Jason’s record on his early NBA picks for 2013-14, up to April 9 inclusive:
Five more… four more… you can do it. We’ve almost reached the end of another regular season – a very profitable one here at the ranch, thank you kindly. But it’s not over yet; we’ve still got a week left to go before the playoffs, and we’ve got intriguing races happening in both conferences. Let’s see if we can figure some of this out. Here’s a closer look at the critical playoff races in the NBA, with an extra emphasis on remaining schedules and key injuries for the teams in question.
Somebody’s Got to Win this Thing
The race most people are paying attention to is at the top of the Eastern Conference. On Wednesday, the Indiana Pacers (54-25 SU, 36-42-1 ATS) retook first place with a 104-102 win over the Milwaukee Bucks – and yes, this time the Pacers covered as tiny 1.5-point road favorites. That’s because they benched all their starters. Meanwhile, the Miami Heat (53-25 SU, 36-40-2 ATS) fell back into second place with a 107-102 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies (–5 at home). Dwyane Wade (22.0 PER) sat this one out for Miami. Doesn’t anyone want to win the Eastern Conference?
Knickerbockers on the Ground
For just a second there, the New York Knicks (33-45 SU, 34-44 ATS) were in eighth place in the East. Then Carmelo Anthony (24.4 PER) hurt his shoulder, and the Knicks lost back-to-back games SU and ATS to the Washington Wizards (+5 away) and the Heat (–6.5 at home). That left the window open for the Atlanta Hawks (35-43 SU, 34-43-1 ATS) to retake eighth place; they’ve won three of their last four games, including Wednesday’s 105-97 victory over the Boston Celtics (+7 away). There is hope for New York, though; Hawks center Pero Antic (11.9 PER) missed the Celtics game with a sore ankle and might be day-to-day down the stretch.
The tightest battle in the Eastern Conference is for something that doesn’t even really exist. The Toronto Raptors (46-32 SU, 45-31-2 ATS) figure to win the Atlantic Division, but they have the same record as the fourth-place team in the conference, the Chicago Bulls (46-32 SU, 40-37-1 ATS). If the Bulls finish with the better record, they’ll grab the No. 3 seed despite finishing way behind Indiana in the Central Division. Toronto has the easier path to the playoffs, facing the Knicks twice, plus the tanking Detroit Pistons and Milwaukee Bucks. Chicago gets the Knicks, the Pistons, the Orlando Magic and the pesky Charlotte Bobcats. The Bobcats (40-38 SU, 46-29-3 ATS), by the way, are also in dead heat with the Wizards (40-38 SU, 39-38-1 ATS) for the No. 6 seed and the right not to face Indiana or Miami in the first round.
That leaves the most compelling race of the final week of the regular season. There are four teams fighting over the last three playoff spots in the West – you can scratch the Portland Trail Blazers (51-28 SU, 42-37 ATS) off the list after they clinched a postseason berth with Wednesday’s 100-99 win over the Sacramento Kings (+13.5 away). That leaves the No. 6 Golden State Warriors (48-29 SU, 37-37-3 ATS), the No. 7 Dallas Mavericks (48-31 SU, 43-36 ATS), the No. 8 Phoenix Suns (47-31 SU, 50-27-1 ATS) and the No. 9 Memphis Grizzlies (46-32 SU, 34-42-2 ATS) all pounding at the door trying to get in. Conveniently enough, the Suns, Mavericks and Grizzlies will play each other this week, while Golden State’s remaining five games are against non-playoff bound teams.