The final few weeks of the NBA regular season are at hand with several playoff positions at stake in each conference.
In the Eastern Conference only Cleveland and Toronto have clinched playoff spots. The top seeded Cavs start the week 2.5 ahead of the second seeded Raptors. Toronto has a six game lead over third seeded Atlanta that, in turn, is just a half game in front of Boston.
Six teams are contending for the bottom four playoff spots with eighth seeded Detroit two games ahead of Chicago and 2.5 up on Washington.
Five teams have been mathematically eliminated in the East.
In the West four teams have clinched playoff berths with the LA Clippers the latest to do so with Sunday’s win over Denver. The top four seeds are pretty well set with top seeded Golden State five games ahead of San Antonio. The Spurs have a ten game lead over third seeded Oklahoma City with the Thunder 5.5 ahead of the fourth seeded Clippers.
Seeds 5 through 8 are separated by 5.5 games with seeds 6 through 8 separated by just two and Dallas just a half behind eighth seeded Houston.
What is unusual about the current playoff situation is the eighth seed in the East, Detroit, is four games above .500. But in the West sixth seeded Portland is just two games above .500 with seventh seeded Utah (36-37) and No. 8 Houston (36-38) each currently with losing records.
Of course the situation in the West is largely due to the amazing seasons both Golden State and San Antonio are enjoying. Collectively the Warriors and Spurs are a combined 108 games above .500 (127-19). Golden State has an excellent chance of breaking the all-time regular season NBA record of 72-10 fashioned by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls.
At 66-7 the Warriors play six of their remaining nine games at home where they have not lost all season. San Antonio is also perfect at home, having won all 37 home contests. The Spurs and Warriors will host one another over the final week with Golden State playing host on April 7 and San Antonio hosting the Warriors three nights later.
It is possible for both teams to end up 41-0 at home. But it is also possible the Spurs could win at Golden State and/or the Warriors could win in San Antonio. Oddly, despite the better record, it may be more likely Golden State does not win in San Antonio as they’ve not won there since February 1997, nearly 20 years ago!
At 66-7 the Spurs are winning slightly more than 90 percent of its games. To put that outstanding mark into perspective for a baseball team, to win 90 percent of its game that team would have to go 146-16 over the course of a 162 game regular season. In many seasons the winningest team in MLB might win slightly over 100 games.
This has been truly a historic season for the Warriors but it would mean very little if Golden State did not put the exclamation point on the season with a second straight NBA title. Heavily favored to do so the Warriors could well be tested by the Spurs who, if they win eight of their final nine games to finish 69-13, would tie for what would now be the third most wins in a season.
Momentum toward the end of the regular season – both positive and negative – can often offer some insight into teams that may be underrated or overrated heading into the playoffs.
Clearly Golden State and San Antonio are carrying such momentum down the stretch. The Warriors have won 18 of its last 20 games, the Spurs 16.
But there are some “under the radar” teams as well, including some teams not accustomed to getting much attention. The best example is Charlotte, which has won 15 of 20 games and is currently seeded sixth in the East and just 1.5 behind third seeded Atlanta. There should be opportunities to back Charlotte over the final few weeks – especially at home – until their playoff seed has been determined, which may not be until the final game or two.
Here’s a preview of three games this weekend.
Cleveland at Atlanta (Friday): This is the first of two meetings over the final two weeks of the season. In their only prior meeting, way back on Nov. 21, Cleveland defeated the Hawks 109-97, easily covering as 5.5 point home favorites. The game went OVER the total of 198.5. After dropping their first three games following the All Star break Atlanta has gone 13-3 both SU and ATS. Cleveland is 14-7 SU since the break but just 9-12 ATS, including a current 2-6 ATS run. Atlanta catches the Cavs off a home game vs. Brooklyn on Thursday, a revenge game for their loss at the Nets last Saturday. ATLANTA.
Toronto at San Antonio (Saturday): In their lone prior meeting back on Dec. 9 Toronto defeated the Spurs 97-94, winning as 6-point home underdogs. Despite the low score the game did go OVER the rather low total of 187.5. There’s always a risk with the Spurs, who should be increasingly resting players down the stretch as it becomes more likely they will not catch Golden State. But this might not be such a spot as the Spurs have been off since hosting lowly New Orleans on Wednesday. Toronto played at Memphis Friday night and will likely be in their largest underdog role of the season. SAN ANTONIO.
Oklahoma City at Houston (Sunday): These teams meet for the fourth and final time this regular season. The home team has won each of the three previous meetings but Houston has covered in all three. Each game has been competitive with final margins of 5, 8 and 4 points. OKC’s loss at Houston occurred in Billy Donovan’s fourth game as coach on Nov. 2. Both teams are rested after last playing on Thursday, setting the stage for “true” efforts from both. OKC has a better road record (21-13) than do the Rockets at home (20-16). OKLAHOMA CITY.
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]