The grueling marathon that defines the NBA regular season is almost at an end.
When the finish line is crossed next Wednesday, April 16, the 16 teams that will begin the “second season’s” journey to the NBA Title will be known and seeded while the 14 others will begin making plans for the upcoming college draft and budgeting for next season.
With just 10 days and a half dozen games or less remaining the Playoff picture is coming into focus.
Seven of the eight teams in the East have been determined although the seeding remains very much unclear. Only the final Playoff seed, being contested between Atlanta and New York, will be determined in the final week and a half.
Only five Western Conference teams have clinched Playoff spots with four still alive for the final three spots. Golden State is in the best position of the four followed by Dallas, Phoenix and Memphis through this past Sunday.
Miami has control of the top seed in the East as the Pacers continue to fade although they can make a bit of a statement that they are not to be written off when playing at Miami on Friday. Still, the Heat’s efforts over the past few weeks have established the two time defending champs as the clear team to beat in the East.
The recent woes of Indiana have many now considering both Chicago and Brooklyn as the teams most likely to extend Miami in a Playoff series. The Heat have been showing they are ready to defend the title and will do so with a healthy Dwyane Wade who has been rested for much of the past couple of weeks.
The one team in the East that is getting virtually no love is Toronto. Yet the Raptors are in position to claim the 3 seed in the East. They start this week tied with Chicago at 45-32 and have a 2½ game lead over Brooklyn for the top spot in the Atlantic Division.
A pair of teams without recent Playoff experience will be playing into at least late April this season as both Charlotte and Washington have clinched postseason spots.
One thing is certain, however. Regardless of whether Atlanta or New York gets the eighth and final Eastern berth, that team will make the Playoffs with a losing record. It’s possible as many as three Eastern teams will make the Playoffs with losing records as both the Wizards and Bobcats start the week with fewer than 41 wins.
In contrast, one Western Conference team will miss the Playoffs despite having at least 45 wins and perhaps as many as 50. Memphis starts the week with a 45-32 record.
The season can’t end soon enough for two of the legendary franchises in the NBA as both Boston and the Los Angeles Lakers are enduring miserable seasons. The performance of the Lakers has been downright embarrassing and humiliating at various times.
This has been perhaps best typified by their efforts against their Staples Center co-tenants, the Clippers. After opening the season with a 116-103 win over the Clippers (as 10 point underdogs) on October 29, the teams did not meet again until January. In those three meetings in 2014 the Clippers defeated the Lakers by margins of 36, 48 and 23 points!
The Lakers start this week with a 25-52 record, just one game ahead of the worst team in the West, Utah.
Boston is having a similarly woeful season and starts the week 23-54, ahead of three teams at the bottom of the Eastern barrel. But at least a plan is in place with upcoming draft choices for the Celtics to enjoy a much quicker turnaround than can be expected of the Lakers.
In next week’s column the Playoffs will be previewed with an eye toward finding a team or teams that could have a surprisingly deep run into the Playoffs.
Here’s a look at three games to be played over the final weekend of the regular season.
Indiana at Miami (Fri.): My how the mighty have fallen! The Indiana Pacers were the team to beat when they dominated the NBA in November and December but their play has fallen off as dramatically as any team in recent history as the Playoffs approach. The Pacers start this week on an 0-9 ATS run and are just 2-7 SU in that stretch. Miami is now in control of that top seed with a two game edge in the loss column starting this week. The Pacers have won two of the three meetings this season but all signs point to Miami taking advantage of Indiana’s poor play. After enduring its own slump a month ago, dropping 5 of 6, the Heat have now won 5 of 6 and 9 of 13 as they get into Playoff shape. MIAMI
Phoenix at Dallas (Sat.): These teams split two prior meetings, both played in Phoenix. But the teams have not met since mid-January. The Mavericks have the best player in the game, veteran and future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki. The Suns are more of a collection of some very solid players who have responded well to first season coach, and former All Star, Jeff Hornacek. Dallas is likely to come as a small favorite.
The Mavs have been rather ordinary at home since mid-March, going just 3-4 SU (2-5 ATS), including three losses as a Home Favorite (to Minnesota, Brooklyn and Golden State). Phoenix has won four of its last five road games, including outright wins as underdogs at Minnesota and Portland. Whatever pressure might exist for this game might well be on the shoulders of the more veteran and experienced hosts. PHOENIX.
Golden St. at Portland (Sun.): Portland has already clinched a Playoff spot and the Warriors should have done the same by the time this game is played. The Blazers started this week just a game and a half ahead of Golden State so this game could impact which team is seeded fifth and which is seeded sixth. Golden State won two of the prior three meetings but did cover in the second of the two losses.
Neither team played on Saturday and Golden State hosts a non-Playoff team Monday night. The Warriors have been the better balanced and deeper team throughout the season and have played the better basketball over the past couple of months following a sluggish start to the season. They have been a solid road team this season and are likely to be a small underdog in this contest. They have been the better defensive team and are one of just four Western teams holding foes to under 100 points per game. They are the more trustworthy team right now. GOLDEN ST.
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]