It’s the time of year where NBA teams are starting to drop like flies. Unless you’re following LeBron James’ lead and locking in on the mission ahead, gearing up for the postseason, odds are your brain starts to shift into vacation mode.
How about those Lakers? They’re 51 games back of Golden State in the Pacific Division and appear to be a lock to finish with the second-worst record in the NBA, improving their chances of keeping this year’s draft choice, which would otherwise go to Phoenix if it doesn’t end up top-three. Beyond a proper send-off for the legendary Kobe Bryant, you know L.A. isn’t interested in finishing strong.
The 76ers have been very competitive over the past week, covering in tight losses at Denver, Portland and Golden State. They’re looking for a 10th win that will help the franchise avoid tying the 1972-73 group’s record for futility (9-73), but aren’t likely to get it this week given a home-and-home with surging Charlotte in addition to a home game with Indiana.
Beware of those large pointspreads, but understand that there are some teams who will be no-shows over the final two weeks. The Pelicans have already shelved Anthony Davis the rest of the way due to knee issue and are taking it easy with Ryan Anderson’s groin injury and Jrue Holiday’s toe trouble. With Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans out, the Pelicans lost three games by a combined 46 points entering Monday’s home date against the Knicks.
The Bucks had a surge when initially putting the ball in Giannis Antetokounmpo’s hands as the point forward, but enter the week on a five-game losing streak they’ll take into a March 30 home date against Phoenix. With Orlando and Chicago coming into town, they have an opportunity to string a few wins together, but are currently right there with the Knicks and Magic vying to avoid the third-worst record in the Eastern Conference.
Whispers over players tuning out Scott Skiles in Orlando has him facing an important week considering their next four games are winnable, but it remains to be seen whether the team is going to play out the string. There were positive signs in Saturday’s 111-89 rout of the Bulls, but a team that’s been besieged by injuries needs to finish strong to inspire home for next year.
The Magic will have a lot of cap space to attract upper-tier free agents and will want a stable coaching presence in place.
Chicago looked dreadful in that loss in Central Florida, digging itself a major hole in its quest to make the playoffs. The Bulls open the week at exactly .500 with 10 games to go.
Jimmy Butler, Pau Gasol and Derrick Rose have all been banged up but have made it back into the lineup. Where they go from here will depend on how well those three play over the next few weeks, which essentially means the postseason starts early for this group.
Fred Hoiberg has lamented his inability to reach his players of late, as they’ve suffered lopsided losses in a home-and-home against the Knicks before being throttled in Orlando. They’ll host the Hawks before road games in Indiana and Houston, so the bottom could really fall out if things don’t get turned around quickly.
Washington also finds themselves on the outside looking in, underachieving under Randy Wittman again. The Wizards enter the week with only nine games left, one game under .500, which means they’ll have to make a run to catch Indiana or Detroit for No. 8.
Their fate will likely be decided on the West Coast road trip they’re currently embarked upon, which started with a win over the Lakers and continues in Golden State on Tuesday. Games against the Kings, Suns and Clippers will all be winnable if they’re playing well, but coming up empty could put them too far behind the pace to take advantage of a favorable looking closing slate that features a pair of games against lowly Brooklyn.
The Western Conference is tightly packed, as Memphis continues to hang on to No. 5 and Portland has separated itself some from the group that includes Utah, Houston and Dallas. Each of those teams had playoff aspirations entering the season, but one will find themselves home watching when the postseason begins.
The Rockets are currently hanging on at No. 8, but even after an upset of the Raptors on Friday, face a treacherous road ahead. Houston spent Sunday losing a close one in Indiana and must now win at Cleveland on Tuesday before returning home for key games against Chicago and OKC.
The Rockets travel to Dallas for a huge game on April 6 and got some promising news in that LeBron will take the night off on Tuesday when they visit. The Blazers, Jazz and Mavericks certainly can’t be too fond of that turn of events.
It’s that type of drama that makes the end of the season so compelling.
San Antonio has already gone into conservation mode, while Stephen Curry and Golden State’s pursuit of 73 wins has them tackling every game like a must-win. We will see if it catches up to them in May.
Tony Mejia is a national sports writer and senior contributor at VegasInsider.com. He’s also the owner and operator of Antony Dinero, the most successful documented volume handicapper in the industry. View his analysis daily at VegasInsider.com. Email: [email protected].