Los Angeles Lakers rising for NBA playoffs

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    The end of the regular season is in sight and teams are starting to gear up for the playoffs. The best example of this is in Los Angeles where the Lakers, depending upon your point of view, either labored or sleepwalked through the first two thirds of the season.
    But since the All Star break a month ago the two-time defending NBA Champions have turned it up a few notches, winning 12 of 13 games. The only loss was not a surprise, coming in Miami in a game in which all the heat was on, er, the Heat.
    With most teams having roughly a dozen games remaining playoff spots are being clinched and other teams are being eliminated from contention.
    As of Monday morning seven of the 16 teams to make the playoffs have been determined. Boston, Chicago and the Los Angeles Lakers have already clinched their division titles while Dallas, Miami, Orlando and San Antonio will also be playing in the postseason.
    While these teams still have incentive to keep winning in an effort to improve their playoff seeding, the primary goal of making the postseason has been accomplished. More teams will join the list of clinchers over the next three weeks until the regular season concludes on Wednesday, April 13.
    Conservation is a concept most often associated with the environment, be it in terms of wildlife, greenery, energy or other natural resources. But the concept also plays a role in the NBA’s stretch run and can be applied to handicapping these late season games.
    In an effort to be as fresh and rested as possible for the grueling, physical games that define the playoffs, many teams will begin to reduce the minutes of key players. These “coaching decisions” may not always be applied on a consistent or regular basis. But as their livelihoods often are determined by playoff success or failure coaches will do what they feel will be in the best interests of having their teams in peak condition when the playoffs commence. Thus it can be extremely dangerous to the wallet when laying double digits in the final few weeks of regular season play. Games that handicap as mismatches will often have a double digit point spread attached to the favorite. It will be clear from the stats the favored team is much the better in the matchup.
    Power Ratings will confirm this. But often the outclassed underdog will give a spirited effort and cover the huge number. It’s not an inflated number because the stats and Power Ratings will justify it. But the mindset of the favored team is often to just win the game and prepare for the next foe.
    Throughout the game the favored team may well limit playing time, and once the win is all but certain starters are often pulled for the final few minutes.
    Over the years, double digit favorites have performed badly over the final month of the regular season. And while it might take some courage to play Sacramento as a 12-point road underdog at San Antonio in early April it would still be a better option than to lay it with the Spurs.
    Avoiding the temptation to play double digit favorites in cases of obvious late season mismatches will “conserve” your bankroll.
    Here’s a look at three games this weekend.
    Sixers at Heat (Fri.): The Heat start this week having won five of six games, including wins over the Lakers and San Antonio. Miami has won both prior meetings this season but the teams have not played since November. The Heat won those meetings by 10 and nine points. Both of those games stayed below the total by several baskets. Philly could use this game as a measuring stick of the progress they’ve made since they last met. UNDER.
    Mavericks at Jazz (Sat.): Utah is playing with the greater sense of urgency. Dallas won all three prior meetings this season by an average of a dozen points. Both teams played at home on Thursday with Dallas having faced the weaker foe (Minnesota versus New Orleans) although the Mavs must play again on Monday at Phoenix. Dallas had been the hottest team in the league about two weeks ago but has struggled since, going just 5-5 in their last 10. JAZZ.
    Spurs at Grizzles (Sun.): The home team has won each of the three prior meetings. The situation does favor Memphis, who won the March 1 meeting without Rudy Gay who remains sidelined. The Spurs likely become a small road favorite here (favored by 1½ in March) but even at close to pick ‘em the preference is for the hosts, whose record at home matches that of the Spurs’ on the road. GRIZZLIES.
 

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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