The playoff picture is coming into focus with just over a week remaining in the regular season. Through Sunday 11 teams had clinched playoff berths although only Golden State and Atlanta know where they will be seeded.
The Warriors are first in the Western Conference (and seeded number one overall) with Atlanta similarly seeded first in the East. Five of the eight Eastern Conference Playoffs teams are known with Cleveland, Chicago, Toronto and Washington sit second through fifth respectively after Sunday’s action and are the only Eastern teams that start this week with winning records.
Milwaukee (38-39) currently sits sixth and appears safely in the Playoffs with a 2½ game lead over seventh sitting Brooklyn with 5 to be played.
The gap between seventh seeded Brooklyn and eleventh seeded Charlotte is just two games, with Boston, Indiana and Miami between the Nets and the Hornets. It is possible that all three of the bottom seeds will have losing records with the certainty that the eighth seeded team will (Boston has already lost 42 games).
The seventh seeded Nets have already lost 41 games, insuring not better than a .500 record. And unless Milwaukee wins 4 of its last 5 games the Bucks will also finish no better than .500.
In the West we know 6 teams that will be in the playoffs with Golden State joined by Houston, Memphis, Portland, the LA Clippers and San Antonio in that order. But ‘that order’ can change dramatically over the final week as just two games separate second seeded Houston from sixth seeded San Antonio.
The Spurs and Rockets have a home and home series this Wednesday and Friday that will help decide the Southwest Division title. The Rockets are two games up on the Spurs with Memphis in the middle, a game behind Houston and a game ahead of the Spurs. Winning the division is important as it assures the winner a top four seed and home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
With the five teams behind Golden State so tightly bunched two of those teams will finish fifth and sixth. This situation should make for some intense basketball to close out the regular season and could be a positive for these teams as they get Playoff-ready.
Dallas needs just one more win to clinch the seventh seed which leaves just the eighth and final seed up for grabs. Oklahoma City starts the week with a half-game lead over New Orleans for that final Playoff berth by having played, and won, one more game than the Pelicans. Both teams have 35 losses. Phoenix remains mathematically alive but their realistic chances are very small. The Suns sit tenth, three games behind the Thunder, and end the season with 4 of their final 5 games on the road against winning teams.
Handicapping games over the final week of the season presents major challenges on two fronts. In many games, especially those in which nothing is at stake for one or both teams, players may be rested or see severely reduced minutes, particularly for teams that are already in the playoffs and are pretty much set in their seeding position.
Often these decisions are not made known until starting lineups are announced an hour or so before tipoff and such ‘surprises’ can result in dramatic line moves. Additionally there will already be inflated lines for teams in ‘must win’ situations or for teams whose plans to rest players are already known.
The best advice is to remember that “must win” does not mean “will win” and that laying points with favorites in such a situation can be risky as the team’s goal is just to win the game, not win by a margin.
And often the opponent is playing free and loose, whether it’s a potential early playoff foe, a potential rival down the road or a team just playing out the schedule and giving time to little used role players.
With those caveats in place here is a look at three games of interest this weekend.
San Antonio at Houston (Fri.): These teams just met on Wednesday in San Antonio for their first meeting since just after Christmas. The home team won each of those first two meetings. Both teams have been playing outstanding basketball for the past two months. Over their last 40 games Houston is 27-13 and San Antonio is 29-11. This will be the Spurs’ third game in four nights after playing at OKC on Tuesday night. HOUSTON.
Memphis at LA Clippers (Sat.): Memphis has been a .500 team since just before the All Star break (11-11) and are just a similar 5-5 over their last 10. The Clippers are also well rested after having last played on Tuesday while Memphis is playing a third game in four nights after playing in Utah on Friday night. LA CLIPPERS.
Brooklyn at Milwaukee (Sun.): The Nets have been playing their best ball of the season over the 3 weeks, going 10-3 since losing 5 straight in early March. The Bucks are just 8-16 since the All Star break and start this week having lost 9 of 13. The Nets’ much improved play has coincided with the return to full health of Brook Lopez whose outstanding play has made the Nets a more complete team. BROOKLYN.
Andy Iskoe, and his Logical Approach, provides his popular and unique handicapping statistics to Gaming Today readers and online visitors. He has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football. Contact Andy at [email protected]