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With just over five weeks remaining until the NBA playoffs, a current theme revolves around the apparent implosion of the Miami Heat.

No surprise that it would take time for this conglomeration of All Stars to gel as a unit. It was thought that once LeBron James and Chris Bosh were assimilated with Dwyane Wade the early 9-8 start would be a distant memory. True enough, Miami ran off a 12 game midseason winning streak and won 21 of 22.

But Miami has not had success against the elite teams in the league – the ones in the way to fulfill King James’ of multiple titles on South Beach. Against the 5 with the NBA’s best record, Miami is a putrid 1-9 straight up and an equally shocking 1-8-1 against the spread.

And the events over the past week have done little to suggest that all issues will be resolved over the final 19 games before the playoffs.

After blowing a 24 point home lead to Orlando last Thursday the Heat then were blasted by 30 points the next night in San Antonio, trailing by 24 points at the end of the first quarter.

Then two days later, this past Sunday, in a tight game against Chicago the Heat were again unable to make the game winning shot, falling 87-86 at home, their third loss this season to the Bulls. Miami is a combined 0-6 against Chicago and Boston, the two teams Miami would most likely have to defeat in a best of 7 series to advance to the NBA Finals.

Theme number two involves the two time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, whose lethargic play for most of the season raised questions about whether they’d get make it out of the Western Conference finals, much less successfully defend their title.

The low point of the season occurred in their final game before the All Star break when they lost, as 11 point favorites, at lowly Cleveland to a Cavaliers team they had routed by 55 points just five weeks earlier.

But perhaps there indeed is a switch that can simply turned “on” as the Lakers came out of the All Star break winning 7 straight games, including their most impressive of the season this past Sunday, routing San Antonio on the road in a game that was decided in the first quarter.

The Spurs still have the NBA’s best record (51-12) and are a solid 6½ games ahead of the Lakers for the top spot in the West (Dallas is 5½ back). But, barring injuries, the Lakers seem to be sending out the “don’t count us out” message loud and clear as the start of the playoffs is almost in sight.

Despite the presence of Boston, Chicago and Miami in the East, the collective strength of the NBA remains in the Western Conference where 10 of the 15 teams are playing winning basketball and an eleventh, Houston, starts the week at .500.

Only 7 of the East’s 15 teams are playing winning basketball and there is a high probability that at least one losing team will qualify for the playoffs. At 27-35 Indiana currently holds down the eighth seed in the East.

Look for the intensity level to pick up in coming weeks in games between teams vying to either make the playoffs or to improve their seedings. Goal number one is to qualify. Goal number two is finishing as high as possible to secure that coveted home court advantage in as many series as possible.

There will be many games over the remainder of the regular season featuring such matchups.

Here’s a look at three matchups this weekend.

Celtics at Sixers (Fri): First meeting since just before Christmas. Boston won the first two, but both were very close – by 1 point here and 4 in Boston. Philadelphia has shown significant improvement through the intervening weeks, going 17-8 over the last 25. The 76ers have several quality home wins during this stretch (Denver, San Antonio and Dallas). The Celtics figure to be slight favorites in this game which makes the hosts even more attractive. SIXERS.

Lakers at Mavs (Sat): Dallas’ loss to Memphis this past Sunday ended an 8 game winning streak and a stretch of 18 wins in 19 games. Dallas won the only previous meeting this season, 109-100 at home on January 19 in Nowitzki’s third game back. Neither team played Friday. The Lakers have a greater need for a victory to even the season series plus they have the deeper and better balanced roster. LAKERS.

Pacers at Knicks (Sun): The Knicks are rested after having last played on Thursday in Dallas. Indiana last played Friday night in Toronto. The Knicks won the only previous meeting with the Pacers, 98-92 on this court back in early January, but failed to cover as a 7 point favorite. The Knicks have not fared well at home going just 4-8 ATS when favored by more than 5 points, including just 2-6 this calendar year. PACERS.

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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