Final 15 NBA games still carry drama

Mar 20, 2007 6:40 AM

With only 15 games left in the NBA’s regular season, both conferences have multiple races taking place for the final few playoff berths.

In the East, the top six seeds have all but mathematically clinched. Detroit continues to lead, but the edge over division rival Cleveland is only 1½ games. The Cavaliers have gained three on the Pistons over the past couple of weeks, winning 9 of their last 10 and currently on a run of 8.

Washington holds a slim one game lead over red hot Miami in the Southeast. Miami finally saw its 9-game win streak end Sunday in a home loss to Orlando. Still, the Heat have played impressively despite the absence of Dwyane Wade, with Shaquille O’Neal playing at his former league MVP level.

The Atlantic has finally produced a leader with a winning record. Toronto, at 36-31, trails Southeast leading Washington by just 1½ games. It is possible for the Raptors to surpass the Wizards over the next four weeks and claim the third seed.

The Wizards begin a six game road trip Tuesday that includes five out West. When Washington returns March 30, the first home game is with Toronto. The Raptors also have a pair of games left against Miami.

Chicago is currently seeded fifth, in between Toronto and Miami. Miami’s grasp on the sixth seed is 5½ over the two teams tied for the seventh and eighth seeds. In fact, only a half game separates the four teams competing for the final playoff spot. New Jersey and Indiana begin the week tied. Orlando and New York were just a half game back. Of the four, only the Knicks have managed to play .500 ball over the previous 10 games.

Dallas, Phoenix, San Antonio, Utah and Houston holding down seeds 1-to-5 out West and are likely to finish that way.

Spots six and seven are held by the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver. A half game separates the two, with a three-game gap between the seventh and eighth seeds.

The battle for that final seed has five teams separated by just 2½ games. Golden State, seeking its first trip to the playoffs in more than a decade, is currently seeded eighth. The LA Clippers, New Orleans, Sacramento and Minnesota are all in close pursuit. Of the five, Golden State is the best home and poorest on the road.

As you handicap the NBA, remember "must win" does not equate with "will win." Such teams are in "must win" situations because they’ve not won enough early in the season to secure a winning record or a higher playoff seeding.

The linesmaker continues to do an extraordinary job in balancing league wide results against the pointspread and in totals.

Home favorites are 340-366-19 (48.1 percent) and home underdogs have also resulted in across the board losses with a pointspread record of 127-121-3 (51.2 percent).

The Totals are more evenly divided. Aside from 13 games that resulted in pushes, there have been 489 OVERs and 491 UNDERs.

Here’s a look at three games to be played this weekend.

Pistons at Spurs (Fri): San Antonio won the earlier meeting in Detroit on Valentine’s Day, 90-81, as 3½ point underdogs. The Spurs seek to complete a season sweep to make up for Detroit’s sweep of the series last season. The game winner has also covered the pointspread in the last 11 meetings.

The Spurs will be a solid favorite in this game especially since Detroit plays a night earlier in Houston. San Antonio is also well rested, playing just its second game in six nights. Detroit will be seeking revenge but in a poor situation being shorthanded of late. SPURS.

Wash at LA Clippers (Sat): The Clippers have been one of the more disappointing teams this season, failing to show the improvement expected following last season’s first playoff appearance in nearly a decade. With a month remaining the Clippers are already assured of being unable to match those 47 wins. They are six games below .500 as the week begins.

Washington is on pace to win its most games in nearly 30 seasons. Both teams are better at the offensive end of the court. Their previous meeting this season went OVER the total, as did both meetings last season. Washington’s Gilbert Arenas has become one of the top players in the league and should post big numbers in this contest. Washington is just 11-19 so we’ll lean to the total. OVER.

Bulls at Pacers (Sun): The home team has won all three meetings, but have not met since Jan. 22. Indiana has played poorly over the past few weeks and have played itself from a secure playoff position to the NBA’s version of the bubble, battling with three other teams for the final two Eastern berths.

Chicago is in solid position with the fifth seed and only a remote chance of making up enough ground to claim home court advantage in the opening round. Indiana is off what figures to be physical games at Houston, at San Antonio and at home against Miami.

The Bulls are better rested and should take advantage of a tired foe. BULLS.