For much of the next two weeks or so most of the sports world’s attention will be understandably focused on the NCAA Basketball Tournament. And whether you refer to this annual ritual of March as Madness, Mayhem or Mania the 68 teams that participate will put on display many of the players who will appear as rookies in the NBA next season.
Yet while the colleges are receiving most of the attention the NBA is playing out the final month of its regular season with teams having between 14 and 18 games remaining to determine their post season fates. As these games are played out over the next four weeks teams will start to either clinch a spot in the Playoffs or be mathematically eliminated.
As those events occur there will be opportunities to play on or against those teams. This may be especially true in the case of teams being eliminated.
For much of the season there has been widespread talk about teams ‘tanking’ games for the purposes of getting the most favorable positioning for the draft lottery in June. Longtime observers of the college game have proclaimed the upcoming draft class to be one of the deepest and most talented in years with several potential “franchise” players at the top of the list.
It’s hard to believe that professional athletes, due to their fiercely competitive nature, deliberately either try to lose a game or try not to win. Sometimes it is more a matter of the talent on the very weak teams being far below that of teams that are Playoff contenders.
Rather, the concept of “tanking” may be more related to ownership’s or management’s desire to play for the future. And that desire may often be evidenced through playing time doled out by the coaching staff and the personnel rotations on the court at any given time.
Often teams that can no longer make the Playoffs will play the balance of the season by giving more playing time to the younger or less used players with an eye towards evaluating their potential for the following season. In many instances the players are unaccustomed to seeing both the additional playing time and playing with a different combination of teammates. The result will often be one sided losses.
It can be profitable by paying attention to the changes coaches make one a team is mathematically eliminated from making the Playoffs.
Teams that are contending for the Playoffs or have already clinched a spot usually have reason to continue to play hard in the hopes of bettering their current seeding. Remember that in the first round of the Playoffs the top four seeds in each conference have the home court advantage. And the history across all sports shows the importance of hosting the final game of a Playoffs series.
Teams that may show the sharpest contrast in play prior to and after their Playoff fates are determined are the teams on the cusp of making the Playoffs. Making even the first round of the Playoffs means extra money to the players on those teams. We may see those battling for the final Playoff berth or two have some excellent value at the betting windows up until the time they either clinch a spot or are eliminated. At that point, the intensity level can drop suddenly and precipitously.
In the current context of the standings a 2½ game gap exists between the team currently seeded seventh in the East, Charlotte, and eighth seeded Atlanta. The Hawks have a 3½ game edge on ninth seeded New York with both Cleveland and Detroit within 1½ of New York. We could see all five of those teams play intense basketball up until such time as those teams are eliminated or manage to make it to the Playoffs,
Often these teams will be underdogs, due to their poor records, and could make for attractive takes against the better teams they will face down the stretch, especially when catching a half dozen points or more.
In the West just 3 games separate sixth seeded Golden State from ninth seeded Phoenix with Dallas and Memphis in between those two. That’s four teams battling for three Playoff spots, each of which starts the week at least 10 games above .500. The quality of those teams should make for some well played games as the regular season plays out.
As to this columnist’s selections for the NCAA Tournament? How about Louisville defeating Wisconsin in one half of the bracket and Florida over Michigan State in the other half. That would set up a Finals between pupil and teacher with Rick Pitino and Louisville facing Billy Donovan and Florida. The Gators were the last team to win back to back NCAA Tournaments, a feat Louisville can match with a Championship this season. And the forecast is that the Cardinals will get it done. The call is for Louisville to defeat Florida for the National Championship.
Here’s a look at three games to be played this weekend.
Chicago at Indiana (Fri.): Indiana’s perch atop the Eastern Conference has become precarious but the Pacers still retain the number one seed as Miami has been unable to take advantage of Indiana’s stumbles. The Pacers start the week with a 3 game lead over the Heat. Chicago is battling Atlanta Division leading Toronto for the third seed and start the week a half game behind the Raptors.
Chicago has played most of the season without Derrick Rose and although they struggled initially the Bulls have made adjustments and have gotten an MVP-worthy performance from Joakim Noah. Interestingly, going back more than two months, the Bulls have actually played better than the Pacers with a 25-11 record in their last three dozen games (Indiana is 24-12).
These teams have met just twice this season with each winning on its home court by similar margins of 16 and 17 points. But those game were each played in the first part of November. Chicago’s win, in their second meeting, ended Indiana’s perfect 9-0 start to the season.
And while Indiana was playing its best basketball of the season the Bulls had yet to lose Rose for the season when the teams met way back when. These teams are the best two defensive teams in the NBA with each allowing the same 92.2 points per game.
That should be the theme for this contest as both teams have had a night of rest and are off of games against some less challenging foes. UNDER.
Portland at Charlotte (Sat.): Portland has been a very average team over the past two months, going just 15-15 over its last 30 games through Sunday. The Charlotte Bobcats have been one of the more surprising teams in the much weaker Eastern Conference. Yet you might be surprised that over their last 30 games the Bobcats have a better record than the Trailblazers, 18-12. Their improved play has them currently seeded seventh in the East. Overall, Portland has a record 10 games better than Charlotte. But Charlotte’s home record (19-14) is slightly better than Portland’s road record (19-15).
In their prior meeting this season, on January 2, Portland drilled the Bobcats 134-104, easily covering as 11.5 point favorites. But that game was a long time ago. The momentum of both teams has reversed and the hosts are playing with much more confidence and are fully capable of exacting their revenge. This is the first game of a 5 game road trip for the Blazers who have a date in Miami on Monday. CHARLOTTE.
Brooklyn at Dallas (Sun.): Both teams have been playing well for more than a month and, in fact, have identical 16-9 records over their past 25 games. The Nets needed time to gel after undergoing a huge roster overhaul during the offseason and hiring a first time head coach, Jason Kidd. It’s been noted many times how well the Nets have played since the start of 2014, going 23-10 through last Sunday, including a current 7-2 run. Dallas starts the week having won 4 of 5 and is 14-6 going back to the end of January.
The earlier meeting of the Nets and Mavericks was a tightly contested game, won by the Nets 107-106 but covered by Dallas, though barely, as 2 point road underdogs. The schedule does favor Dallas which is playing the fourth of 8 straight home games. Brooklyn and last played Friday while next playing on Tuesday. The Nets are in the first game of a short 3 game road trip and whereas they, too, have not played since Friday they also have a game on Monday in New Orleans.
Those dynamics, together with the competitiveness of the first meeting that Dallas lost, gives enough of an edge to the hosts to support backing them. DALLAS.
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]