April 15 more than income taxes in NBA

Mar 31, 2009 5:07 PM
Bettin’ on B’ball by Andy Iskoe |
last week

Just two weeks remain until the 82-game regular NBA season draws to a close.

Wednesday, April 15 marks the final day of the regular season after which 14 of the NBA’s 30 teams will pack up their gear and start focusing on the college draft. The other "Sweet Sixteen" teams will begin a two-month journey a few days later that will culminate in a champion sometime in mid June.

The Los Angeles Lakers appear to be the team to beat and over the past week they officially clinched the top seed in the Western Conference. However, they may not be the top seed overall as Cleveland has a two-game lead over the Lakers for that honor. Los Angeles does hold the tie breaker edge over the Cavs by virtue of winning both meetings.

Cleveland has all but wrapped up the top seed in the East and starts the week having won 12 straight games. The Cavs are five games up on Boston and 5½ over Orlando with 9 to play. It’s been a remarkable season for the Cavs and star LeBron James has an excellent chance at being the NBA MVP. The Cavs are 35-1 at home and have won better than two of every three road games.

Despite trailing the Celtics by a half game for the second seed in the East, Orlando does have a slight edge in the loss column. By capturing that second seed, the Magic would enjoy the home court advantage if they meet, as expected, in the second round.

Atlanta became the fourth East team to clinch a playoff spot. The Hawks are just a few wins away from locking down the fourth seed which is the final one with home court edge in the opening round.

Currently two teams with losing records (Detroit and Chicago) would make the playoffs from the East. Both are likely to be first round exits as each will be matched up against 60-win teams. Detroit does have plenty of experience and has been playing with numerous players injured over the past few weeks.

The race for seeds 2 to 8 in the West remains tightly bunched with just five games separating second-seeded San Antonio from No. 8 Dallas. Seeds 2 ot 4 carry home court advantage in the opening round so all seven teams have reason to play hard over the next two weeks.

It may be better to finish sixth or seventh rather than fifth if a team cannot secure the fourth spot. The fifth seeded team would have to face the Lakers in the second round whereas a team seeded sixth or seventh would avoid LA until the conference finals.

Since there is so much balance in the West behind the Lakers, it’s quite possible that a team seeded 6 could knock off a 3 just as a 7 could beat a 2.

Since the All-Star break, double-digit home underdogs are 3-0 against the spread. Double-digit road underdogs are 22-24-2 ATS. We will see more double-digit underdogs as the season winds down. Look to play the road underdogs that still appear to be trying.

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

Cavs at Magic (Fri): The home team has won the two prior meetings including Cleveland’s 4 point win two weeks ago. The game carries greater importance for Orlando, which is battling Boston for the East’s second seed. The Magic also have a scheduling advantage as Cleveland is playing its third game in four nights. Orlando has covered both meetings with Cleveland, including when they beat the Cavs in late January by 11 as 5-point home favorites. MAGIC.

Pistons at Sixers (Sat): The teams have split both meetings, each played in Detroit. The Pistons won by 4 this past Sunday. Ex-Sixers guard Allen Iverson returned to action for the first time in a month in that game and his rust showed. He’ll be pumped up to give a better effort. The teams are just 1½ games apart in the standings, seeded sixth and seventh. Detroit has been a decent road team this season (17-18) while Philly is ordinary at home (21-15). PISTONS.

Jazz at Hornets (Sun): Utah has won both prior meetings, each lopsided home wins by 26 and 14 points. Both teams could be travel weary, with Utah playing its fifth game in seven days and New Orleans returning home from three West Coast games since Tuesday. The Hornets have a greater need for a win and has been a solid under team at home since the All-Star break. UNDER.