The NBA regular season concludes Wednesday and the playoffs begin this weekend with four games each on Saturday and Sunday.
Starting the week the 16 teams that will participate in the chase to the NBA title have all been determined although many of the first round matches remain very much up in the air. All but the Los Angeles Lakers have two games to play over the final three nights.
The top five seeds in the Eastern Conference are set. Cleveland, Boston, Orlando and Atlanta secured home court advantage for the opening round. Miami is seeded fifth and will face Atlanta to start the playoffs.
Philadelphia, Chicago and Detroit are within a game of one another for the final three seeds. All will be decided underdogs regardless of which of the top three seeds each faces. Detroit is the most experienced of the trio and the most likely to pull an opening round upset. Still, the Pistons will be facing a team that has won 20 or more games over the course of the regular season.
Things are even more muddled in the West where only the Lakers are certain of their seed.
Los Angeles long ago clinched the top spot in the conference, but will likely be seeded second overall to Cleveland if the Cavs win either of their final two games or the Lakers lose at home Tuesday night to struggling Utah. That game could be a preview of the first round as the Jazz are currently seeded eighth, a game behind Dallas.
Through Sunday, Utah has lost 7 of its last 10 games to be tied with Philadelphia as the playoff teams in the poorest current form heading down the stretch.
Seeds two through five will be determined by Wednesday with Denver, San Antonio, Houston and Portland each within a game of one another and seeking to avoid the fourth and fifth seeds which would likely mean a second round matchup against the Lakers.
New Orleans, Dallas and Utah will be seeded sixth through eighth. The duo fortunate enough to finish sixth and seventh have a real shot at advancing past the first round despite not having home court advantage.
The Lakers are 10½ games ahead of current second seed Denver. But the Nuggets are just six games up on eighth seeded Utah, showing just how evenly matched and well balanced the Western field is behind the Lakers.
There could be as many as three Eastern teams with slightly losing records to make the playoffs. At least one team, Detroit, will be no better than .500.
Contrast that to the West where Phoenix will miss the playoffs despite possibly finishing 10 games above .500. Thus it can be argued that the West is still, on balance, the far better conference with overall higher quality teams in the playoffs. Even so, the East will have three of the only four teams to finish the season winning more than 70 percent of their games.
Because only one first round matchup was set at the start of the week, the following comments can only be of the generalized variety. Next week, after each series has begun more specific comments will be forthcoming as to how those series may unfold.
Atlanta vs Miami is the one known first round matchup. And, there’s still one bit of history for this season to be written before the series begins. Atlanta hosts Miami on Tuesday in each team’s penultimate regular season game. Atlanta has won two of three prior meetings this season and each game has been decided by at least 8.
The first three meetings have each gone under the total. In fact, each contest fell short of the betting total by more than 18 points. The three games produced total points of just 160, 174 and 174. The posted total for each was in the low 190s.
Miami will have the best player on the court in Dwyane Wade and the teams’ record will not be that different. Both played very well at home while struggling on the road, suggesting that this series will go deep, perhaps 6 or 7.
Atlanta’s experience in taking Boston to 7 in last season’s first round may be the difference so look for the Hawks to advance. And we expect under to be the preferred play throughout the series.
Detroit is the most likely of the three lower seeded teams to pull the upset and its chances would be best if somehow finishing sixth and facing Orlando. The Pistons swept all three games from the Magic during the regular season.
Should the Pistons finish eighth and face Cleveland it should be noted that all four regular season meetings went under the total, three of which were won by the Cavaliers.
Philadelphia was 0-9 straight up and 1-8 ATS against Cleveland, Boston and Orlando during the regular season heading into Tuesday’s home finale against Boston and Wednesday’s season ender at Cleveland. The 76ers are just 3-7 in their last 10 games and could well be swept in the opening round, losing at most in 5.
Chicago lost three of four to both Cleveland and Orlando and lost two of three to Boston. The Bulls have played well down the stretch, going 18-12 over their prior 30 games through Sunday. The Bulls are 28-12 at home and have an excellent chance at extending their opening round series to the full 7.
The Lakers should have little trouble getting past the first round, especially with Andrew Bynum back from injury and playing well upon his return. The Lakers have lost twice to only Charlotte, Orlando and potential second round foe Portland.