We can almost breathe that fresh air of the playoffs. Teams have played over 70 regular season games now, but there is still plenty up for grabs in the NBA regular season. Each conference's seedings are far from set in stone...
The West, particularly, could yet see the Denver Nuggets snatch the eighth seed. Basketball is building to the playoff crescendo. So, here are a few thoughts on this pivotal week:
Wednesday, 12am: San Antonio Spurs @ Washington Wizards
The Kawhi Leonard mystery rumbles on. That has not stopped these Spurs remaining in the playoff spots, though. It has taken superb play from LaMarcus Aldridge, however, and San Antonio could yet drop out of the top eight in the West, particularly given their challenging schedule this week.
Washington are in a tough spot right now. A defeat to the Knicks at the weekend makes a top five spot challenging, which sets up a first round meeting with a certain LeBron James. Failing that, they could fall further in the seedings and face Boston or Toronto.
The Spurs have struggled on the road all year. The Wizards have coped for the most part without John Wall, too, and I think they will just have enough here.
TIP: Washington Wizards to win @ 11/10
Wednesday, 1am: Portland Trail Blazers @ New Orleans Pelicans
Portland produced a majestic all-round team performance to see off the Thunder at the weekend. CJ McCollum was at his dynamic best as the Trail Blazers further staked their claim for the third seed in the West. They are now two games clear of fourth-placed OKC.
The Pelicans are in that clutch of teams still peering over their shoulders at Denver. The thrashing at the hands of Houston has New Orleans 5-5 over their last 10 and just 2.5 games ahead of the Nuggets. As good as Anthony Davis has been, the ‘what might have been’ had DeMarcus Cousins remained fit looms over every Pelicans game.
Dame Lillard and McCollum are living up to their own billing right now. It’s a 21st road win of the season for Portland for me.
TIP: Portland Trail Blazers to win @ 10/11
Thursday, 2.30am: Boston Celtics @ Utah Jazz
Even this depleted Celtics roster has managed to put together a run. Their victory over Portland was a symbolic of this team’s resilience. Locked into the second seed, though, this game is far more important for their hosts, who could realistically land anywhere between fifth and ninth in the West.
The Jazz boast a strong 24-12 record at home and have been superb in 2018. Donovan Mitchell starred in a win over Golden State at the weekend, which put them at 8-2 over their past 10. If they can finish outside the bottom two, they have a very good chance of making the second round of the playoffs.
A trip to Utah is one of the toughest in the NBA right now. Boston’s results without Kyrie Irving and other starters have been remarkable, but this is just too big a hurdle.
TIP: Utah Jazz to win @ 1/4
Saturday, 12.30am: Philadelphia 76ers @ Atlanta Hawks
Philadelphia have crept into the trails of Cleveland in the East. Having clinched a first playoff berth since 2012, the eyes of The Process are now heading for a place in the top half of the bracket. That brings homecourt advantage in the first round and the best prize of all, avoiding the East’s ‘big three’.
Atlanta are currently leading the tank race in the East, but are off the pace of Phoenix and Memphis in the pursuit for the best lottery odds. They don’t even want to win this game. ‘Tanking’ is a debate for another time.
The Sixers are a team on a mission, playing some of the best basketball in the league. Joel Embiid and co. dispatched the Timberwolves over the weekend and could have this wrapped up after 12 minutes.
TIP: Philadelphia 76ers to score over 120.5 points
*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*