Today marks the first day of the last week of the regular season. Each team has either three or four games left before we have our final standings. At this point, we’re guaranteed a play-in tournament in the West between the 8 and 9 seed. The only thing left to be decided there is the participants. There are also seeding questions to be answered in the 2-6 range. In the East, the Wizards are officially done, but the Heat, Pacers and Sixers enter the final week in close quarters. The team that finishes last gets the Celtics in the first round while the other two will play each other. There’s also the battle between the Nets and Magic for the seven seed. Here’s a quick look at where each team currently stands –
- Lakers – The 1 seed is locked up. The same could be said of Los Angeles’s offense, which, at 98.8 points per game, is the only bubble offense to be averaging less than 105 points. That’s not good, and there’s no such thing as a free series in the West. The Lakers have three games to figure things out.
- Clippers – The Clips have two bubble losses, and both came by two points. They hold a 1.5 game lead over the Nuggets for the two seed, which would mean a first round match-up with the Mavs. Montrezl Harrell is expected to return to the bubble next week.
- Nuggets – Michael Porter Jr. has starred as the Nuggets have kept afloat without three of their starters. There’s a 1.5 game gap on both sides of them, though they face a tough stretch run with the Jazz, Lakers, Clippers, and Raptors on the schedule. Will Barton, Jamal Murray, and Gary Harris figure to be back soon, but there’s no word on when exactly that will happen for any of them.
- Rockets – The Rockets have won three of four to jump ahead of both Utah (half a game back) and Oklahoma City (one game back). They trail the Nuggets by 1.5 games. The Pacers and 76ers are the two best teams on Houston’s remaining schedule.
- Jazz – The Jazz have struggled to find a rhythm without Bojan Bogdanovic, and they’ve fallen behind the Rockets. They hold a half game lead over the Thunder for the right to play in the 4-5 series and sit in the top half of the bracket. There’s no indication that the four other key players that missed yesterday’s game will miss today’s game against the Nuggets, a potential first round opponent.
- Thunder – OKC has looked great and awful at various times in the bubble. They looked great in their lone game as a full team, but they haven’t played with Dennis Schroder since that opener. He left the bubble for the birth of his second child, and it’s unclear when he will return. On the bright side, Steven Adams’s injury isn’t serious. The Thunder are 2.5 games up on the Mavs.
- Mavs – With a 1-3 start, the Mavs have all but locked themselves into the seven seed. They play the Bucks tonight, and the goal over the next week will be improving their ability to close games. Dallas has been outscored in the second half by a combined 39 points in their three losses. They only lost those games by a total of 21 points.
- Grizzlies – The Grizzlies picked up a huge win over the Thunder to re-establish control over their own destiny. They will be ahead of the Trail Blazers regardless of today’s results and will hold a lead of two games over the ten seed. Two more wins would officially seal their spot in the play-in games, but the top three teams in the East await to close out the season.
- Trail Blazers – Portland has come out hot to establish themselves as the clear front runner among the Western teams that entered the bubble trailing the Grizzlies. They currently sit 1 game ahead of the Spurs, 1.5 games ahead of the Pelicans, and 1.5 games ahead of the Suns, who also play today. A win over the Clippers would make a match-up with Memphis very likely, but a loss means the door is wide open for the other playoff hopefuls.
- Spurs – The Spurs stayed alive with a big win yesterday. They’re one game out of the play-in as things stand, but that will shift based on the results of the Portland game. They also hold a half game edge over the Pelicans and Suns, though that will also change after the Suns play the Heat today. San Antonio will take on New Orleans in an elimination game tomorrow.
- Suns – The Suns are 4-0 in the bubble, but they still need a lot of things to go their way. Without another win today, they’d be hanging by the smallest of threads. Even a victory would leave them needing more help, but all they can do at this point is win the games in front of them.
- Pelicans – The Pelicans have been wildly disappointing in Orlando, but they also play the Spurs, Nets, and Kings to close the season. That’s not the hardest schedule in the world, but it may not matter at this point. Even if the Pelicans win out, they would need two of the following to occur – Grizzlies finish 0-3, Trail Blazers finish 1-3 or 0-4, and Suns finish 3-1 or worse. One of those is obviously very different than the other two, but the basic point is that New Orleans is going to need a collapse from either Memphis or Portland to have a shot at the playoffs.
- Kings – The Kings have an elimination number of 1 – as in one Sacramento loss or Portland win – and that’s ignoring the three teams between them and the Blazers. They’re dead after entering the bubble tied for the 9 seed. They might as well have not shown up.
- Bucks – The Bucks have the one seed locked up. It’s been a little iffy at times, but they roared back into their prior form with a massive comeback against the Heat on Thursday. Milwaukee won’t be challenged in the first round.
- Raptors – The Raptors played great defense on the way to a 3-0 start, but the Celtics took a machete to that last night. Toronto’s offense has struggled, but they’re still on track to clinch the two seed and a relatively easy first round series. One win or one Boston loss will do it.
- Celtics – The Celtics have been up-and-down in the bubble, sometimes within the same game, but their last two games have been resounding blowout victories over the Nets and Raptors. One more win or one more loss from the Heat will lock them into the three seed.
- Heat – The Heat have also been good at times and not great at others, but they have produced periods of great play in all four of their games. That hasn’t stopped them from going 2-2, and both the Pacers and Sixers are one game back. Miami plays Indiana twice this week in two games that will be crucial for seeding.
- Pacers – The Pacers were cooled off by the Suns in their last game, and that loss dropped them back into a tie with the Sixers for the five seed. They don’t have an easy closing schedule (Lakers, Heat, Rockets, Heat), but that stretch does offer them two chances to take a game from a direct competitor that they might end up seeing in the first round.
- 76ers – The Sixers have managed to get past the Spurs, Wizards, and Magic in consecutive games to keep pace in the seeding battle. With better teams on the horizon, that may not last. Ben Simmons remains out indefinitely.
- Nets – The Nets have played hard inside of the bubble, and it’s helped them build a 1.5 game lead over the Magic despite their weakened roster. Both teams have three games left, and two combined Brooklyn wins and Orlando losses would land the seven seed for the Nets.
- Magic – The Magic have struggled after they opened with two impressive wins over the Nets and Kings. Jonathan Isaac is out for a long time after he tore his ACL, and Aaron Gordon is out for an unknown amount of time with a hamstring issue. Orlando plays Brooklyn on Tuesday, and they need to win that game and at least one more to have a chance at avoiding the Bucks.
- Wizards – Washington is out after only five games. This is all about looking for things to take into next season.
Yesterday’s Results –
Yesterday was not good. It started with the Spurs (-9.0) only winning by eight, and it went downhill from there. The Thunder were destroyed by the Grizzlies, the Kings were soundly beaten by the Nets, and the Raptors went through a massacre at the hands of the Celtics. It was a little rough, and it wiped out a big Thursday. We get that momentum back today.
Total Record: 25-23-1 on individual bets, 5-16 on parlays, +28.94
My picks for tonight –
- Trail Blazers -4.5 (-110)
I was leaning towards the Clippers last night, but the news that Kawhi will sit this one out shifts the pick to Portland. The Trail Blazers have been playing as well as pretty much anyone in the bubble, and the Clippers, with Kawhi, were arguably one of the few exceptions. Without Leonard, the Clips fall to a motivated Blazers team.
A win here would go a long way towards sealing Portland’s spot in the play-in games. It would also keep them within half a game of the Grizzlies, who close the season with the Celtics, Raptors, and Bucks. All three are arguably better than any of Portland’s remaining opponents (Mavs, Sixers, Nets). The Clippers are waiting one more day before they shift it into high gear, and the Blazers need to take advantage of that.
- Nuggets -1.5 (-110) – LOCK OF THE DAY
The Jazz should be mostly healthy after they were missing four starters yesterday. Mike Conley and Rudy Gobert are playing, Royce O’Neale is probable, and Donovan Mitchell is questionable. That designation has almost always led to a missed game so far inside the bubble, but Utah will be better yesterday than they were today regardless of Mitchell’s availability. Rest shouldn’t play a huge role despite the back-to-back given that so many key guys didn’t play yesterday. I still like Denver to take this one.
Utah is now 1-4 inside the bubble, with their only win coming against a Grizzlies team playing their first game without Jaren Jackson Jr. They haven’t found their rhythm yet, and that’s not something I’m going to bet on them finding until I see it happen.
The Nuggets, on the other hand, have gone 2-2 despite not getting a single game from Will Barton, Jamal Murray, or Gary Harris. Murray is the only one who might play today, but Denver will get Paul Millsap back after he rested on Thursday. Nikola Jokic is due for a big game – he scored 8 points and grabbed 5 rebounds against Portland – and he carries Denver to a win here.
- Pacers ML +230
The Pacers are playing solid basketball in the bubble, and they have a lot on the line in terms of seeding. Indiana still hasn’t beaten anyone more impressive than the Sixers, but I’m not sure that a win over this current version of the Lakers would change that.
Los Angeles simply can’t score, and I’m not rolling with them until that changes. The Pacers provide some good value at +230 here.
- Suns -2.0 (-110)
Jimmy Butler and Kendrick Nunn are out for the Heat, who may also be without Goran Dragic. They’re coming off a demoralizing loss to the Bucks, and they don’t recover to beat the bubble’s hottest team. I’m riding with the Suns until they lose. They need every possible win to keep their playoff hopes alive and they get another one today.
- Bucks -5.5 (-110)
The Bucks have all the momentum in the world after creating a 37-point swing to shock the Heat. They played as well as you can possibly play in that second half, and they’ll have enough to beat an up-and-down Mavs team that has really struggled to compete after the first twenty-four minutes of games.
- Parlay of Blazers and Nuggets picks
Let’s start the day off right with two picks I feel good about.
- Parlay of Bucks and Suns picks
The same thing at the end of the day.
- Parlay of Bucks, Nuggets, and Blazers picks
My three favorite picks today.
- Parlay of Clippers-Blazers over (231.5), Jazz-Nuggets over (221), Lakers Pacers under (219), Suns-Heat over (225), and Bucks-Mavs over (232)
Throw $5 down here for a chance to win $120. All of these teams but the Lakers and Pacers track to top the over based on recent scores.
Good luck everybody. All bets on my end are for $5 unless otherwise noted.