Even with the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament producing so few upsets, we’ve got Cinderella stories. South Carolina hadn’t won an NCAA Tournament game since 1973 and is reaching the Sweet 16 for the first time ever. They’ve got Alex English riding shotgun, just eliminated a Duke team that most love to hate and have a likeable head coach in Miami’s Frank Martin, the tough guy with the heart of gold.
Michigan, survivors of a plane accident that could have been a lot worse, could end up wearing a slipper. The Wolverines were 14-9, 4-6 in the Big Ten, after opening February with a home loss to the worst Ohio State team in years. They’re 12-2 since.
Xavier lost its point guard in February. Butler and Gonzaga are still often thought of as little guys. Wisconsin took out a No. 1. There isn’t a UNC-Wilmington or Florida Gulf Coast in the group, but that falls in line with what this column is about.
There won’t be a Cinderella to come out of nowhere in the NBA postseason. If we get one, we should be able to see them coming. They won’t be a No. 8 seed. The three top contenders for the NBA’s realistic Cinderella have to be able to reach a Final Four, er conference finals, which knocks out this regular season’s prime example, Miami.
Newly-minted Eastern Conference Player of the Week Hassan Whiteside has led the Heat to six wins in the last eight games this month entering Tuesday’s game with the depleted Suns. With a push that needs to continue this week, Miami may sneak into the playoffs, but unless they really thrive down the stretch against a tough schedule filled with East heavyweights, they’re unlikely to get up to No. 6 to truly become a threat this postseason. It will be fun to see whether LeBron James and the Cavs rest in South Florida in an April 10 game that could be vital to the Heat’s playoff hopes.
Cleveland is resting players now so it can steamroll whoever ends up becoming the sub-.500 team that takes up the No. 8 seed against them, since they’re likely to outlast Boston for the top spot now that Kevin Love is back. The Celtics and Wizards don’t qualify to be Cinderellas because both are now at 6-to-1 odds to get out of the Eastern Conference in the latest WestgateLV Superbook odds release.
That’s a more preferred uppity stepsister than Cinderella, if we’re taking the comparison literally.
Damian Lillard earned the West’s Player of the Week nod after scoring a season-high 49 points in Miami to snap the Heat’s home winning streak at seven games on Sunday, leading the Blazers to a 3-1 week. Denver and Portland have gained a little separation in the race for the Western Conference’s final playoff berth, but neither is beating out the Warriors or Spurs in a first-round series.
The Rockets are 10-to-1 to get out of the West, so they’re not a true outsider. Instead, we’ll go with the Clippers (15/1 West, 30/1 title), Raptors (12/1 East, 40/1 title) Grizzlies (50/1, 100/1) Pacers (80/1, 200/1) as the best bets.
L.A. has been through the grinder. We’ve seen the Clippers’ act fail for five straight years before they’ve even gotten to the conference finals. Outside of Dallas and Golden State, every franchise that has been really good in the West within that span has eliminated them in a series. Their brand is at an all-time low. Of course, they’re also the only team besides Miami that can say they’ve beaten both the Spurs and Warriors in an elimination game, which has to count for something.
With Chris Paul back from his injury and Blake Griffin also settled back in, it’s time to make a move. Prior to the Cavs lying down on Saturday night, the Clips had dropped three straight, including a frustrating home loss to Milwaukee. This week’s games against the Knicks, Lakers and Mavericks are games they’ll be favored in and must take care of business in before a huge Saturday afternoon home date against Utah that could ultimately help decide homecourt advantage in a potential 4-5 series between the two. If you believe this is the season everyone stays healthy and L.A. finally breaks through out West, now is the time to buy. Maybe they’ll be this year’s Wisconsin Badgers, taking out a No. 1 of their own.
The Raptors have seen their odds take a hit due to an inability to persevere without point guard Kyle Lowry, who won’t be back any time soon. It’s unlikely they wind up faring better than the No. 4 seed in the East, which will put them in Cleveland’s path early. Still, Lowry will return, and the group did upgrade their defense at the trade deadline, so they’re still a team that could surprise before all is done. Their odds may continue to slip.
The final two candidates on the list are longshots, teams to retire on if everyone gets lucky enough. Memphis carries that South Carolina vibe, a defense-oriented team that struggled before the lights came on but is now fully engaged. Indiana has been absolutely dreadful, but in Paul George, they have the Eastern Conference’s best player not on the Cavaliers. If they can avoid the No. 8 seed, the Pacers will be dangerous.