The shortened 66 game NBA regular season comes to an end in less than a month with the final night of action on Thursday, April 26.
Teams have less than 20 games to make a move either into the Playoffs or up the seedings ladder.
In what might have been a preview of the NBA Finals Oklahoma City sent a message to the Miami Heat this past Sunday evening with a solid 103-87 wire-to-wire win over the defending NBA runner ups.
The teams will meet again next Wednesday in Miami when the Heat will have a chance to square the regular season series. With both teams currently tied in the loss column with just 12 defeats that game could have major implications regarding which of the teams would enjoy the home court advantage should they meet in June’s Finals.
Chicago became the first team to win 40 games in this shortened season and the Bulls’ 40-10 record entering this week has them 3½ games ahead of Miami for the top seed in the East and 2½ up on Oklahoma City for the top seed overall.
The Bulls have won 8 of their last 10 games, tying them with the “under the radar” San Antonio Spurs for the best last 10 games record through Sunday.
What’s been especially impressive about Chicago’s play this season has been their balanced home and road performance. The Bulls are 20-4 at home and an almost identical 20-6 on the road. Only Oklahoma City has lost fewer than 10 road games with their 15-8 record away from home.
While the teams at the top of the standings receive most of the attention in the sporting press there are close races for teams just looking to make the Playoffs field, especially in the Western Conference.
There are just 2½ games separating seven teams in the chase for playoff seeds four through eight in the West. Defending champion Dallas and the Los Angeles Clippers are virtually tied for the fourth and fifth Playoff seeds with Memphis just a half game back and currently slotted sixth.
A trio of teams are just one game behind the Grizzlies as Denver, Houston and Utah start the week tied for the final two Playoff teams. And lurking just one more game back is Phoenix.
To put this in perspective a hot week by the Suns could see Phoenix vault from being out of the Playoffs in tenth position all the way up to the fourth seed which would give them home court advantage in the opening round.
Even Minnesota and Portland can’t be totally counted out although each would have to jump several teams. It promises to be a most entertaining month in the West.
Things are more settled in the Eastern Conference as only nine teams have realistic chances of making the Playoffs. In fact, it would appear that seven teams are pretty much assured of making the field with Atlanta, Boston, Indiana, Orlando and Philadelphia joining Chicago and Miami.
That leaves New York and Milwaukee battling for the eighth and final Eastern berth. The Knicks hosted the Bucks on Monday night, holding a game and a half lead in that race for that last Playoff berth.
Milwaukee held a comfortable four game lead over tenth seeded Cleveland so barring a total collapse by either New York or the Bucks, or what would have to be an incredible hot streak by the Cavs, it appears that the right to most likely challenge Chicago in the first round of the Playoffs will come down to Milwaukee and New York.
As touched upon a couple of weeks ago, scoring has increased noticeably since the All Star break and that increased scoring has been reflected in Over/Under results.
Prior to the All Star break teams combined to average 190.0 points per game, resulting in 43 more UNDER results (269) than OVER (226) plus 7 PUSHES in just over 500 games.
In the 224 games played since the break, scoring is up 6½ points per game to 196½. There have already been 22 more OVER finishes (122) than UNDER (100) in the month since the break, in addition to a pair of pushes.
On an individual team basis the majority of the league has seen their Over/Under results fall within a band of just seven games. At one extreme, however, Milwaukee has played 31 OVERS and just 17 UNDERS.
Three teams are at the other extreme, headed by New York. The Knicks have played just 18 OVERS and 31 UNDERS. Phoenix has played 18 OVERS, 31 UNDERS and 1 push while Philadelphia has been involved in 19 OVERS and 30 UNDERS.
The season that almost never was is winding down and while all is not forgotten most has been forgiven as the quality of basketball increases with so much on the line for so many teams.
Here’s a look at three games to be played this weekend.
Dallas at Orlando: These teams meet for the only time this season and the spot clearly favors the hosts. Dallas played Thursday night at Miami in what was a revenge game for the defending champs who lost at home to the Heat when the season opened on Christmas Day.
Although Dallas recently enjoyed a four game winning streak since the All Star break the Mavericks are just 7-9 as they are in the midst of a wild scramble for Playoff positioning in the West. Orlando has been an enigma for much of the season with the status of star Dwight Howard hanging over the franchise. Now that Howard has committed to remain with the franchise for the short term, the Magic are able to focus on maintaining their current third position in the East.
Orlando has won 6 of its last 7 home games with 5 of the wins by double digits. In fact, 11 of their 18 home wins have been by double digits this season. The Magic should come favored by perhaps a couple of baskets and they should take advantage of the favorable scheduling spot against a Dallas team that had lost 8 of 10 road games starting this week. ORLANDO.
Atlanta at Philadelphia: Based on the current standings this would be a first round Playoff matchup although Philly leads Boston by just a half game for first place in the Atlantic Division (and the fourth Playoff seed). Atlanta has a half game edge over Indiana for the fifth seed.
Philadelphia has fared well against all but the elite teams in the NBA this season and has defeated the Hawks in both prior meetings, winning by 14 at home and 11 in Atlanta. Both teams played Friday night with Atlanta having the more challenging game hosting New York while the 76ers were at Washington.
Despite their seeding positions, Atlanta has the better overall record and also has a winning record on the road (14-13). Philly is not in the best of current form, dropping 5 of its last 7 in the short term and going just 7-13 dating back to before the All Star break. Their two wins over the Hawks occurred well before the All Star break and Atlanta starts the week riding a five game winning streak. ATLANTA.
Chicago at Oklahoma City: Although last Sunday’s game against Miami was a potential preview of the NBA Finals based on the current standings Oklahoma City would face Chicago for the Title come June. This will be the only regular season meeting between the Bulls and Thunder who split their two meetings last season with the home team prevailing in each.
Oklahoma City has an extra day of rest after having played at the Lakers on Thursday and both teams play on Monday. Oklahoma City’s impressive 22-4 home record is almost matched by Chicago’s 20-6 record on the road. The Bulls begin the week having won 6 straight road games and 11 of 12 on the highway.
Chicago likely comes a very short underdog in this game and the Bulls are 3-1 SU and 4-0 ATS when getting points this season. Although we were wrong in backing Miami at this venue a week ago, the Bulls possess a better defense that is capable of limiting the damage done by the combination of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. CHICAGO.