The NBA regular season continues to wind down with all but the LA Clippers starting the week with between 8 and 10 games still to play. The Clippers have just seven games remaining after their 75th game of the season, this past Sunday, was memorable for the Playoff-bound Clippers blowing an 18-point lead with just five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, losing to lottery-bound Sacramento, 98-97. And that was a home game.
Last week also ended with major uncertainty as to which team would earn the top seed in the Eastern Conference. For virtually the entire season it has been assumed Cleveland would easily fashion the best record in the East and the Cavs have, in fact, been atop the Eastern Conference standing virtually since day 1.
The Cavs have survived runs by both Toronto and Washington in recent months but the defending champions were finally tied for the top spot in the Conference when, following a loss at Washington on Saturday night, Boston held off Miami to win on Sunday afternoon and effectively tie Cleveland for the East’s number one seed.
It is only an effective tie rather than an actual tie because Boston had played two fewer games than Cleveland through Sunday. Both teams ended the week 22 games above .500 but Cleveland’s 47-25 record was percentage points better than Boston’s 45-28 mark.
The Cavs and Celtics have one game remaining with Boston hosting Cleveland a week from Wednesday on April 5. A win by Boston would split the season series at two games apiece and, barring any losses by either team prior to that meeting, would tie the teams in the loss column. A win by Boston that ultimately leads to a tie for the best record in the Conference would be settled by tie breakers beyond the head-to-head results to determine the top Eastern seed.
For the past several weeks it appeared as though Golden State might be in jeopardy of not finishing with a third straight top seed in the West. Over a period of nearly two full weeks – from Feb. 29 through March 11 – the Warriors lost five of seven games, including a two-game losing streak and a tjree-game losing streak. It was on March 11 that the Warriors suffered a lopsided 107-85 road loss to San Antonio, a loss that left the Warriors just a half game ahead of the Spurs and tied in the loss column (14).
Since that 22-point loss the Warriors have won seven in a row through Sunday while San Antonio has gone 5-2 to fall 2.5 games behind Golden State (two games back in the loss column). The Spurs have won both meetings with the Warriors – that home win two weeks ago and an opening night 129-100 win at Golden State.
The teams will meet for a third and final time this Wednesday in San Antonio. The scheduling dynamics can be said to favor the Spurs as they hosted Cleveland on Monday night with Tuesday off while the Warriors are in the second of back-to-back games after playing in Houston on Tuesday.
A San Antonio win over Cleveland on Monday combined with a Golden State loss at Houston on Tuesday would set things up for the Spurs to control their destiny for the top overall seed with a win Wednesday over the Warriors as it would tie the teams with 16 losses while completing a three-game series sweep by the Spurs over the Warriors.
A Warriors win at Houston, a San Antonio loss to Cleveland or both teams having the same results in those games would have the Warriors still two games up in the loss column entering Wednesday’s game and keeping control for the top seed with Golden State, even with a loss to the Spurs.
For the overall good of the game in preparing the fans for the upcoming Playoffs it is great to have the races for the top seed in each Conference still undecided with barely two weeks remaining. The lack of a truly dominant team in each conference opens up the possibility there could be some upsets in this season’s Playoffs with the top seeds perhaps more vulnerable to being upset in the second round of the Playoffs than in recent seasons.
Over the final two weeks we should see more teams resting players, especially once they have clinched a Playoff berth or have solidified their seeding.
Several teams out of contention continue to play well, most notably the Brooklyn Nets. After not having won back-to-back games all season the Nets finally accomplished the feat with wins over Detroit and Phoenix last week. At 16-57 the Nets are assured of one of the three worst records this season. Yet nearly half of those 16 wins have come in March. After enduring a 16-game losing streak from Jan. 21 through Feb. 25 (yes, the Nets went winless in February) Brooklyn has gone 7-8 since March 1, which has translated to a 10-5 ATS run.
Philadelphia has also continued to play well, even though their progress was interrupted by injuries to their young players. Since Feb. 8 the 76ers have gone 9-13 SU but a very solid 17-5 ATS, which has included a streak of eight straight covers and another of seven straight covers.
Caution is suggested as you approach the final two weeks of the season and it is urged that starting lineups be monitored as you plan to make your plays. The explosion of social media over the past decade now makes it possible using Twitter and other such platforms to have up-to-the-minute information as to coaches’ intentions, who is warming up as tip off approaches, etc.
Here’s a look at three games this weekend.
Orlando at Boston: Orlando has played well over the past week or so and started this week having won three of four. But just within the past three weeks the Magic have lost by 40 points at Charlotte, by 30 points at Golden State and, just this past Friday, by 28 points at home to Detroit. BOSTON
Atlanta at Chicago: Atlanta has won all three prior meetings with Chicago this season, although all were decided by single digits. Atlanta covered in all three wins. This game is critical to Chicago’s Playoff chances after hosting Cleveland on Thursday and playing their next five games on the road. Both teams will play on the road on Sunday. CHICAGO
Indiana at Cleveland: With their showdown at Boston following a Tuesday home game versus Orlando, this is an excellent spot for the Cavs to flex their muscle against a foe that, through Sunday, had lost five straight road games (0-5 ATS) and had been held to 100 points or less in their last seven on the road. CLEVELAND