Just seven weeks remain until the NBA’s regular season ends.
The trading deadline passed with a number of minor deals taking place but none that can be looked upon as making a significant difference in any team either making or missing the Playoffs.
Over the remainder of the season teams will be jockeying for seeding position with the top four seeds in each Conference gaining the home court advantage for the opening round of the Playoffs.
Currently Indiana, Miami, Toronto and Chicago occupy the top four spots in the East, followed by Washington, Brooklyn, Charlotte and Atlanta with the Bobcats and Hawks tied for the final two spots. A gap of 3½ games exists between those final two Eastern qualifiers and the current ninth seed, Detroit.
The Nets, Bobcats and Hawks all have losing records so that 3½ gap is not insurmountable, although it would take a remarkable reversal of fortune for the Pistons, Cleveland or eleventh seeded New York to make such a run. Fifth seeded Washington starts the week exactly at .500 (28-28) and has shown much improvement over the past month.
West: Oklahoma City remains the top seed in the Western Conference and starts the week percentage points behind Indiana for the NBA’s overall top seed. The Thunder have one more win and one more loss than the Pacers. OKC’s lead for that top West seed is 2½ games over San Antonio. Houston and Portland are tied for the third best record in the West but by virtue of leading the Pacific Division the Los Angeles Clippers would be seeded fourth.
There is a four game gap between the tied Rockets and Trailblazers to the team currently seeded sixth, Golden State. But the Warriors’ grip on that 6 seed is tenuous at best with both Dallas and Phoenix just a half game back to round out the top eight teams. Ninth seeded Memphis, two games out of the eighth seed, is 31-24 – a record that would have the Grizzlies seeded third in the East!
In looking for a potential sleeper that has a reasonable chance of going deeper in the Playoffs than will be expected, take a look at the Houston Rockets. The signing of Dwight Howard in the offseason filled in another part of the puzzle.
With improved backcourt play and a legitimated scorer in James Harden the Rockets have been playing as well as any team in the NBA for more than a month, going 21-9 over its last 30 games. They have a solid road record (16-11) and are the third highest scoring team in the league. Houston can be found at odds in the range of 15/1 to 20/1 at various books around town.
East: There does not appear to be a viable longshot to consider. The gap between second seeded Miami and third seeded Toronto is a huge 10 games. Some observers have mentioned Brooklyn as a potential party crasher but since the Nets had their 10-1 run to start 2014 their record since has been a very ordinary 6-6 – and that goes back almost a full month.
One team that has gotten much attention lately has been Washington and their props have been dished out in this column in recent weeks. The Wizards start the week at .500 (28-28) and have been within 3 games of breakeven since the start of 2014, which equates to their last 28 games, or half of their season to date. There have been mini-streaks over this period, including a 3 game losing streak followed by the 3 game winning streak on which Washington starts this week.
The key to the Wizards’ improvement can be seen by looking at their performance against the NBA’s elite teams. Although Washington is just 3-10 SU against such teams, and 7-6 ATS, a look at how their recent efforts contrast their earlier performances show significant improvement. Washington was 0-7 SU and 2-5 ATS versus Class ’A’ teams through Jan. 11.
In six games since that date Washington has gone 3-3 SU and 5-1 ATS against the league’s top teams including straight up wins as underdogs against Miami, Oklahoma City and Portland. All three wins came at home as did a double overtime loss to San Antonio. Both road losses were by single digits (at Houston and the Clippers).
Barring injury concerns Washington might make for a good play to win a first round Playoff series if they face other than Miami or Indiana. As things stand now the Wizards would face Chicago and would be solid underdogs, perhaps in the +200 to +220 range.
Here’s a look at three interesting games this weekend.
Memphis at OKC (Fri.): Oklahoma City has won two of the three prior meetings this season and while their first meeting produced 216 total points to go OVER the Total their last two meetings stayed well UNDER the total with just 177 and 163 total points scored. Memphis has played very well, going 16-5 since early January. Included in this run are winning streaks of 4, 5 and 6 games with only one instance of back to back losses. The Grizzlies’ run has been fueled by a strong defense.
In fact, Memphis is averaging the fewest points allowed per game of any team in the Western Conference (94.4). Only Miami and Chicago allow less. At the same time Memphis is scoring the second fewest points per game in the conference (94.8). Although overshadowed by the offensive exploits of Kevin Durant and his mates, OKC has also been a solid defensive team (98.2 ppg). Memphis starts the week having held 18 of its last 19 foes to under 100 points with 13 of the 19 scoring 90 or less. UNDER .
Minny at Sacramento (Sat.): This is a revenge game for Minnesota as the Timberwolves were shocked at home on Jan. 15, losing to the Kings 111-108 as 9.5 point favorites. Despite a losing record (27-29) the Wolves have a nice positive scoring differential of plus 3.9 points per game. Their problem comes down to an inability to win close games. They are an ugly 1-12 SU in games decided by 4 points or less! Their 4-9 ATS mark is barely better
Minnesota has the talent to be a Playoff team but their chances of making a run at the eighth seed are pretty remote. They are rested after having last played on Tuesday while the Kings played at the Lakers on Friday night. MINNESOTA.
Dallas at San Antonio (Sun.): San Antonio has won both meetings with the Mavericks, by 9 and 22 points. The teams last met in early January. The Spurs are within two and a half games over Oklahoma City for the top seed in the West.
Both teams last played on Friday. San Antonio is 18-8 at home this season but more recently has lost 3 of its last 5 at home and is just 1-5 ATS in their last 6.
Dallas has a winning road record and starts the week with 5 wins in its last 6 away from home. The Spurs have been able to develop depth having to deal with injuries and coach Gregg Popovich’s resting of healthy players throughout the season. Having finally being able to get settled back at home the Spurs should be able to focus on the task at hand and their recent wins against better teams could be looked at as a buy sign. SAN ANTONIO.
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]