Since mid-December when they had started 24-0, it was generally conceded by most in the basketball world that the Golden State Warriors would be in a position to defend their NBA Title as the top seed in the league this season.
After all, the Warriors were even quoted favorable odds to establish the all-time best regular season record and their performance over the following two and a half months did little to dampen that enthusiasm or cause a revision to those expectations.
Yet, entering this week the Warriors no longer control their own destiny for claiming the top seed in the Western Conference, if not in all of the NBA.
Sunday’s ugly 112-95 loss to the then 12-51 Los Angeles Lakers dropped the Warriors to a still lofty – and all-time best through 61 games – 55-6 mark.
The potential problem is the San Antonio Spurs enter this week with a record only slightly weaker than Golden State’s at 53-9.
It’s the Spurs who now have within their control the potential to secure the top Western Conference seed by virtue of having three games remaining against the Warriors.
Golden State defeated San Antonio soundly at home on Jan. 25, winning 120-90. That has been the teams’ lone meeting this season to date but the Spurs and Warriors hook up three more times over the season’s final month.
Should the Spurs somehow sweep the remaining three, two of which are at home, they would tie the Warriors with nine losses – everything else being even (i.e. a similar number of losses, if any, in games versus their other remaining foes).
Should the Spurs win those three games and the teams end up with identical records, San Antonio would win the tie breaker due to what would be their 3-1 record in head-to-head meetings.
Of course, this scenario is extremely unlikely to play out, but it is possible and was virtually unthinkable just a few weeks ago.
The Lakers were 18-point underdogs when they upset the Warriors, which produced one of the biggest upsets of the past several decades. And a few hours after the Lakers pulled their stunner the lowly Phoenix Suns pulled another huge upset, winning as 9.5-point road underdogs at Memphis to “improve” to 17-46 for the season.
What made the Suns’ win even more unusual was it came just two days after they had snapped a 17-game road losing streak with a Friday night win at Orlando – a streak in which the Suns had gone an unbelievable 1-16 ATS with 12 straight ATS losses prior to the Orlando win!
Just over a month remains in the regular season that concludes on Wednesday, April 13. It is important to pay attention as teams get eliminated from playoff contention. Often coaches will begin to give their younger players more playing time as those teams begin looking toward next season.
Over the final month more games will have playoff implications. We may see many of these games played with an intensity level slightly lower than a true playoff game but above the level of a typical regular season matchup. This may result in lower scoring games, especially with linemakers posting higher totals due to the higher scoring that has taken place since the All Star break.
One team has been extremely profitable for UNDER players all season. Miami has posted a 40-22-1 to the UNDER. Ignoring that push the Heat have played 65 percent UNDER results. Even with the higher scoring since the All Star break Miami’s 10 games have resulted in a 5-5 mark on the over/under.
To put that rate into perspective no other team has played as many as 60 percent of its games UNDER. The Clippers are second in the UNDER derby at 34-24-3 (59%).
No team has played more than 59 percent OVERs with both Houston and Denver at that percentage.
Both Golden State and San Antonio have already clinched playoff spots and are not that far from clinching the top two seeds in the West. The Clippers are seeded third but are 10.5 games behind the Spurs. Fourth seeded Oklahoma City trails the Clippers by two games and is 3.5 games ahead of Memphis. The top four seeds in each conference get the home court edge for the first round of the playoffs.
In the East, Cleveland leads Toronto by three games for the top seed with third seeded Boston 4.5 games behind the Raptors but just a half-game ahead of fourth seeded Miami. Five games separate Miami from the two teams tied for the eighth seed, Chicago and Detroit.
Here’s a look at three games this weekend.
Detroit at Charlotte: Both teams are contending for the playoffs with Detroit starting the week in a virtual tie for the eight seed in the East with Chicago and Charlotte seeded sixth but just two games ahead of the Pistons. These teams have met just once this season, in Charlotte back on December 7, with Charlotte winning easily, 104-84.
Both teams play again on Saturday with Charlotte hosting Houston and Detroit at Philadelphia. The Pistons were in a slump during February, losing five straight in one stretch. But they followed that streak with four straight wins and had won five of seven through Sunday. Charlotte has also been playing well, going 14-5 SU since late January.
The Bobcats have fared well defensively, holding 11 of their last 14 foes under 100 points. This is noteworthy since scoring has been up league-wide since the All Star break. Charlotte has played solid defense all season against winning teams below elite level, which suggests they will be able to control the pace against the visiting Pistons. UNDER.
Oklahoma City at San Antonio: San Antonio last played on Thursday night, hosting Chicago, whereas Oklahoma City hosted Memphis on Friday. Neither team plays on Sunday. These teams opened the season versus one another with Oklahoma City defeating the Spurs, 112-106, and covering as 4-point home favorites.
After going 14-2 SU just prior to the All Star break, OKC has struggled since the week-long break, going 3-6 SU and 2-6-1 ATS through Sunday. The Spurs lost their first game after resuming play but have won eight straight since. Although the Spurs often rest key players down the stretch in being fresh for the Playoffs, the roster is so well balanced and deep they rarely show much of a decline in performance.
Catching the defensively suspect Thunder in the second of back-to-back games gives the rested Spurs enough of an edge to suggest a better-than-average effort against the Thunder. SAN ANTONIO.
Cleveland at LA Clippers: Both teams are rested as neither played on Saturday, and whereas the Clippers are off until beginning a five-game road trip on Tuesday, the Cavs end a four-game road trip on Monday in Utah, their fourth game in six nights. In their lone prior meeting Cleveland defeated the Clippers 115-102, easily covering as 6.5-point home favorites.
Both teams have similar results since the All Star break although each team had played all but one game at home through Sunday. Both teams qualify as “Class A” teams, winning more than 65 percent of its games. Against similar caliber teams the Cavs have performed much better than the Clippers, going 5-5 SU and 7-2 ATS vs. the Clippers’ 2-8 SU and 5-5 ATS records.
The Clippers should come as small favorites in this game, which makes the Cavs attractive as an underdog. Through Sunday’s results, Cleveland had covered in six of seven games as an underdog this season. CLEVELAND.
Andy Iskoe, and his Logical Approach, provides his popular and unique handicapping statistics to GamingToday readers and online visitors. He has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football. Email: [email protected]