The 82-game NBA regular season is days away from its ending. The NBA playoffs begin on 13th April, though there are still matchups to be decided in both conferences.
The battle for the final spot in the East will go down to the final day with the Pistons currently in pole position. The Hornets and Heat still harbour ambitions of a postseason series.
CHARLOTTE HORNETS @ Cleveland Cavaliers (12am)
Charlotte have made a late push for a playoff berth. Three wins in a row have kept their hopes alive as they travel to Ohio for the penultimate game of the campaign.
Kemba Walker lit up the Pistons in the first half on Sunday to give the Hornets a chance, albeit a slim one, of claiming the eight seed in the Eastern Conference. The win over Detroit saw Charlotte complete a season sweep. They already had the tiebreaker locked up, which proves crucial.
Two wins and one Detroit loss would see the Hornets move into the eighth spot and set up a potential first round matchup with Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Milwaukee Bucks. Charlotte also have the same record as Miami, but hold the tiebreaker there too, due to a better divisional record.
Cleveland have no reason to win this and gain nothing from a 63rd loss as they are guaranteed a 14% shot at the number one overall pick. This is all or nothing for the Hornets, and that will show on the box score.
TIP: Charlotte Hornets to win (-5)
Memphis Grizzlies @ DETROIT PISTONS (12am)
Detroit looked comfortable in the sixth spot not so long ago. Four losses, including Sunday’s to the Hornets, have put them on the edge of disaster.
Making the playoffs was the bare minimum for Dwane Casey this year. The Pistons are strong favourites against the Mike-Conley-less Grizzlies, but the pressure is on. It’s a simple win their last two and progress situation for Detroit.
They have the luxury of being able to ignore Charlotte and Miami. Blake Griffin needs to be at his best for the Pistons against the plucky Grizzlies, though. Griffin has been playing through pain lately and wore a substantial leg brace at the weekend.
The weight of expectation is noteworthy for the Pistons, but they could not have asked for a much better opponent. Memphis are tough, and will still play hard, but Detroit should be able to get it done on their homecourt and secure a return to the playoffs.
TIP: Detroit Pistons to win
PHILADELPHIA 76ERS @ Miami Heat (12:30am)
Dwayne Wade’s Hall of Fame career is set to come to an end this week. Hopes of a final few playoff games for Wade have faded in the closing days of the season with four straight losses.
Miami could have secured a playoff berth by winning their final three home games, instead they are relying on slip ups from Charlotte and Detroit. The Heat face Brooklyn, who clinched a postseason spot on Sunday, after this game.
Victories in both are a necessity if Wade’s career is to continue beyond this week. While the matchups are not exactly favourable, facing a Philadelphia team that are locked in third could prove beneficial with Jimmy Butler and Joel Embiid likely to sit it out.
We have seen the Heat struggle at home all season. Philadelphia’s availability will change the dynamic of this game drastically. With Embiid and/or Butler playing, the Sixers are the team to back.
TIP: Philadelphia 76ers to win
HOUSTON ROCKETS @ Oklahoma City Thunder (2:30am)
Just when chatter about the Thunder’s struggles was increasing, Oklahoma City rattled off a three-game winning streak to put them in sixth at the time of writing.
The eight seed (and the Golden State Warriors in the first round) still looms large for Russell Westbrook and co., however. Home games against the Rockets and Bucks are not an easy to way to end the campaign.
Losing those two games with the Spurs and Clippers winning on the final night would put the Thunder in eighth, making a first round exit inevitable. The Rockets, meanwhile, could take the second seed in the Western Conference if they win this game and the Nuggets lose their final two.
As it stands, this would be a first round matchup. Only the Bucks have beaten Houston since 23rd March. Chris Paul is looking like himself again. Mike D’Antoni’s team could force the Thunder into a huge game against the Bucks.
TIP: Houston Rockets to win
*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*