As the final month of the NBA regular season unfolds, something interesting is going on in Miami.
For much of the season, there have been Phoenix along with San Antonio have gone back and forth for the league’s best record and top overall seed in the playoffs. The Spurs begin the week with a half game lead over the Suns, but could be without injured Tim Duncan for the remainder of the regular season. Both teams have just 16 losses on the season, but they are not alone.
The Heat, winners of a dozen in a row beginning the week, own the league’s best record, 52-16. Miami has played and won two more games than the Spurs and has established itself as the clear favorite to win the East and a favorite to capture the NBA Title. The tandem of Shaquille O’Neal and Dywane Wade have led the Heat, while the supporting cast has performed well for coach Stan Van Gundy.
Overlooked during Miami’s recent run has been the rise of Boston. Winners of seven in a row and 11 of 12, the Celtics have opened up a 5Â½ game lead in the weak Atlantic Division. Though still holding the weakest record of any division leader, Boston is playing its best ball of the season and could end up with 50 wins. The Celts will be a factor in the playoffs and should at least challenge Detroit and possibly Miami.
Five games separate fourth seeded Washington from the two teams tied for the eighth seed, Orlando and Philadelphia. New Jersey is just 1Â½ further back. Cleveland has just made a coaching change by firing Paul Silas, as the Cavaliers attempt to maintain their position as the number five seed. Chicago and Indiana also would make the playoffs based on the current standings.
Seattle holds the third seed in the West and remains a legitimate threat because of its outstanding 23-9 road record, second only to Phoenix (26-7). Dallas is sitting comfortably in fourth position.
Sacramento is currently fifth, but the Kings are fading and now must contend with the loss of Brad Miller for the balance of the regular season. The Kings are being pressed by both Houston and Memphis. Denver holds the eighth and final seed in the West with the margin 2Â½ games over Minnesota and widening. The Nuggets have won 11 of their last 12 games.
Oh, and the once mighty Lakers? The team, which traded away Shaq after last season and forced coach Phil Jackson to retire, trails ninth seeded Minnesota by a game. The Lakers are unlikely to make the playoffs.
As non-playoff teams conclude the final month of the season, there often is a tendency for a dramatic drop in intensity or playing out the string. Other teams (like Golden State, Atlanta, New Orleans) may actually present excellent point spread values as they look toward next year.
The Warriors have covered 11 of their last 13 games. Prior to covering just once in their last four games, the Hawks had covered 11 of 15. The Hornets covered 10 of 13 games before falling short in three of four games against top teams.
Another possible live dog is New York, which begins the week having covered 13 of their last 19.
Here’s a look at three games of interest to be played this weekend.
Suns at Heat (Fri): In the first meeting in mid January, the Suns defended their home court with a high scoring 15-point win as six point favorites. In the rematch Miami may be similarly priced considering its hot play. The Heat have won 18 of their last 20 games but their only significant victory in this stretch was against San Antonio. Of the other 17 wins only two have come against teams more than two games over .500. Phoenix is capable of the outright upset and points are worth taking, especially if 3 or more. PHOENIX.
Celtics at Pistons (Sat): Detroit won the first two meetings, both within five days of one another in early January. Boston won the most recent meeting a couple of Fridays ago as a small home underdog. That loss was in the middle of a stretch that saw the Pistons lose four of five games following an eight game win streak. The first three meetings were around 190. Sixteen of Boston’s last 20 games have exceeded this total, as have five of Detroit’s last six. OVER.
Rockets at Spurs (Sun): The Spurs have lost only three times in 34 home games. A month ago the Spurs defeated the Rockets here by 18 points. That win followed two losses in Houston earlier this season. Houston had won six in a row prior to back to back losses over the weekend. Earlier, the Rockets had an eight game win streak beginning in late January. This could be a defensive struggle. HOUSTON.
Last week: 3-0