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Just one month remains until the NBA playoffs begin and four teams have already clinched spots. Boston, Chicago, Miami and San Antonio are the first teams to be assured of post season play and more teams will follow in the next few weeks as the season winds down.

San Antonio has a comfortable 7 game lead for the top seed in the Western Conference but it remains a three team race for that coveted top seed in the East.

Boston begins the week just a half game ahead of Chicago with Miami just 3. Earning the No. 1 seed could provide a huge advantage with that team likely being the only one in the playoffs facing a club with a losing record.

And, a significant loser at that.

Currently Indiana holds the final East spot with a 28-38 record, 6 games behind 7 seed Philadelphia. Should form hold up, the top seed could well have an easy series against the Pacers and be rested for a more challenging test against the survivor of a likely opening round series between Orlando and Atlanta.

Translation? The top seed in the East has a very easy path into the Eastern Conference finals facing likely a very fatigued survivor of the 2/3 seeds. As it stands now Boston would face the winner of a Miami/Chicago series. Expect all three teams to play at a high level over the next few weeks as long as the prize of that top seed remain viable.

It appears as though Indiana, Charlotte and Milwaukee are the three teams vying for the eight seed. Indiana and Charlotte are currently tied. The Bucks are just 1½ back, a solid 4 ahead of 11 seed Detroit.

In the West, there are 7 teams within 6½ games of one another for the final four spots. Denver is currently seeded fifth and Houston is that team 6½ back in 11th. Spread out nicely between the Nuggets and Rockets are New Orleans, Portland, Memphis, Phoenix and Utah.

With the exception of Houston, the other 6 teams all have winning records. And Houston starts the week just one game below .500, at 33-34. With roughly just about 15 games remaining each game could have major implications.

One strategy to consider would be to play the underdog when two of these 7 teams face one another and to back one of those (even favored), when facing a team out of playoff contention.

Of course this is just a generality and each game should still be handicapped on the specific matchup and situation. But these guidelines might be a good place from which to start.

While much of the focus of the basketball world over the next few weeks will deservedly be on the NCAA Tournament there will be opportunities with the play for (bigger) pay guys that should not be overlooked.

Here’s a look at three NBA games this weekend.

Spurs at Mavs (Fri). Both teams are currently in excellent form. Dallas’ solid home record at home, 24-10, is matched by the Spurs’ league best (tied with Dallas) 23-9 road record. San Antonio will be well rested, having last played Monday at Miami. Dallas is off of Wednesday’s game at Golden State. Note that Dallas star Dirk Nowitzki did not play in either of the Spurs two wins over the Mavs and with Tyson Chandler back in the lineup the Mavs match up well. MAVERICKS.

Nuggets at Heat (Sat): Miami seeks to avenge a 28 point blowout loss at Denver in mid January. The Heat clearly have the more talented roster but the new look Nuggets are playing with much greater energy. Both teams played on the road Friday night with Denver having had a more difficult task playing in Orlando than did Miami playing in Atlanta. Miami matches up well against Denver and should be motivated. HEAT.

Blazers at Lakers (Sun): The Lakers won both prior games this season, winning by 25 at home in early November and then needing overtime to win at Portland in late February. The Lakers will be rested after hosting Minnesota on Friday while Portland hosted Philadelphia on Saturday night. Strong defense has marked the Lakers’ post All Star surge with no team topping more than 95 points in regulation since their loss at Cleveland just before the All Star break. UNDER.

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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