The 24-second clock is ticking down on the NBA’s regular season as just two weeks remain until 14 of the NBA’s 30 teams pack up their gear for the summer after the games of Wednesday, April 15.
Half of the playoff field is known as four teams in each conference have clinched playoff spots. Atlanta and Golden State have clinched top seed in the East and West respectively but no other seed positions are yet known.
The topic of “tanking” has been discussed before and usually tanking is thought of as a means of securing a better chance of gaining a higher draft choice via the NBA Draft Lottery.
But a similar concept can also exist late in the regular season when it comes to determining playoff seeding and this may well be a factor to consider when handicapping games over the final two weeks of the regular season.
Case in point: The Eastern Conference. Atlanta will finish with the top seed with Cleveland likely to finish second, ahead of Chicago. Considering Cleveland has been playing as the title contender they have been thought to be since LeBron James returned last summer and Atlanta has relatively little playoff experience (although they did extend top seeded Indiana to seven games last season) teams might believe they have a better chance to get past the Hawks by finishing eighth than to oust Cleveland by finishing seventh.
This sounds fine in theory but in practice it could backfire as the teams contending for the final Eastern playoffs seeds all have losing records and can hardly be expected to manipulate its situation, especially since a number of those teams will be in a “need to win” position just to make the playoffs regardless of where they are seeded.
As many as three Eastern Conference teams will make the playoffs with losing records. Starting this week just 4½ games separate sixth seeded Milwaukee (36-37) and 11th ranked Charlotte (31-41).
In the Western Conference there may not be as much of a concern as to where a team finishes as all eight playoff teams will have winning records with perhaps as many as seven winning at least 50 games.
Successful teams generally have that characteristic of confidence and a winning mentality in which anything other than playing to win, for the most part, is not an option. This does not apply to situations in which coaches will rest one or more key players such that the talent that does play is not representative of the team’s true potential, and a losing result (though not effort) would be expected.
Starting this week Oklahoma City holds the eighth and final playoff seed in the West but will play the rest of the season without Kevin Durant whose foot injury has sidelined him. Although time is running out New Orleans is just 2½ games behind the Thunder with Phoenix 1½ behind the Pelicans. All three teams have challenging schedules down the stretch.
New Orleans plays three games, all on the road, against non-playoff contenders plus a home game against Phoenix. Of their eight remaining games OKC has just two against certain non-playoff teams. Phoenix has just one of its final eight games against a non-playoff team – at home vs. Utah this Saturday.
The Suns also catch a break as they do not face either Houston or Memphis, the two teams locked in a tight battle for the 2 seed. New Orleans and Oklahoma City play both the Rockets and the Grizzlies in the next two weeks.
OKC plays at Memphis on Friday before hosting Houston on Sunday. New Orleans plays both teams on the road but not in successive games.
Starting this week just three games separate second seeded Houston from 6-seed San Antonio. Memphis and Portland sit third and fourth with the LA Clippers fifth. Although unlikely, the defending champion Spurs could end up seeded second and they do have back-to-back games against Houston in the season’s final week.
Many teams in both conferences face tough roads to either make the playoffs or improve seeding. The bottom teams in the East, by virtue of being weak, might be so spent from the effort they will be eliminated easily in the opening round of the playoffs.
The teams in the fifth through eighth seeds in the West, by virtue of their winning records, some of which will feature at least 50 wins, will have been toughened by their play down the stretch such that one or more of these lower-seeded teams could pull off opening round upsets.
Here’s a look at three games this weekend involving layoff contenders.
Charlotte at Indiana (Fri.): The Hornets are also slumping, losing 8 of 11 following a 5-game winning streak. Going back deeper into the season Indiana has played the slightly better basketball and their overall experience in being a playoff team for a fifth straight season, plus playing at home, rates them the edge. INDIANA
Washington at Memphis (Sat.): Memphis starts this week having lost 3 straight and having gone just 11-10 SU since the All Star break. But Washington is just 8-12 since the break. Both teams played at home on Friday night so the Wizards are traveling to this site. The Western Conference pedigree, playing for the higher seed and revenge for the recent 20-point loss combine with the scheduling edge to warrant a play on the hosts. MEMPHIS.
Chicago at Cleveland (Sun.): Chicago is getting healthier as the playoffs approach and should be attractively priced. But Cleveland has won 16 straight home games (12-4 ATS) since January 19 with 13 of the wins by double digits, including a 14-point win over Chicago that started this streak and 11-point wins over both Golden State and the Clippers. This should be another game for which the hosts will be pumped up. CLEVELAND.
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]