April will mean a lot of things to a lot of people. To plenty of us, it’s all about the start of the NBA playoffs.
We aren’t there just yet, though. There’s still plenty to be decided, as the Eastern Conference plays an elongated game of musical chairs for the final three postseason berths and the West jostles for homecourt and to avoid the Warriors in the first round.
It was a challenge narrowing it down to four games this week.
Denver Nuggets @ GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS (3:30am)
The top two in the West meet again. Denver are only one game back on the reigning champions, but the Warriors are obviously strong favourites to win this one.
Steve Kerr’s team blew the Nuggets away when they met back in January and are playing more like we expect with Klay Thompson deadly from range and Draymond Green back to somewhere near his best.
Three losses in their last five have held the Nuggets back from the top seed. A woeful second half saw a defeat to the Wizards at the weekend. Each game with the Warriors is a test of Denver’s credentials, particularly the gifted, but limited, Nikola Jokic.
The Warriors turn it on when their challengers come to The Bay. Expect a big first quarter again and a comfortable home win.
TIP: Golden State Warriors to win
INDIANA PACERS @ DETROIT PISTONS (12am)
The Pacers clung onto homecourt after Victor Oladipo’s injury, outperforming even the greatest Indiana optimists’ hopes. A hideous run of games has seen them slip down to fifth as they do not have the tiebreaker with Boston.
This is the second of two meetings with Detroit this week, which they desperately need to win if they are to regain homecourt in the first round.
Pivotal wins over the Magic and Blazers have put Detroit in sixth. They will be confident of holding onto a playoff spot with games against the Grizzlies and Knicks to come. It can be as good as sewn up with a couple of victories this week.
It’s an interesting matchup, this. Detroit have the best player on the court, but Indiana’s depth has kept their heads above water even without Oladipo. A low-scoring affair is probable, with the hosts the favourites to edge it.
TIP: Under 200 points
Houston Rockets @ LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS (3:30am)
Turbulent is probably the best word to describe Houston’s season. The mid-winter injury crises and troubling start are near-forgotten now, though, as they look to hold onto the three seed.
The Rockets are comfortable second favourites at 6/1 to come out of the Western Conference and are 10/1 to win the title.
Los Angeles have overshadowed the LeBron James circus in the best way possible. Doc Rivers’ team have triumphed as a collective, doing the fundamentals well and riding Lou Williams’ knack for monster fourth quarters.
The Clippers continue to defy expectations. They have been hard to beat at Staples Center all year, and this is the second of a back-to-back for Houston. The Clippers to get the win is worth popping into 888Sport’s betting calculator as you build your NBA accumulator.
TIP: Los Angeles Clippers to win
Milwaukee Bucks @ PHILADELPHIA 76ERS (1am)
Milwaukee and Philadelphia are going to be the first and third seeds in the East, meaning they will not meet until the Conference Finals.
The Bucks, despite Malcolm Brogdon’s injury, have continued to dominate, though they did suffer a shock loss to the Hawks on Sunday when Trae Young hit an absurd buzzer beater.
Philadelphia are being cautious with All-Star centre Joel Embiid. The Sixers have won eight of their last 10. Embiid started a three-game rest at the weekend, but he is expected to return to the starting five for the arrival of the Bucks.
The 76ers put in a huge performance in Milwaukee not so long ago. With Embiid available, they are the team to back here.
TIP: Philadelphia 76ers to win