About a month and a half remains in the NBA regular season with the fates of many teams being determined before the final games are played April 17.
Miami starts the week on a 14-game winning streak following a come from behind effort at New York on Sunday. That win has the Heat 7½ games ahead of New York for the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
The Knicks are actually seeded third as Indiana’s win on Sunday over Chicago has the Pacers a game ahead of New York and seeded second, 6½ behind the Heat. It would take a monumental collapse for Miami not to claim that top Eastern seed when the playoffs begin.
Yet at 43-14 Miami does not have the best record in the NBA, at least not in a purely technical sense. The Heat have played four fewer games than San Antonio and the Spurs have won all those extra games, giving them a 47-14 record. So both teams have 14 losses with Miami having four additional games to play.
The NBA’s top overall seed may well come down to Miami and the Spurs with the teams meeting in San Antonio on the final day of this month. In their prior matchup this season Miami defeated the Spurs 105-100 back on Nov. 29 in Miami.
The Spurs likely will not have All Star G Tony Parker for that rematch after an injury in last Friday’s win over Sacramento. The initial prognosis has him missing about a month. Parker’s absence was not missed at all in Sunday’s blowout win over Detroit (114-75) but the Pistons are one of the league’s weakest teams, winning less than 40 percent of their games.
The absence of Parker is likely to be felt when the Spurs face much tougher competition which could not only open the way for Miami to secure that overall No. 1 seed but also pave the way for either Oklahoma City, the Los Angeles Clippers or both to pass them in the standings.
The Spurs started this week with a three game lead over the Thunder and 4½ over the Clippers. Yet before writing off the Spurs’ chances of holding onto that lead consider that the Spurs may be the best coached team of the past decade. Gregg Popovich has consistently been able to mix and match his personnel, compensating for injuries, time and time again with no drop off in performance.
As we approach the final quarter of the season it may be helpful to note the stratifications in the standings.
There is a high probability that the eight Eastern Conference teams to make the playoffs are already known. Milwaukee, at 29-28, currently sits eighth, 6½ games ahead of ninth seeded Philadelphia.
That is a huge gap to make up especially since it is asking a team currently a dozen (or more) games below .500 to sharply reverse direction and win roughly 75 percent of its remaining games while having the teams in front play several games below break-even down the stretch.
It appears Indiana and New York will battle for the second and third seeds while at least three, and perhaps four, teams will battle for the fourth through sixth or seventh seeds.
In the West it looks as though the Spurs, Thunder and Clippers will vie for the top three seeds. Memphis and Denver figure to contend for the fourth and fifth seeds. The Nuggets are currently fifth with a five game lead over sixth seeded Golden State.
The Warriors, Utah and Houston are within a half game of one another for the sixth through eighth seeds with those Los Angeles Lakers lurking in ninth, 2½ games out following their one point home win over Atlanta this past Sunday night.
It figures to be a great stretch run. In handicapping these final few weeks, pay attention to potential letdown and look ahead spots. Letdowns are more legitimate handicapping factors since it’s a reaction to what has already happened. Look-aheads are more speculative in that some assumptions are made in terms of a team’s mindset.
Here’s a look at three attractive games to be played this weekend.
Atlanta at Boston (Fri): Boston has a chance to make up a full game on the Hawks if they can win this game. These teams met twice – both in January and both in Atlanta. The teams split although Atlanta’s win went into two overtimes. Atlanta will turn right around and host Brooklyn on Saturday, while Boston has a nationally televised game on Sunday morning at Oklahoma City.
In both meetings in Atlanta the Hawks were 5½ point home favorites. That suggests Boston should be favored by a trey or less in this game. BOSTON.
Utah at New York (Sat): Utah is a much stronger team at home than on the road and are 12 games above .500 at home this season while being 9 games below .500 on the road. New York is a solid 21-9 at home as they face the Jazz for the first time. The Knicks should a 4 to 6 point favorite and they’ve been able to handle such imposts, especially at home. NEW YORK.
Chicago at LA Lakers (Sun): This game has greater significance for the Lakers than for the Bulls. Chicago is all but certain to make the playoffs and is playing for seeding position. Los Angeles could enter this game with a winning record, and positive momentum with a win at New Orleans and over Toronto later in the week.
Chicago won their earlier meeting, 95-83, at home in January. The Lakers have played well of late, winning 7 of their last 10 and are 5-1 since the All Star break. The Bulls have lost 6 of their last 10 and are 4-4 since the break. LA LAKERS.
Andy Iskoe, and his Logical Approach, provides his popular and unique handicapping statistics to Gaming Today readers and online visitors. He has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football. Contact Andy at [email protected]