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A tip of the cap to the NBA, which for the past several seasons has taken the Monday night of the NCAA Championship Game off so as to allow the Association to enjoy with the rest of the country the culmination of the college basketball season that will have showcased quite a number of future NBA players.

The final two weeks of the regular season are at hand and although most of the Playoff teams are known there are still seedings to be determined as the final games are played with teams having just 4, 5 or 6 games remaining.

Houston has officially wrapped up the top seed in the Western Conference and the top overall seed in the league, guaranteeing the Rockets the home court advantage in every series in which they are involved.

The accomplishment may have also secured the MVP award he was denied last season, for James Harden who has teamed with Chris Paul to make the Rockets a legitimate threat to end Golden State’s ownership of the Western Conference for the prior three seasons.

Unfortunately there is little to no value in betting on the Rockets to win either the NBA title or even the Western Conference title.

It became apparent rather early in the season, even before Thanksgiving, that Houston was a much improved team over last season with the arrival of Paul from the Clippers and a few other off season moves. It was not long before the odds on the Rockets dropped to low single digits to unseat the Warriors as NBA champs and those odds stabilized around 2-1 quite early in 2018.

As of Monday morning the Warriors were still +110 favorites to win it all with the Rockets’ odds almost equal at +120. No other team was held at single digits with Cleveland next at 10-1, Toronto at 12-1 and Boston at 20-1.

The Warriors are -130 to win the Western Conference with Houston at even money.

If you are looking for a longshot to spoil the plans of the Warriors and Rockets to reach the NBA Finals you might consider Portland.

The Blazers have played extremely well over the past couple of months and are currently priced at 30-1 to win the West (60-1 to win it all).

After winning its final game before the All Star break Portland returned from the week off by winning 12 more in a row. The 13-game winning streak ended with back-to-back home losses to Houston and Boston, which has been followed by winning four of five through last Sunday.

Handicapping and betting the final two weeks of the NBA season can be challenging with teams taking different approaches to preparing for the Playoffs, needing to make the Playoffs or playing out the string.

It has often been best to look for games in which both teams have reasons to play hard, although improving one’s seed is often much less a reason to play hard than the need to win to improve realistic chances of making the Playoffs.

The regular season ends next Wednesday, April 11, and in next week’s column a preview of the Playoffs will be presented to the extent possible given the uncertainty of the first round matchups, most of which are likely to still be undetermined at press time.

Here are thoughts on three games this weekend.

Indiana Pacers at Toronto Raptors (Friday): The three prior meetings this season between the Pacers and Raptors have been decided by 3, 5 and 7 points with Toronto winning 2 of the 3 on the court but the Pacers cashing 2 of the 3 at the betting windows. Toronto has not yet clinched the top seed in the East but entered this week with a two-game lead over Boston with each team having six games left.

The Pacers have clinched a Playoff spot and should be seeded no lower than fifth, where they started the week, but just a half game behind Philadelphia and a game behind third seeded Cleveland while enjoying a four-game lead over sixth seeded Washington. Finishing third or fourth would give the Pacers home court advantage in the first round of the Playoffs.

The Raptors had been the best home team in the NBA for most of the season but at 31-7 have slipped to second behind Houston. That’s because Toronto has lost two of its last four home games, being upset by Brooklyn and Denver over the past two weeks. But they’ve also been overpriced as home favorites recently and through Sunday were on an 0-5 ATS run at home. INDIANA

Portland Trail Blazers at San Antonio Spurs (Saturday): Both prior meetings were played in Portland with the teams splitting the games, which were decided by 1 and 2 points. There was quite a variance in the two meetings with the first, in late December, producing just 183 total points and the rematch, two and a half weeks later, producing 221.

Both teams are playing well. San Antonio had gone 8-2 both SU and ATS through Sunday as they seek to extend their streak of 50 win seasons to 19 straight but have no margin for error with 32 losses through Sunday. Portland has risen to the third seed in the West with a 3-game lead over the fourth seeded Spurs. But the fourth seeded Spurs were just two games ahead of eighth seeded New Orleans with a pair of team 1 and 2 games further back.

Given the competitiveness of their first two meetings and the importance of this matchup for both teams, this game handicaps as being more in line with their first meeting rather than their second with both teams more deliberate in pace and shot selection. UNDER

Utah Jazz at Los Angeles Lakers (Sunday): In an oddity, none of the six games scheduled for Sunday involve two Playoff bound teams. The Lakers have shown signs of progress this season but have been relegated to playing spoiler for most of the season’s second half. After a stretch that saw the Lakers go 13-5 SU, 14-4 ATS from mid January through early March they’ve gone just 5-9 SU, 4-10 ATS since.

Utah is looking to hold on to a Playoff berth, starting this week seeded sixth but just a game out of fourth and three games out of tenth. This will be a quick rematch of a game this Tuesday when the Jazz host the Lakers in their second meeting this season. The first was way back in October and the Jazz, 10.5 point home favorites, won and covered in a 96-81 win that stayed a whopping 25 points UNDER the Total.

Utah does have an extra day of rest and neither plays on Monday. The Lakers should put forth a competitive effort and can be played as a Home Underdog of 4 points or more unless they upset the Jazz with a road win on Tuesday. The play is on the straight up loser of Tuesday’s game.

About the Author

Andy Iskoe

Owner and author of “The Logical Approach,” Andy Iskoe has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football.

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