The finish line is in site as the NBA regular season ends on Wednesday, April 16.
Most coaches of teams that will make the playoffs are likely not to “play games” down the stretch in seeking to achieve or avoid certain matchups in the opening round, despite talk to the contrary on sports talk radio, in blogs or other media.
Coaches want their teams to be in peak condition, playing their best basketball of the season and, hopefully, at full strength/health and as fresh as possible given the 82-game grind of the regular season.
Toward that end coaches will rest players once a team has either clinched a playoff spot or had its seed determined. The next objective is to secure as high a seed as possible with the key to attain a top four seed in its Conference to gain home court advantage for the first round.
To win the NBA Championship a team needs 16 victories – four each in a total of four series. It is possible the eventual champ, or runner up, could wind up playing as many as 28 playoff games over a two month stretch from mid-April to mid-June, the equivalent of an extra third of a season!
Teams have between 11 and 14 games remaining, yet only three teams have clinched playoff spots. In the East both Miami and Indiana have clinched and remain on a path to meet in the Conference Finals.
Indiana has a two game edge over the Heat for the 1 seed (although just a two game edge in the loss column) and the gap between second seeded Miami and third seeded Toronto is a whopping 8½ games. Quite likely several East teams will make the playoffs despite losing records.
Such cannot be the case in the West where the top eight each have won at least 41 games through Sunday. Only San Antonio has clinched a spot in the playoffs. The Spurs are two games ahead of Oklahoma City for the top seed in the West.
At 53-16 the Spurs have a 2½ game edge over Indiana for the top overall seed and started this week riding a 13-game winning streak. The 76ers are also on a streak of their own but not the kind for which they’d like to be remembered. Philly entered their game at San Antonio having lost 24 in a row.
Remarkably, despite their futility, Philadelphia does not have the worst record in the East. That distinction belongs to Milwaukee. At 13-57 the Bucks are two games behind the 76ers. A third Eastern team, Orlando, has the third worst record in the NBA.
And as a further sign of how things can change quickly in the NBA, the once mighty Los Angeles Lakers are closer to being the worst team in the West than to being No. 13. As of Monday the Lakers were just a half game ahead of Utah for the basement.
On almost a nightly basis for the balance of the regular season, teams will be clinching playoff spots, eliminated from the Playoffs or rising and falling in the potential seedings.
If you are betting the NBA on a daily basis it is important to be aware of the status of key players in the games following such events. Often when a team clinches a playoff spot the coach will rest key players in their next game or two.
Of course this is an important concept throughout the season regardless of any special circumstances. But it does come into play routinely season after season.
Road teams continue to maintain a solid edge over home teams at the betting windows, cashing in 538 of 1,026 decisions (52.4 percent) with 18 pushes. The percentage is virtually the break even point in the world of laying 11 to 10. Blindly betting road teams all season would have resulted in a miniscule profit of just 1.2 units.
That is the good news. Blindly betting on the home team in those 1,026 games that resulted in other than a push would have resulted in a loss of a whopping 103.8 units! That’s the power of 11 to 10 and why sports books can afford to hand out free drink coupons too!
Here’s a look at three games this weekend.
Fri: Portland at Chicago
Both teams will make the Playoffs with Chicago currently seeded fourth in the East and Portland sitting fifth in the West. The Bulls are in better current form than are the Trailblazers. In fact, Portland is just 14-16 over its last 30 games whereas the Bulls are 19-11. Portland did win the prior meeting of the teams, 98-95 at home. Portland star LaMarcus Aldridge has been hampered by nagging injuries in recent weeks as the Blazers have slid down the seeding pole. Chicago has overcome the loss of Derrick Rose in November and has tweaked its roster in an attempt to challenge Miami and Indiana. The Bulls remain an outstanding defensive team and that should be the determining factor in this game. CHICAGO.
Sat: LA Clippers at Hou.
The Clippers have already won the season series by taking all three prior meetings. The first two wins were back in November but the Clippers also won their most recent meeting in late February. The Clippers have also covered in each of the three wins. Dwight Howard has given the Rockets the level of play the Lakers had wished for last season. But Howard, though battling ankle issues lately, has been mostly healthy this season. The Rockets should be slight favorites in this game. Both teams last played on Thursday but this is the Clippers’ third game in four nights. Prior to hosting Minnesota on Thursday the Rockets had been off since Monday. HOUSTON.
Sun: NY at Golden St.
New York has been playing its best basketball of the season. Prior to Sunday’s home loss to Cleveland, the Knicks had won eight straight games. They start this week seeded ninth in the East, three games behind eighth seeded Atlanta. The appointment of Phil Jackson as head honcho of basketball operations may provide nothing more than an intangible boost in the short term but the team has seemingly made a positive commitment for the future. Golden State sits sixth in the West, well positioned to make the playoffs but likely in the 5 to 8 seed range. In their prior meeting the Warriors blasted the Knicks in New York, winning 126-103 on Feb. 28, easily covering as 5.5 point favorites. The line will be closer to double digits in this rematch. Golden State has been a solid UNDER team for most of the past two months but this matchup suggests a high scoring game. OVER.
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]