Cavalier fans waiting for Heat and LeBron James

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The mayhem, mania and madness that is March has arrived and, although most basketball fans will be focused on the NCAA Tournament over the next few weeks, the NBA takes on great import nightly heading to the playoffs.

Shortly I will join the legions of fans forecasting the collegiate Final Four but let’s concentrate on what’s been going on in the NBA over the past few weeks.

Miami won again on Sunday at Toronto to extend its NBA winning streak to 22 in a row, second best of all time. By the time you are reading this column the streak may have come to an end as Miami played in Boston on Monday night – a venue where the Heat have not had much success in recent seasons.

Miami then has another intriguing matchup on Wednesday when they play at Cleveland.

The LeBron James haters will be out in full force and there would a kind of poetic justice if the young and inexperienced Cavaliers were the ones that put an end to Miami‘s streak. It could happen but it’s unlikely. But perhaps a play on Cleveland in the first half might be play worth making.

King James and his teammates have “that look” that comes with being a defending champion that is getting better. They deservedly remain the favorites to win it all, assuming they stay healthy. They should have little trouble getting out of the East and may have an added edge in that they would be facing a team from the West that has likely gone through a couple of grueling series to reach the Finals.

Indiana currently is seeded second in the East with a 40-26 record. In the West, that record would have the Pacers seeded sixth, a full 4½ games behind fifth seeded Denver.

The disparity between the East and West is further indicated by the fact that although the top teams in the league, save for Miami, reside in the West, the two worst teams in the NBA are in the East (Orlando and Charlotte).

As a group, Western Conference teams are 66 games above .500 in games between the conferences. That success has also translated into profits at the betting windows with Western teams 34 ATS wins above .500, again, at the expense of Eastern Conference teams.

Despite the weaker records, the battle for playoff positioning is extremely tight in the East. Miami leads the conference by 11½ games over second seeded Indiana. Yet the Pacers’ grip on that second seed – and in fact on one of the top four seeds that carry home court advantage in the opening round of the playoffs – is tenuous. Seventh seeded Boston is just 3½ behind the Pacers.

Of course, with a similar 3½ game lead over Chicago in the Central Division, the Pacers would be guaranteed no worse than a fourth seed should they hold off the Bulls and win the division title. But the point here is that much movement may occur as these teams play out the final month of the season.

The race in the West is coming down to a two team tussle between San Antonio and Oklahoma City for the top two seeds and among the LA Clippers, Denver and Memphis for the third through fifth seeds. This battle could be the best since you have three quality teams, each winning more than two thirds of its games, with one of those teams having to finish fifth, making its trip to the second round of the playoffs more difficult.

So while we are enjoying the exploits of many future NBA stars over the next couple of weeks as the college season ends, don’t overlook what’s happening in the league as there should be several solid situational spots to consider.

But let’s take a very brief detour to the college ranks since many readers of this column also follow the college game.

In filling out NCAA Tournament brackets it’s always easiest to make a case for the highest seeded teams. Those are the teams considered to have the most strengths and/or the fewest weaknesses.

The Tournament has been won by a team with a No. 1 seed has won 5 of the last 6 years. Since the field was expanded to include 64 teams in 1985, 17 of the 28 NCAA’s have been won by a 1 seed. And in the first 7 seasons of the 64 team field only twice did a 1 seed win. Most of the success of 1’s has been in the past 20 seasons.

At the same time it’s rare for form to hold deep into the Tournament so you have to have some fresh faces advancing deep if you want to have a winning bracket.

A Final Four to consider: Gonzaga, Florida, Miami and Michigan State. The first three teams have had very solid seasons and were dominant during stretches of the season. Michigan State has long been a solid NCAA Tournament team.

Sure, Louisville, Kansas and Duke will likely be choices in many of the brackets filled out – and deservedly so given their recent history.

Keep an eye on Saint Louis. The Billikens appear to have a lengthy run in them and they are peaking at the right time, having won 15 of its last 16 games.

In the meantime, here’s a look at three NBA matchups to be played this weekend.

Utah Jazz at San Antonio Spurs (Fri.): The home team has won and covered both prior meetings this season although they last met in mid December. The Spurs are contending for the top seed in the West whereas Utah is battling for one of the final two playoff spots with the Lakers and Houston.

San Antonio is still without Tony Parker and although the Spurs continue to win games, they start this week on a 1-4 ATS run, indicative of being just a bit overvalued. Yet Utah remains a dreadful team on the road, winning just 10 of 34 games.

The Jazz start the week having lost 6 straight and 9 of 10 on the road, going just 3-7 ATS. And they’ve had trouble stepping up in class away from home, going 0-9 both SU and ATS on the road against the league’s elite teams. SAN ANTONIO.

Boston Celtics at Memphis Grizzlies (Sat.): Both teams are playing their third game in four nights but all of Boston’s are on the road and each played Friday night. Memphis won their only earlier meeting, 93-83, in Boston in early January, getting the cash as 2½ point road favorites. Boston’s Kevin Garnett is again contending with nagging injuries.

Overshadowed by several higher profile teams in the West, Memphis starts the week tied with Denver for the fourth seed, just a game behind the Clippers. The Grizzlies are on an upswing and have a record 8 games better than the down trending Celtics, in a global sense. Yet Boston’s Doc Rivers remains one of the league’s best coaches and we need look no further than how the Celts have continued to play well after losing Rajon Rondo for the season.

The Grizzlies should get the win but may well be priced a bit too high after covering just 1 of their last 5 home games despite winning all 5. BOSTON.

Brooklyn Nets at Phoenix Suns (Sun.): Just 3½ games separate the second through sixth seeds in the East with Brooklyn currently sitting fourth. Phoenix is one of the worst teams in the league with only Charlotte and Orlando sporting worse records. Favored by 7, the Nets won the earlier meeting by 20 point when the teams met in Brooklyn in early January.

This is the Nets fourth game of an eight game road trip and they are off of a game at the Clippers this Saturday night. Normally this would be a favorable spot for the Suns but the scheduling dynamics may actually work to keep this line depressed.

The Suns are one of just two Western teams with a losing home record whereas the Nets started this road trip on Monday, two games above .500 on the road. BROOKLYN.

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]

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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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