Love Can't Conquer All
Minnesota (36-38 ATS, 35-36-3 O/U at sportsbooks) has been one of the NBA's disappointments and will miss the playoffs for a 10th straight season. The Wolves did put a crimp in Memphis' playoff hopes with a somewhat surprising 102-88 home win Wednesday. Minnesota had lost its previous two games, to the Clippers and Nets, by double digits and allowed 114 points in each. The Grizzlies were clearly pretty tired as it was the end of a five-game road-trip and their fifth game in seven days.
Kevin Love dominated the Grizzlies with 24 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists for his third career triple-double. By comparison, Memphis counterpart Zach Randolph was just 1-for-8 from the field for four points and only five rebounds. Wolves center Nikola Pekovic has been bothered for a while with an ankle injury and he sat that one out. It could be the team simply shuts him down for the final few games rather than risk something serious. Backup center Ronny Turiaf played Wednesday for the first time since Feb. 19.
The bright side to Pekovic's limited playing time of late has been the emergence of rookie center Gorgui Dieng. In the past 10 games, the former Louisville star has averaged 11.7 points (64.7 percent from the field) and 11.7 rebounds. He was the Western Conference Rookie of the Month for March. Fellow rookie Shabazz Muhammad, who was picked seven spots higher than Dieng in the 2013 draft, generally barely plays but that could change down the stretch to see what he can do. The Wolves got those two in a draft-night trade with Utah, sending Trey Burke, the No. 9 overall pick by Minnesota, to the Jazz. With Ricky Rubio on hand, the Wolves had no need for a point guard like Burke.
Clearly the biggest beneficiary of Indiana's collapse has been Miami, which now leads the Pacers by a game in the loss column for the Eastern Conference's top seed. The Heat have played two fewer games than Indiana. The first tiebreaker would be head-to-head and the Pacers lead that 2-1 with the two playing next Friday in Miami. The next would be conference record, which Indiana owns. This week Bovada had Miami as the 2/5 favorite on NBA odds to be the top seed and the Pacers 7/4.
The Heat (35-37-2 ATS, 39-35 O/U at sportsbooks) have won four straight, all by at least 10 points. They had no trouble Wednesday against Milwaukee, 96-77. LeBron James had 17 points to lead Miami, which never trailed. The Heat would love to clinch that top seed and give James a game or two off to rest up for the postseason. The team is already employing that strategy with Dwayne Wade, who missed his fourth straight game Wednesday (hamstring) and 23rd this season. Miami is 11-1 in the past 12 he has sat out.
Ray Allen has missed the past five with the "flu" but practiced Thursday -- as did Wade -- and seems likely to play against Minnesota. He would start if Wade doesn't go. Toney Douglas has been starting with both those guys out and has played reasonably well.
Could Miami look past this game and toward Sunday's big one against the visiting Knicks? That could now be a first-round playoff preview. Certainly the Heat would rather face Atlanta and they can help that along by beating surging New York.
Minnesota hosted Miami on Dec. 7 and lost 103-82 as a 6.5-point underdog on NBA odds (under 203 total). LeBron had 21 points and 14 rebounds and was two assists shy of a triple-double. The Heat shot 55.1 percent. Rubio was a disaster, going 0-for-4 from the field for 1 point while turning it over six times. Minnesota played without Love after his grandmother died. Thus perhaps no surprise the Wolves were soundly beaten in defensive rebounds against the NBA's worst team on the boards and that Minnesota shot a franchise-low 29.3 percent from the field. The Heat have won seven straight in the series -- covering six -- by an average of 16.3 points per game.
NBA free picks: Miami -9.5 and the under 204 points. Lean Wolves if Wade and Allen don't play but the under regardless. Minnesota is 1-5 ATS in its past six road games. The under is 6-0 in Miami's past six games and the past five in this series.