The regular season is down to a precious few days and after the final regular season games are played on Wednesday, 14 teams will close up shop for the summer while the other 16 teams will prepare for the Playoffs, which begin this coming weekend.
Golden State tied the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls with win number 72 on Sunday when they ended San Antonio’s perfect home season with a 92-86 win. The Spurs can still finish with a 40-1 home mark if they defeat Oklahoma City on Tuesday. The Warriors can earn the NBA’s best all time record of 73-9 with a home win over Memphis on Wednesday.
The Warriors will be the heavy favorites to win a second straight NBA title with San Antonio also priced at relatively short odds.
It would not be a surprise if one or more sportsbooks offers a futures prop of Golden State and San Antonio versus the Field with the Spurs/Warriors combo the solid favorite.
With just three days and 28 games remaining much remains to be decided.
As of Monday morning all eight Eastern Conference Playoff teams have been determined but none of the first round matchups is yet known.
Cleveland has a two-game edge on Toronto for the number 1 seed and one more Cavs win or Raptors loss clinches the top spot for Cleveland. The Raptors hold the tie breaker over the Cavs by having won two of three meetings this season.
Indiana and Detroit are tied for the final two Playoff spots with no possibility of moving up to sixth. Atlanta, Boston, Miami and Charlotte are involved in determining third through sixth with just two games separating the four teams and their seeds being determined by the final two games.
In the Western Conference the top four seeds are known: Golden State, San Antonio, Oklahoma City and the LA Clippers, in that order. Portland has a one-game lead over Memphis for the fifth seed but both have clinched a spot in the post season. Dallas and Utah hold the final two spots but Houston is just a game behind the eighth seeded Jazz. Utah hosted Dallas Monday night.
Without knowing any of the first round matchups precise forecasts cannot be made.
However, there are some general thoughts about how certain matchups may play out. Some general thoughts on strategies and approaches can also be offered until next week’s column when more specific comments can be made when each series will have had its first game played.
In the West it’s very difficult to imagine the Warriors or Spurs having any trouble advancing past their opening round foes. It would not surprise at all if both win in sweeps but neither team should lose more than a single game in the best of seven series.
The series with the greatest potential for an upset involves Portland. Having to replace four starters from last season the Trailblazers had a projected season win total of just 26.5. They will win either 43 or 44 games and will face either OKC or the Clippers, both of which are vulnerable. Portland will be the underdog in either matchup but is capable of extending their series to six or seven games.
Conversely, shorthanded Memphis is vulnerable to be swept. The Grizzlies could face the Clippers, OKC or possibly San Antonio if they fall to the seventh seed.
The East will be wide open although Cleveland will be favored to make a return to the NBA Finals. Only three Eastern teams may wind up with winning road records. Cleveland has completed its road schedule with a 24-17 record. Toronto is 23-17 and Atlanta is 21-18. Miami is 19-20 with a pair of road games to end the season and Boston has ended its road schedule 20-21.
The difference in wins between the top seed and the eighth seed might be just a dozen games. And unlike seasons past, every Eastern Playoff team will have a winning record of no worse than 43-39 and possibly no worse than 45-37, depending on how the Pacers and Pistons end their seasons.
In the West, due largely to the currently combined 127-34 record of Golden State and San Antonio, it’s possible for the eighth seed, Utah or Houston, to have a slightly losing record. The Jazz were 40-40 through Sunday and Houston was 39-41.
Although Cleveland will be favored to win the East two teams that bear watching are Atlanta and Boston. The Hawks made it to the Eastern Finals last season but were swept by Cleveland. Boston was also swept out of last season’s Playoffs by the Cavs but in the opening round. Both the Celtics and Hawks are well coached and coaching takes on added importance during the Playoffs.
Although Cleveland and Toronto will be solid favorites to advance both Detroit and Indiana are capable of extending those series and there should be some favorable situations to play each. Those will be covered next week.
Miami’s pedigree makes the Heat dangerous depending on which team it faces in the opening round.
And the team that has garnered very little attention because of its lack of success in recent seasons is Charlotte. The Hornets were 46-34 heading into their final two games and could wind up seeded as high as fourth.
Charlotte could be dangerous. Consider that through Sunday the Hornets had gone 22-8 over their previous 30 games and 28-12 over the prior 40.
In approaching the Playoffs the home team has long been a solid play in the first game of a series. As such, many bettors will back the home team blindly even though there will be a premium built into the price.
Many bettors prefer to sit out the opening game of a series and begin their involvement with game two, using first game results as a guide.
Much has been written over the years about the “zig zag” theory popularized years ago by the fine folks at The Gold Sheet. This theory suggested playing the straight up loser of the previous game in the next game of a Playoff series.
The zig zag was profitable for many years when the linesmaking process was much less refined than it is today. With the advances in technology and the ability for quick/wide dissemination of information as well as advances in the art/science of linesmaking and betting those edges have been wiped out.
Each game and situation must be analyzed on its own merits. One approach has been to back a team down 0-2 in a series that lost both games on the road to be backed in its first game back home, game three.
In next week’s column each of the eight first round series will be analyzed and commented upon as to how each may unfold.
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]