams already looking forward to next season. The San Antonio Spurs finished off their “Rodeo road trip” with a 1-7 record, their worst showing on their annual excursion ever. They gave up 130 points to the New York  Knicks on Sunday, news Samuel L. Jackson broke to the millions watching the Oscars, before registering a season-low 85 points in a blowout loss to Brooklyn on Monday night.

The top four teams in the Southeast Division, which won’t have a single team over .500 entering March, went a combined 2-8 as action resumed post-break. It’s looking increasingly likely that only the winner will make the Eastern Conference playoffs, likely doing so as the No. 8 seed. Their reward will probably be a Milwaukee Bucks team that looks to clinch the NBA’s top record over the next six weeks, having won 46 of its first 60 and appearing to be a team that’s worth riding in March.

Although they’ll play half of their 16 contests next month on the road, only Utah is currently playing well enough to cause concern. The Bucks will visit LeBron’s Lakers Friday and Salt Lake City the next night. Milwaukee will proceed to visit Phoenix, San Antonio, New Orleans, Miami, Cleveland and Atlanta the remainder of March before opening April in Brooklyn. Milwaukee will therefore be favored in most of its contests since it has the best home record in the NBA and will enjoy a stretch playing six of eight at the new Fiserv Forum between March 17-28.

Boston is still pointing fingers at one another and Philadelphia is resting All-Star center Joel Embiid to ensure that his knee soreness doesn’t turn into a bigger issue, which opens the door for Toronto to run away with the Atlantic Division. The Raptors lose a tie-breaker to the Bucks in the race for the East’s top seed, but are still the only team that can realistically chase them down since have to finish a they will only play outside of Canada for 11 more regular-season games, saddled with a trip longer than two road dates only once. 

Toronto won a franchise-record 59 games last season and would have to close with wins in three of every four games to win 60 for the first time. Given their easy schedule, that’s definitely doable.

The West’s team to watch is undoubtedly the aforementioned Jazz, whose Saturday home date against Milwaukee will be its toughest test of the entire month. Utah, having already finished up with the Warriors, Rockets, Raptors, Celtics and 76ers, has the easiest remaining schedule of any team in its loaded conference going forward. Between March 4 and April 3, the Jazz will play 16 games, but only two of them will come against teams that currently sport winning records. 

Utah has a great opportunity to work its way up the standings after opening the unofficial second half of the season just one game up on eighth in the conference. It wouldn’t be surprising to see them wind up with a top-four spot and homecourt advantage.

Last week in this spot, I wrote about how the schedule works against the Lakers, so if you didn’t already take my free advice to cash in on the prop that they’ll miss the playoffs, the odds are now nowhere near as lucrative. Last week, Westgate had ‘no’ at -140 on whether they’ll be able to reach the postseason in LeBron James’ first season. 

On Tuesday morning, ‘no’ went off at -400. If you still have faith in the Lakers, you can get in for a return of 3-to-1, but you should be warned again that their March slate features a home-and-home with the Bucks, a visit to Toronto and home dates against the Bucks, Nuggets and Celtics. Their April schedule features five games against teams that would all make the playoffs if they started today, including a home date with the Warriors. Save your money.

Grizzlies at Thunder (Sunday): For this week’s free picks, I recommend investing anything you would otherwise throw away on the Lake Show by backing the Grizzlies plus the points in Sunday night’s final scheduled game at Oklahoma City. 

The Thunder coasted past Memphis 114-95 on Feb. 7 but will have a much tougher time with Jonas Valanciunas and Joakim Noah anchoring the team inside and Mike Conley around to pester Russell Westbrook. OKC will be playing the second of a back-to-back and won’t cover if it survives at all. GRIZZLIES

Clippers at Lakers (Monday): Staples Center’s co-tenants get together for a game with huge playoff implications. The Lakers will be the “home” team, so their season-ticket holders will get front-row seats to yet another crippling blow to their postseason aspirations. Ride the Clippers plus the points. CLIPPERS

Last week: 0-2

Season: 21-22

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