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    As the NBA season approaches the stretch run, it’s important to understand the concept of “must win” games. There are several types of such games and the concept is best explained by referencing the NFL and its very short 16 game schedule.
    Late in the season games are often referred to as “must win” games for teams that need a win to improve its chances to make the Playoffs. Of course “must win” does not mean “will win” and often there is an added price to pay in order to back those teams in “must win” situations.
    Of course the different types of such situations relate to the gravity of the “must win” implications. Teams competing for the top few seeds in the Playoff pecking order are not in the same “must win” situations as are teams that need to win just to qualify for the Playoffs.
    Teams contending for top seeds are the better teams in the league and the type of situation described is more of a “would be nice to win” game as opposed to a “must win” game. Such teams may be asked to lay an extra point or two not because of the situation as much as they are just that much better than most of the teams they are playing.
    The second type of “must win” situation is the one with which most bettors and handicappers are familiar. These are the teams most often battling for the final couple of Playoff seeds. Wins are precious especially as the number of games dwindle. Such teams are generally overpriced and at the same time are the less reliable teams.
    In the Eastern Conference Cleveland appears solid as the top seed and is battling the Los Angeles Lakers for the best record in the league. The Cavs currently have a three game edge but holds the tie breaker edge by having swept the Lakers in their two meetings this season.
    Orlando, Boston and Atlanta are vying for the next three seeds, each of which carried home court edge in the opening round of the Playoffs.
    Five teams are contending for the remaining four Eastern Playoff berths with Milwaukee, Toronto, Miami, Chicago and Charlotte separated by just two and a half games through this past Sunday. One of those teams will be disappointed in another five weeks.
    The Lakers’ lead in the West has shrunk to just three games over Dallas with Denver just a half game further back. The gap between fourth seeded Utah and eighth seeded Portland is just four and a half games with ninth seeded Memphis four games behind Portland. Between Utah and Portland are Phoenix, Oklahoma City and San Antonio and we can expect several shifts in that seeding to occur in the remaining weeks of the season.
    Houston and New Orleans are within a game of Memphis for that ninth spot and thus have to still be given some chance of making the Playoffs should Portland falter.
    The Los Angeles Clippers, Sacramento, Golden State and Minnesota have been looking to next season for quite some time.
    Here’s a look at three matchups for this weekend.
    Chicago at Miami (Friday): These teams have split their first two games with each winning at home. Miami starts the week seeded seventh in the East, a half game ahead of Chicago and making this an important contest. Miami has the better momentum with 6 wins in their last 10 games including 3 straight entering this week. Chicago has lost 4 in a row through Sunday. Part of Miami’s recent success has been with starter Dwyane Wade sidelined although he has since returned. The Heat had a pair of solid wins this past weekend, defeating the Lakers and Atlanta on their home court. The spot favors the Heat with Chicago off of a game in Orlando Thursday night. Given the importance of this game the preference is to take the rested home team that is in better current form. MIAMI.
    Denver at Memphis (Saturday): Denver still has designs on closing their three and a half game gap behind the Lakers while Memphis needs to make up four games as they attempt to catch Portland for the number 8 seed. The home team has won each of their two meetings this season but they’ve not met since mid December. Memphis has been just average of late, splitting their last dozen games. At one point this season Memphis had won 11 straight home games but starting this week the Grizzlies are on a home losing streak of 8 games. Denver has a losing road record (14-16). Both teams played Friday night with Denver in the more likely tougher game at New Orleans while Memphis hosted New York. The Nuggets are the better team but Memphis will be primed for a big effort in front of the home fans as each team is playing a third game in four nights. MEMPHIS.
    Utah at Oklahoma City (Sunday): Both teams continue their fine play and each starts the week having won 7 of their last 10 games. Utah has a two game lead over the Thunder and is currently seeded fourth while Oklahoma City is seeded sixth. The fourth seed carries the all important home court advantage in the opening round of the Playoffs so this game does have extra meaning, especially for the hosts. In fact, Oklahoma City has won both prior meetings this season, by 10 at Utah in late November and by 1 at home on the last day of 2009. There is plenty of talent on both teams with each team having multiple scoring options. Both teams are rested after having last played on Friday. Both teams have played more OVERs than UNDERs in recent weeks and this matchup tends to favor a similarly higher than expected scoring game. OVER the Total.

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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