As this past weekend showed, the major allure of the NCAA Tournament is the “one and done” aspect of the competition. The format that has just one game determine the fate of an NCAA Tournament team allows for more than a handful of stunning, dramatic upsets to occur pretty much on a routine basis from season to season.
History was made this past weekend when Maryland Baltimore County became the first 16 seed to upset a number 1 seed in the 34 year history of the tournament since the current format and seeding began in 1985. Virginia was not just a number one seed but the overall number one seed.
The tournament also witnessed Nevada overcoming second half deficits of 14 and 22 points to defeat Texas and Cincinnati in advancing to the Sweet Sixteen.
Rarely do such supposedly overmatched teams advance in the NBA Playoffs although there have been a few instances of a number 8 seed defeating a number 1 seed in the Playoffs’ opening round. For many years the first round of the Playoffs was played in a best of five format but now is in line with the subsequent rounds’ best of seven format.
The more games a team must win in order to advance through the Playoffs the more likely it is the better team will move on. This has been true throughout the history of the NBA Playoffs and there remains a great likelihood, or at least possibility, this season’s NBA Finals will feature a fourth straight meeting of the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers.
But that possibility, which was considered a virtual certainty by most astute observers of the NBA – as well as Nevada’s sportsbooks – prior to the start of the current season, is much more uncertain as the regular season begins to wind down.
Cleveland may be mathematically eliminated from earning the top seed in the Eastern Conference by the end of this week and is in serious danger of not finishing with a top four seed that carries with it home court advantage in the first round. Starting this week the Cavs were seeded third but just a half game ahead of both Indiana and Washington and just 3.5 games ahead of eighth seeded Miami.
The eight teams to make the Playoffs in the East are pretty much set as ninth seeded Detroit is 6.5 games behind the Heat. Only the seeding order of the teams finishing third through eighth realistically remains to be determined. Top seeded Toronto has a 5 game lead over second seeded Boston, which in turn is 6.5 games ahead of Cleveland.
We might see both the Raptors and the Celtics increase the resting of starters over the next three and a half weeks, which would result in backing either of those teams at the betting windows riskier than would be normal, especially when facing teams that are battling to maintain or improve their seedings.
Defending NBA Champion Golden State is in no danger of finishing lower than second in the Western Conference but the gap between the Warriors and top seeded Houston is widening. Through Sunday the Rockets held a three-game lead for the top overall seed in the NBA with a 56-14 record.
The burden of having played all those extra Playoff games the past three seasons appears to have taken a toll on the Warriors as stars Steph Curry and Klay Thompson are nursing injuries and have missed recent games. So has Kevin Durant who joined the Warriors last season and is expected miss the next two weeks with injured ribs.
With second seeded Golden State nine games ahead of third seeded Portland a Western Conference Finals between the Warriors and Rockets remains the solid favorite. But don’t overlook the Trailblazers who start the week with the league’s longest current winning streak, 13 games. Portland is 12-1 ATS during this streak including covers in the last 10.
Damian Lillard has been red hot during this run but the Blazers entered Monday just two game in front of fourth seeded Oklahoma City and are closer to being seeded ninth than to catching the Warriors for second, leading ninth seeded Denver by six games.
The teams seeded fifth through eighth in the West all started this week with 40 wins, meaning with two more wins by each it will be assured all eight Playoff teams in the West will have winning records.
Again, the better teams in the NBA are overwhelmingly in the West.
Here are thoughts on three games to be played this weekend.
Boston at Portland (Friday): Portland is playing at home for the seventh time in its last eight games but also has not played since Tuesday. Both teams next play on Sunday with the Celtics at Sacramento and Portland in Oklahoma City. Portland is the healthier of the two teams starting this week and has played the better basketball over the past couple of weeks. PORTLAND
Minnesota at Philadelphia (Saturday): Starting the week seeded sixth but just a game and a half out of third, the Sixers are playing with an energy and enthusiasm Minnesota seems to have lost in recent weeks. PHILADELPHIA
LA Clippers at Toronto (Sunday): This is the final game of a four-game road trip for the Clippers and the middle of a three-game homestand for the Raptors. The line should come around the mid single digits and although the Clippers have been competitive in recent losses there have been signs the long season and lack of depth has taken a toll. TORONTO