The truncated and compacted 66 game regular season schedule comes to an end this Thursday with little time for the 16 playoff teams to scout and prepare for the start of the playoffs.
Postseason play begins less than 48 hours after the regular season ends, with four games on Saturday and another four on Sunday with all 16 teams involved.
There are 14 having clinched playoff spots, leaving two open to start the week. It appears that in the East Philadelphia will earn the final seed. A win at New Jersey on Monday would clinch the spot as would have a Monday loss by Milwaukee at home to Toronto.
Should neither of those results occur the Bucks will have a chance to have their fate decided on the final night of the season as they will host Philadelphia a night earlier on Wednesday. But the odds strongly favor the 76ers.
In the West the final Playoff berth comes down to Phoenix and Utah. Both have two games remaining and Utah will host the Suns on Tuesday with a chance to clinch that final spot with a win. Should Phoenix pull the upset they would then be tied with the Jazz at 34-31.
Things would be decided after Phoenix hosts San Antonio on Wednesday or when Utah hosts Portland on Thursday. Having won their first two meetings with the Jazz, Phoenix holds the tiebreaker edge should the teams end up with identical records.
The playoffs will begin not without some controversy following an ugly incident this past Sunday in which the Lakers’ Metta World Peace (the former Ron Artest) was ejected after elbowing Oklahoma City’s James Harden following the Lakers’ dunk. The ejection occurred after officials reviewed the tape and will likely result in a suspension of some not so insignificant length.
Exact opening round matchups are not known as of Monday even though teams have just 2 or 3 games left to play. That’s how tight the standings are at top and bottom.
Thus only generalized comments can be offered as to how the upcoming playoffs might unfold.
It’s quite probable that Chicago will have the top seed in the East and Miami will be seeded second. Both teams are favored to ultimately meet in the conference finals.
Of the other six East playoff teams only Boston represents a legitimate threat to upset that forecast. Although hampered by age, the Celtics possess four players who can come up big at critical times – Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo.
Allen has been effective coming off the bench in recent weeks and coach Doc Rivers has given his stars considerable rest down the stretch. With few, if any, back to back games in the playoffs the post season schedule will be considerably less of a grind than has been this shortened regular season.
Both Chicago and Miami have legitimate injury concerns with some key players. Reigning MVP Derrick Rose has missed a significant portion of the season for Chicago with a variety of ailments. Although the Bulls have compiled a winning record in Rose’s absence, that winning record has been against the weaker foes on the schedule and have actually struggled without Rose against teams likely to present formidable obstacles to an NBA Title.
Miami star Dwyane Wade has also been bothered by nagging injuries and at age 30 the body needs more time to fully heal. The physical rigors of NBA play – perhaps the most taxing of any of the major sports especially considering the lack of protective uniforms such as those in hockey and football – could limit Wade’s effectiveness.
Both Chicago and Miami should advance in at most six. Chicago likely faces Philadelphia and the Heat facing New York. The Knicks have gotten the best out of Carmelo Anthony over the past few weeks but there still remain questions as to how well he and recently returned Amar’e Stoudemire will mesh at crucial stages of games.
Indiana most likely will oppose Orlando in the first round and Orlando is the league’s most dysfunctional team and has been so for much of the season, enduring the Dwight Howard saga. With Howard’s season ended due to a back injury the Magic might be a quick out against the underrated Pacers. Indiana in five.
The most competitive series should be the four vs. five matchup between Boston and Atlanta. The teams are separated by just one game in the standings and although Atlanta has one more win than the Celtics, Boston earns the fourth seed and the home court edge in this series by virtue of winning the weak Atlantic Division.
The Hawks and Celtics met three times this season with Boston winning twice and all three games decided by five points or less. Boston in six or seven.
San Antonio is in position to secure the top seed in the Western Conference over Oklahoma City and the LA Lakers are in position to eke out the Pacific Division title over the LA Clippers. Memphis will be the fifth seed while Denver has a half game lead over Dallas for the sixth seed with Dallas holding the tiebreaker edge. Utah and Phoenix will decide the eighth seed.
Dallas is the defending NBA Champion but is much weaker this season. They went 0-4 against the Lakers, their most likely first round opponent.
The Spurs were 3-0 against Phoenix, 3-1 against Utah, 2-1 against Denver and 2-2 against Dallas. No matter the foe: San Antonio in 6.
Fifth seeded Memphis matches up nicely against the Clippers and should be considered the most likely lower seeded team in either conference to pull off an opening round upset.
Oklahoma City should be able to get by their first round foe as well, most likely Dallas or Denver.
In betting the first few games of the playoffs home teams have historically fared well in Game 1. Last year home teams won only 5 of the 8 games but only Dallas covered.
We might see some double digit favorites in the opening couple of games and taking the generous points will be the preferred option.
Another strategy to consider will be to back home teams in Game 2 that lost on their home court in Game 1. A number of bettors will actually sit out Game 1 and then bet the remaining games.
One such approach is the so-called “zig zag” theory which, while not as effective as it was a decade or so ago, still provides a starting point that makes sense.
Last December, we saw Chicago to defeat Miami in the East and Oklahoma City to oust the Lakers in the West with Chicago defeating the Thunder in 6 to win the NBA Title.
As with the majority of so-called “experts” and seers across the nation this columnist was guilty of showing little respect for San Antonio.
Why not look for an “unexpected” matchup in the NBA Finals with Boston against the Spurs. And why not call for the Celtics defeating the San Antonio in 6.