With so much attention being given, and deservedly so, to the ongoing NCAA Basketball Tournament, the races in the NBA have been somewhat relegated to secondary status in many major media outlets.
There are two types of races that will be getting much more attention once the college tournament is done and the NBA settles into its final two weeks.
The first type is the one being followed by the majority of NBA fans and that is the race for the playoffs, both in terms of teams seeking to earn one of the eight berths in each Conference as well as teams seeking to improve or maintain their current seeding position.
The race given less attention is the one to secure the worst regular season record and hence earn the greatest chance to get the top draft pick in June’s NBA draft of college talent.
Three teams have officially clinched playoff spots – Atlanta and Cleveland in the East and Golden State in the West. Atlanta, with just 12 games left, leads the Cavs by eight games for the No. 1 Eastern seed. Golden State has a 7½ game lead over Memphis for the top seed in the West with 13 games remaining for the Warriors.
Two of the league’s most storied franchises appear all but certain to finish among the bottom four. Currently the New York Knicks have the NBA’s worst record, 14-56, and are in position to have the best chance to win the draft lottery if they can maintain, or extend, their one game lead over Minnesota. Philadelphia sits third with the Los Angeles Lakers, second only to Boston with 16 NBA Titles, fourth at 18-50.
The NBA has to be concerned with teams “tanking” games in order to achieve a more favorable draft position. This is especially true when teams employ this philosophy from the start of the season, as is rumored to have been the case with Philadelphia.
It should be noted the players themselves are not deliberately trying to lose games. Players, by their competitive nature, almost always are trying to win. It is ownership/management of these teams that often construct a roster that has significant shortcomings in multiple areas, which all but makes it impossible for the team to win most games when facing more talented and balanced teams.
What goes around comes around and so much of life and culture is cyclical in nature. It’s been three decades since the draft lottery was instituted to combat the same situation. Before the lottery the NBA’s draft order was determined simply by reverse order of the standings.
What we are witnessing this season is nothing more than a shift from purposely losing to get the top draft pick to purposely losing to get the greatest chance of getting that top draft pick.
There is talk that the determination of draft order may be discussed during the offseason with the possibilities ranging from simple tweaking of the current lottery system to a major overhaul.
The growth in popularity of the NBA has been explosive over the past decade and new Commissioner Adam Silver has been very forward thinking in his 14 months on the job. He realizes it’s not fair to the fan bases of teams not putting forth their best efforts to win and thus some sort of change to combat this “play for next year from the start of a season” philosophy.
As noted in previous columns, teams that will not make the playoffs often make for excellent pointspread plays in the latter part of the season. Such teams are not in the “tank” mode and have usually displayed some good recent form despite being out of the playoff hunt.
Teams that fit the profile this season include Denver, the LA Lakers and Utah, and to a lesser extent, Boston and Phoenix. Denver is on a current 9-3 ATS run despite being out of the playoff race.
The Lakers, though not considered a tanking team, have not had great success on the court of late. They had a miserable ATS run from mid-January up to the All Star break, but after dropping their first decision following the break the Lakers are a very solid 11-3 ATS.
Utah is on a nice 12-6-1 ATS run since early February although they are just 4-5 ATS since March 6. But that’s largely due to the linesmaker catching up as the Jazz are starting to be favored in many games. Since March 6 the Jazz are 7-2 SU, winning SU but losing ATS 3 times. They are a perfect 2-0 SU as underdogs in this span and should be worth looking at as underdogs over the next couple of weeks.
Utah had gone 7-3 SU prior to the start of their ATS slump, and their 106-91 loss at Golden State on Sunday marked just the second time in 19 games the Jazz had allowed more than 96 points.
Boston, Indiana and Phoenix are all contending for the final playoff spot in their respective conferences so cannot be considered out of the race. Each has performed well against the spread in recent weeks and could be considered for play as long as they are still mathematically alive to make the playoffs.
Entering this week Boston has gone 22-9 ATS since mid-January while Phoenix in on a current 8-3 ATS run.
Here’s a look at three games involving playoff contenders this weekend.
Charlotte at Washington (Fri.): Sure it’s the Eastern Conference where perhaps as many as three teams with losing records will make the playoffs. Charlotte won the first two games against the Wizards this season, winning by 4 and 7 points. But in their most recent meeting, in Charlotte two weeks ago, Washington torched the Hornets 96-69. That win marked the start of a five game winning streak for the Wizards who had been slumping and had gone 4-13 over the prior six weeks.
Both teams are rested and the Wizards are off until Sunday while Charlotte hosts Atlanta Saturday night. The first three meetings, all played within a 5 week stretch, all stayed UNDER the Total with total points ranging between 164 and 181. UNDER.
Denver at Portland (Sat): Denver has played with greater energy since firing coach Brian Shaw and has gone 7-5 SU and 9-3 ATS with 4 of the wins as underdogs. On Friday night Denver hosted Utah while Portland played at Phoenix so both teams are traveling to this venue to play the second of back to backs.
Portland is back home for just the second time in a stretch of 9 games meaning that they have been traveling to different sites for the past 2½ weeks. That should make it tougher than usual to deal with Denver’s aggressive pace, making for some added value on the underdog. DENVER.
Memphis at San Antonio (Sun): This is a very attractive late season matchup. After their slump ended a week after returning from the All Star break the Spurs have gone 10-2 SU and 9-3 ATS with perhaps their most impressive win coming just this past Sunday when they defeated Atlanta, the best in the East, 114-95 on the road. The Spurs are starting to gear up for yet one more playoff run and this game will be yet another test.
Memphis has won two of the three prior meetings this season but all 3 games were decided by single digits. Both teams last played on Friday and while the Spurs are off until Tuesday, Memphis has what should be a much more winnable game at home against Sacramento on Monday. 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]