The regular NBA season comes to an end this Wednesday and as we go to press on Monday not a single matchup for the first round of the Playoffs has been determined.
This is truly quite remarkable as teams have either just one or two games remaining through Sunday.
In fact, this season’s drive to the Playoffs has been so unusual only four of the eight teams to make the Playoffs in the Western Conference have been determined.
And while we know which of the 15 Eastern Conference teams will be in the Playoffs, only the top two seeds have been clinched as Toronto has earned the top East seed with Boston claiming the second seed.
Upstart Philadelphia, making its first Playoffs appearance in more than half a decade, will be seeded either third or fourth, currently leading fourth seeded Cleveland by a single game with two games remaining and a record of 50-30.
The 76ers’ win over Dallas on Sunday gave Philly its first 50 win season since 2001, further validating in the minds of many “the process” of “tanking” for the past few seasons.
Prior to this season’s dramatic turnaround, the 76ers won just 28 games last season and just 10, 18 and 19 the three prior seasons, carving a record of just 75-253 over those four seasons.
Cleveland holds a game and a half lead over Indiana for the fourth seed and the home court advantage carried with it in a matchup with the team seeded fifth. Should the Cavs and Pacers finish with identical records the edge goes to Indiana by virtue of having defeated Cleveland in three of their four meetings.
Rounding out the Eastern Conference field are Miami, Milwaukee and Washington with the Heat and Bucks tied at 43-37, a game ahead of the eighth seeded Wizards entering play on Monday.
The Playoff situation in the East is downright straightforward as compared to that in the West.
Whereas Houston has clinched the NBA’s top overall seed and Golden State will be seeded second in the West, only Portland and Utah had clinched a Playoffs berth through Sunday. But neither the Blazers nor the Jazz are locked into a top four seed and, in fact, the currently third seeded Blazers are just three games ahead of Minnesota and Denver, the two teams tied for the eighth and final Playoffs spot with New Orleans, San Antonio and Oklahoma City all tied at 46-34 through Sunday.
The season ends Wednesday with a dozen games played and several of them will most likely decide both the teams to make the Playoffs as well as several first round matchups. Monday featured nine games and there are just six games on Tuesday.
First round matchups are often one sided with the higher seed teams usually heavily favored to advance in what, for the past several season, are now best of seven series. This is especially true in the matchups of the 1 versus 8 and 2 versus 7 seeds.
Houston, Golden State, Toronto and Boston should be heavily favored to advance to their conference semifinals.
The major news entering the Playoffs involves key injuries to stars on the number two seeds in each conference. Golden State is expected to be without Steph Curry for the first round of the Playoffs whereas Boston has lost Kyrie Irving for the entire Playoffs.
If Curry does return in time for the second round of the Playoffs he will have enough time to get back into peak game shape for what likely would be a Western Conference Finals against Houston. Even without Curry the Warriors should be able to play for the right to advance to a fourth straight NBA Finals as they are likely to face first and second round opponents who would have won at least 10 fewer regular season games than the Warriors.
With so much uncertainty surrounding the first round Playoffs matchups a reasonable forecast of what to expect or how to bet cannot be intelligently presented.
Next week’s column will be written after the opening games in each of the eight first round series with four games on Saturday and Sunday.
Once those opening games have been played and the path to the NBA Finals has been determined I will share my thoughts as to how those opening round series and the Playoffs as a whole might unfold, with specific suggestions and recommendations on how to approach them from a wagering standpoint.
For now, here are some general thoughts that might be able to be used in making plays prior to the start of the opening round.
Through Sunday the hottest teams in the NBA have been Houston and Philadelphia, each of which has gone 17-3 SU over their last 20 games, which is the equivalent of a quarter of a season and basically covers all games since the start of March.
Before getting overly excited about Philly’s chances in the Playoffs it has to be noted that during the 14 game winning streak only two or three of the wins were over playoff teams. Minnesota and Cleveland are in the Playoffs and Denver is contending for one of the final spots in the West.
Four other teams are finishing strongly, having each won at least 14 of their prior 20 games through Sunday – Utah (16), Toronto (15), Indiana (14) and Portland (14).
Of the teams that will (or might) make the Playoffs, Portland has the best ATS record over its last 20 games at 14-4-2, followed by Indiana (14-6), Boston (13-6-1), Philly (13-7) and New Orleans (12-7-1).
There has been only one team showing a significant Totals tendency toward the OVER as Milwaukee has gone 15-5 to the OVER during its last 20 games.
With Golden State nursing injuries in addition to the early absence of Curry and Cleveland showing signs of age, it’s no certainty we will see Cavs versus Warriors Part 4 in the NBA Finals, although that remains the betting favorite.