Resting key players stumps bettors

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While much, if not most, of the basketball world will be focusing attention on the NCAA Tournament over the next few weeks, the NBA’s regular season is winding down.

Starting this week teams had between 14 and 17 games left to be played before the regular season ends in less than a month on Wednesday, April 11.

The races to make the Playoffs and/or to improve or maintain seeding position are intensifying and given the current standings the race in the Western Conference is shaping up as possibly the most contentious in NBA history.

Houston and Golden State have separated themselves from the rest of the Western Conference field, so much so that sportsbooks might consider revising their odds to win the West to offer just three choices – Houston, Golden State and the Field.

Starting play on Monday, Houston had a game and a half lead over Golden State for the top seed but there was a 10.5 game gap between the Warriors and third seeded Portland.

Here’s where it gets interesting. At 40-26 the Trailblazers have a two game lead over New Orleans, Minnesota and Oklahoma City, who are in a virtual tie for the fourth, fifth and sixth seeds. San Antonio is a half game further back in seventh with three teams – the LA Clippers, Denver and Utah – just a half game behind the Spurs.

That works out to eight teams vying for six Playoff spots separated by just 3.5 games. And if you take third seeded Portland out of the equation for a moment we have seven teams separated by just a game and a half playing for five Playoff spots.

Only Houston has mathematically clinched a Playoff spot in the West, although Golden State should clinch its Playoff ticket sometime this week.

Yet with a month remaining, four teams have already been eliminated from the Playoffs and can officially legitimize their strategy of tanking – Dallas, Memphis, Phoenix and Sacramento.

The situation is somewhat clearer in the East where both Toronto and Boston have clinched Playoff spots. The Raptors started this week with a 3.5 game lead over the Celtics for the top Eastern seed. Boston’s hold on the second seed is fairly secure as the Celts are up by seven games on third seeded Indiana.

A similar 3.5 game gap exists between the Pacers and the eight seed, Milwaukee. The Bucks are five games ahead of ninth seeded Detroit, so barring a late season collapse by the teams ahead of the Pistons, the teams to make the Playoffs in the East are set with only the seeding positions to be determined. The teams currently seeded fourth through seventh are Cleveland, Washington, Philadelphia and Miami.

The eighth seeded Bucks started the week 35-31, which means there is an excellent chance all 16 Playoff teams this season will have winning records.

This has not always been true in recent seasons when the East was considerably weaker, or certainly less balanced, than the West. The West is still the best as illustrated by the two teams currently seeded ninth and tenth, each starting the week with 37-30 records.

These standings and seeding positions are worth noting and referring to over the closing weeks of the season as teams will continue and likely increase the resting of key players in certain scheduling spots, especially against teams out of Playoffs contention.

That could make laying double digits even more challenging than during the middle of the season as teams “needing” the win may be content to build a lead and rest players in the fourth quarter of games. If you are considering playing large favorites against teams just playing out the schedule you might consider playing that favorite for only the first half.

Excellence is a trait, or accomplishment, that should be admired and should also provide motivation and inspiration.

The word dynasty is used way too often in the world of sports, usually to describe the performance of a team or franchise over a relatively short span of time.

Although the two terms are not synonymous, they do go hand in hand in describing the San Antonio Spurs. Dating back to the 1999-2000 season the Spurs have won at least 50 regular season games for 18 straight seasons with five NBA Titles during this streak.

Their first title came a season before the streak started, in the lockout season of 1998-99. That season began on Christmas Day and was shortened to just 50 games. The Spurs, who had won 56 games a season earlier, went 37-13 in that shortened regular season, a pace that would have produced 61 wins over a full 82 game season.

 It can be stated the Spurs have won at a pace that would have produced at least 50 regular season wins for 20 straight seasons.

San Antonio starts the week 37-29, which means their amazing streak will come to an end if the Spurs lose at least four of their final 16 games.

Age and injuries have taken a toll, especially the virtually season long absence of Kawhi Leonard, who has played in only nine games all season. He may return later this week according to speculation this past weekend but the 2017-18 Spurs are just another good team in the West and, if they make the Playoffs, could be a first round exit for the second time in four seasons.

Here are thoughts on three games this weekend.

LA Clippers at Oklahoma City (Friday): While the Clippers have been slightly profitable at 5-4 ATS, OKC has gone just 2-6-1 ATS. The Thunder has the better, and deeper, overall roster and is rested after last having played on Tuesday and does not play again until Sunday. The Clippers are in the last game of a three-game road trip and played Thursday night at Houston. OKLAHOMA CITY

Indiana at Washington (Saturday): Both teams have been playing well in recent weeks, both SU and ATS. With the possibility of Wall returning and the break in the schedule it is easier to support a play on the hosts, who should be favored by no more than a couple of hoops. WASHINGTON

Houston at Minnesota (Sunday): Jimmy Butler remains sidelined for Minnesota and even though the Timberwolves had a satisfying win on Sunday over shorthanded Golden State (no Steph Curry) they are on a current 3-9 ATS run. Minnesota has made expected improvement this season but there’s still a sizeable gap between these rosters. HOUSTON

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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