Time is running out for teams looking to make the Playoffs or improve their current position.
As we go to press on Monday morning six teams from the Eastern Conference and three from the West are assured spots in the postseason.
That leaves just two remaining in the East and five in the West that will be determined over the next week and a half before the regular season comes to an end on April 26.
Philadelphia and New York are in the best positions to earn the final two spots in the East. The Sixers leads NY by a half game for the seventh seed with the Knicks holding a 2½ game edge over Milwaukee for the eighth and final seed.
It is quite likely that all eight teams in the East that make the Playoffs will do so with winning records. That would be the first time this will have occurred since the 2004-05 season. Chicago made the Playoffs two seasons ago, earning the eighth seed with a 41-41 record.
Things are wide open in the West where 10 teams currently have winning records and at least one, perhaps two, will finish the season above .500 but miss the Playoffs.
The Los Angeles Clippers are in position to earn the fourth seed but the teams currently seeded fifth through eighth (Memphis, Dallas, Denver and Houston) are separated by just three games. The other two, Phoenix and Utah, are within 1½ games of the eighth seeded Rockets.
All six of those teams battling for the final four Western Playoff berths have either five or six games remaining.
As has been the case virtually all season, the top two seeds in the East will go to Chicago and Miami with the Bulls holding a 3½ game edge over the Heat as the week begins. Oklahoma City holds a one game lead over San Antonio for the top seed in the West.
Chicago has a two game lead over Oklahoma City for the top overall seed but the Thunder won the only regular season meeting, 92-78, at home back on April Fools Day.
At 7-52 Charlotte has clinched the NBA’s worst record. Washington is the second worst team but with twice as many wins as the Bobcats. Charlotte owner Michael Jordan has come under increasing criticism as to his degree of commitment to the franchise and to his decisions in choosing people in charge of day to day basketball operations.
Charlotte’s former team, the current New Orleans Hornets, have finally found an owner. Tom Benson, owner of the NFL’s New Orleans Saints, has purchased the Hornets from the NBA. No word yet on whether there will be bounties offered for flagrant fouls next season.
The effects of the truncated and compacted 66 game regular season have taken a toll and as you handicap the final week of play it is strongly advised that you pay attention to “injury” reports – even for those teams well out of contention.
We might see more than the average number of teams shutting down players for non-injury purposes for the final couple of games or so, especially when those teams end their seasons on the road rather than in front of the home town fans.
As with the NFL there will be some crazy looking point spreads in the final few games of the season and thus it becomes important to scour the internet and glean what information you can about coaches’ intentions before heading to the windows.
Here’s a look at three games this weekend that should have an impact on either the teams that will make the Playoffs or where such teams will be seeded.
Boston at Atlanta: These teams are meeting for the third time this season with all three played within the past month. Boston won both by 3 and 2 respectively, including an 88-86 overtime victory at home April 11 in which the Celtics outscored the Hawks just 4 to 2 in the extra five minutes.
This is the second of five straight Atlanta home games to end the season. But Boston also is in a favorable scheduling spot as they will not play again until Tuesday and neither team played a night earlier. The teams have nearly identical records with each starting the week with 25 losses.
Boston has a losing record on the road (15-16) whereas Atlanta has been a solid 19-9 SU at home. Atlanta probably comes favored by less than a couple of buckets. Boston coach Doc Rivers has done a splendid job of resting his regulars down the stretch and could again limit minutes with the Playoffs just a week away from starting. ATLANTA.
Denver at Phoenix: Denver has won and covered the first two meetings this season, both at home, including a 105-99 win just over a week ago. Typical of most “average” teams, both Denver and Phoenix have winning records at home and losing records on the road. Interestingly Phoenix struggled more at home early in the season but starts the week having won 12 of its last 15 home games (also 12-3 ATS).
Denver actually played better on the road earlier in the season but starts the week having lost three straight and 10 of its last 15 away from home (though 8-7 ATS). Depending on what happens midweek, Phoenix should be playing with the greater urgency and arguably has the best player on the court, Steve Nash. Both teams are rested. PHOENIX.
OKC at LA Lakers: Oklahoma City has won both prior meetings this season, by 15 on this court just before the All Star break and by nine back home at the end of March. The Lakers have been resting star Kobe Bryant down the stretch to have him as fresh and as healthy as possible for the Playoffs.
This is the final game of a five game road trip for the Thunder but they’ve not had back to back games in more than a week. The Lakers had a pair of games against San Antonio during the week including at the Spurs on Friday night. The respective teams’ mentalities suggest this game might be more meaningful for the visitors. OKLAHOMA CITY.
Next week: A look at the upcoming Playoffs.