Playoff deck about to get shuffled

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Now that the All-Star Game and the trade deadline have come and gone, the focus on the NBA will be the race to make the playoffs and the shuffling of seed positions that take place over the next seven weeks as the regular season ends on Wednesday, April 10.

With seven weeks remaining, if a team could make up a game per week in the standings (or lose at that pace) the playoffs might have a dramatically different look than they would if the current standings hold.

This is especially true in the West as the gap between fourth-seeded Portland and 13th-seeded New Orleans is just nine games with nearly a third of the season still to be played. Only Golden State, Denver and Oklahoma City appear comfortable with the third-seeded Thunder up by three games on fourth-seeded Portland, and seven games up on ninth-seeded Sacramento with a record of 37-20.

It would take a monumental collapse for a team 17 games (or more) above .500 at this late stage of the season to miss the playoffs.

The East is a bit less balanced with the top five teams almost assured of making the playoffs. Fifth-seeded Philadelphia holds a 7.5-game lead over sixth-seeded Brooklyn and the Sixers are 10 games ahead of the two teams currently tied for the eighth seed. The Nets are just 5.5 games ahead of 11th-seeded Washington, which suggests six teams are competing for the final three Eastern playoff spots.

The All-Star break often provides sufficient time to evaluate the balance of the schedule within the contest of the current standings with an eye towards finding teams to play on or against over the remainder of the season.

Playing futures at this point of the season does not offer much value with respect to winning a Division or a Conference and, especially with Golden State a prohibitive 2-5 favorite, to win the NBA Title. However, having a solid opinion on such teams can still be profitable by playing on or against such teams on a game-to-game basis by looking for favorable matchups.

Among the teams I am considering to be “Play On”teams over the balance of the regular season are Philadelphia in the East and Utah in the West. I am looking for the 76ers to improve from their current fifth seed and for the Jazz to move up from their current sixth seed.

Of the teams I expect to slide in the standings and make for profitable “Play Against” teams are Charlotte and Minnesota, especially when each is on the road. Both have dramatic contrasts in their home and road results.  Charlotte is 19-9 SU at home but just 8-21 ATS on the road. Despite their solid 19-10 SU record at home, the Timberwolves are just 8-20 SU on the road.

Jazz at Thunder (Friday): Both teams were playing solid basketball heading into the All-Star break as each had won 11 of its previous 15 games SU with the Jazz 9-6 ATS and OKC 10-5 ATS over that stretch. The Thunder won the two prior meetings this season, by nine at home and by one on the road with the games played within a two-week period in mid December.

Utah has generally played well on the road. Just three teams are allowing a lower average points per game on the road than the Jazz and Utah is actually outscoring its opponents on the road by 0.2 points per game. Donovan Mitchell is showing that last season’s rookie performance was no fluke. Utah’s scoring is more balanced and given their better performance at the defensive end of the court the Jazz makes for an attractive underdog. JAZZ

Trail Blazers at 76ers (Saturday): Both teams began post-All-Star play on Thursday but whereas Philadelphia was home against Miami the Blazers resumed play at Brooklyn.

This is a huge revenge game for the hosts as Portland blasted the Sixers 129-95 when the teams met in Portland at the end of December. Philly was a small three-point underdog in what has been their worst loss of the season.

It sets up nicely for the hosts who got stronger with their acquisition of Tobias Harris at the trade deadline and he has averaged 17.8 points per game through his first four games with his new team. The Sixers figure to come small favorites in this game and Portland has only covered once in the 14 games they have lost as underdogs this season. 76ERS

Clippers at Nuggets (Sunday): Denver trails Golden State by two games for the lead in the West but is also just two games ahead of OKC for the top spot in the Northwest Division. The Clippers are battling just to make the playoffs, starting post-All-Star play seeded eighth in the West, but just three games behind fourth seeded Portland yet also just six games ahead of the 13 seed, New Orleans.

Denver has won two of three meetings this season, including by 21 points early last month in their most recent meeting which was played on this court. Denver is a league-best 25-4 SU at home and enter this game having won seven straight and 19 of its last 20 at home with a very solid 15-5 ATS record in those games. Twelve of the 19 wins have been by double digits.

The Clippers are 0-13 ATS in their last 13 losses with nine of those losses as underdogs, five of which were on the road. NUGGETS

Last week: 1-0

Season: 29-22

 

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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