Better to bet on teams that are trying

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As the NBA enters the final week of its regular season, the Milwaukee Bucks are all but assured of having the league’s best record which would earn them the home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.

Through Monday, the Bucks held a three-game lead over Toronto in the Eastern Conference with each team having four games to play and the Bucks holding the tiebreaker by having won three of four meetings with the Raptors.

It is possible, however, for Toronto to have the home-court advantage should the Raptors reach the NBA Finals. Heading into play Tuesday, Toronto was one game better than Western Conference-leading Golden State. The Warriors do have two more games to play than the Raptors, but the Raptors have one less loss than the two-time defending champs and also swept the Warriors in their two meetings this season.

All eight playoff berths in the West have been clinched with only the seeds to be determined over the next week. Five of the eight Eastern berths have been clinched with just a game and a half separating the teams currently seeded sixth through ninth.

As noted last week, handicapping the final couple of weeks of the NBA regular season is an exercise often involving as great a degree of uncertainty as at any point of the season. The approaches teams take in resting players in the case of contenders or giving added playing time to young players on teams out of the playoffs often results in huge line movements in the hours leading up to game time as those plans become public.

My approach this weekend will be to focus on games that are likely to involve playoff implications for both teams whether in terms of qualifying for the playoffs or improve or maintain seeding positions. This is especially if gaining or retaining home court advantage is involved, realizing that such factors will be factored into the point spread.

By the time next week’s column is penned much of the playoffs picture will have been determined and my preview and forecast will be presented. Here are thoughts on three games this weekend that likely will have playoff implications.

Celtics at Pacers (Friday): Through Monday these teams were tied for the critical fourth and fifth Eastern seeds which makes this game very important. The home team has won each of the three prior meetings this season which makes this even more important for the Pacers to hold serve.

Their most recent meeting was last Friday in Boston. The Celtics won 114-112 but failed to cover as seven-point favorites. Boston has played shaky basketball for most of the season with indications of several behind-the-scenes issues.

The Pacers had played surprisingly well following a season-ending knee injury to star Victor Oladipo in late January. But is his absence finally being felt? Indiana is just 2-7 SU since mid-March. But six of those losses were on the road while the Pacers won two of three home games in this stretch, including a 124-88 rout of Denver, currently a game behind Golden State for the top spot in the West. PACERS

Nets at Bucks (Saturday): These teams just met in Brooklyn Monday night with the Bucks defeating the Nets for the third time this season and they’ve covered in all three. Milwaukee may have clinched the top seed in the East by the time this game tips off.

Brooklyn is currently seeded seventh in the East and there is just a game and a half separating sixth seeded Detroit and ninth seeded Orlando. Ironically, the Nets will be off Wednesday night’s home game against Toronto. Milwaukee will have played Thursday night in Philly.

The Bucks might rest players if the Conference title has been clinched and the Nets have played at a high energy level all season. The extra day of rest will help as the Nets are finishing the season playing one of the toughest late-season schedules of the teams still contending for the playoffs. NETS

Nuggets at Trail Blazers (Sunday): This is the second of a home-and-home series as the teams will have played in Denver on Friday. Through Monday the Nuggets were a game behind Golden State in the West for the top seed while Portland was tied with Houston for the third and fourth seeds.

Portland center Jusuf Nurkic suffered a season-ending injury last Monday which will further challenge the Blazers, who remain without C J McCollum as he recovers from a knee strain. The preference would be to back Portland in this spot if they lost at Denver on Friday. If they pulled the upset over the Nuggets, then let’s look under the total in this rematch. Over their last 22 games, the Nuggets have gone 18-4 to the under.

Last week: 1-2

Season: 39-30

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About the Author

Andy Iskoe

Owner and author of “The Logical Approach,” Andy Iskoe has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football.

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