The NBA playoffs are a little over a month away. The Eastern Conference is home to a battle for the six, seven and eight spots, while the Pacers, Sixers and Celtics are jostling for third as they look to avoid one another in the first round.
The Western Conference has a similar race for third with teams wanting to avoid Golden State’s side of the bracket. With the Nuggets pursuing the champions, though, the Warriors could end up in the two spot and third will be the poisoned chalice.
Games are being played with near postseason intensity. There are some huge matchups this week – below are four of the most interesting.
Brooklyn Nets @ Oklahoma City Thunder (3am)
Brooklyn looked to have the sixth seed tied up. A poor run put a dent in their playoff chances before a three-game winning streak put them back in seventh.
Spencer Dinwiddie starred against the Cavaliers and Hawks – the league’s hardest remaining schedule (per Tankathon) means they will need plenty more big performances if they are to be a playoff team.
It’s been a real mixed bag from the Thunder lately. Paul George’s short absence saw some poor losses, but a road win in Portland looked like a great springboard for the end of the regular season.
A weekend loss to the Clippers has them back under pressure, however. Their remaining games are very challenging – it’s not unreasonable to think they could end up sixth.
This is a big test for a young Nets team. Brooklyn have defied expectations all year, but it’s hard to see past OKC’s star power.
TIP: Oklahoma City Thunder to win
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS @ HOUSTON ROCKETS (1:30am)
Houston got the better of Golden State in their last matchup thanks to a barely believable buzzer-beater from reigning MVP James Harden.
The Rockets are flying, having won eight in a row and are up to third. This is a rematch of last season’s Conference Finals and possibly a taster of the 2019 edition.
The Warriors have lost six of their last 10. Steve Kerr is increasingly frustrated with lacklustre performances and Denver are breathing down their necks again. Each defeat brings overreaction.
Golden State remain heavy favourites to threepeat and that won’t change until they are eliminated. Steph Curry spoke of their need to make a statement in this game – this could be one of the most entertaining matchups of the year.
Betting against Golden State is always hard to justify. A high-scoring game is almost certain, and that’s probably the best way to go here.
TIP: Over 230 points
Sacramento Kings @ PHILADELPHIA 76ERS (11pm)
Sacramento’s playoff push has hit a few bumps in the road of late, leaving them four games back of the Clippers.
They have a fair few easy games remaining, but they desperately need to win some of the more challenging ones like this if they are to catch Doc Rivers’ men and end their lengthy playoff drought.
Philadelphia staged a comeback win against the Pacers to go level with their Eastern Conference rivals.
Joel Embiid has returned to action and that makes all the difference for the Sixers. With Embiid, Philly look capable of going toe-to-toe with any team in the NBA.
The Sixers have only lost nine games at Wells Fargo Center this term. The Kings have been a lot of fun this season, but few will give them a chance in this one.
TIP: Philadelphia 76ers to win
Charlotte Hornets @ WASHINGTON WIZARDS (11pm)
Charlotte are only a game back on the final playoff spot in the East. A badly timed slump is hurting the Hornets, who have been terrible on the road this season.
Even in the weak Eastern Conference, a 9-22 record away from Charlotte makes a postseason berth very difficult. A big night from Marvin Williams saw the Hornets beat the Wizards at home last week, but this is a much trickier task.
Washington suffer from an abysmal road record too and have been struggling of late, which has seen them fall out of the playoff race.
A 19-12 home record is better than several playoff teams, however. Bradley Beal is continuing a brilliant season and could be the difference maker here.
Home advantage matters more in this game than in most others. Charlotte’s playoff hopes could take another knock in the capital.
TIP: Washington Wizards to win
*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*