The NBA regular season is nearing its end. Jostling for playoff seeding is seeing a switch in balance of power on an almost-daily basis, with teams bunched closely together behind the frontrunners in each conference.
We have picked out five of the most intriguing games this week in a packed schedule…
Tuesday, 3:30am: Portland Trail Blazers @ Los Angeles Lakers
Los Angeles are way out of a playoff spot, sitting 6.5 games back. The Lakers beat San Antonio in their last outing to make it five straight wins, however, sweeping a four-game roadtrip for the first time since 2009. Lonzo Ball starred with 18 points, seven rebounds and 11 assists.
Portland are also on their best run of the season. The Trail Blazers have won six-straight, including a comprehensive victory over Oklahoma City on Saturday night. This run has seen Portland climb to third seed in the West, but they are still just 2.5 games ahead of the Los Angeles Clippers in ninth.
I fancy Portland to extend their streak here. For all Ball’s defensive improvement, CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard are as good as unstoppable right now. I don’t think the Lakers will be able to keep up with Portland’s scoring.
TIP: Portland Trail Blazers to win @ 10/13
Wednesday, 12am: Miami Heat @ Washington Wizards
This is a massive game in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Washington have lost three in a row prior, while Miami are 4-6 over their last 10 and will be playing this as the second of a back-to-back.
The Wizards are still only a game behind Cleveland for the third seed. They are also well within the reach of Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Miami, however, who will all be hoping to edge further up the playoff places. John Wall’s absence remains massive for Washington, who have not scored over 110 points in their last seven games.
This is such a tough one to call. The rest after a tricky run will do Washington good, but Miami are only a game under .500 on the road. I think the best bet is on total points and under 210.5.
TIP: Under 210.5 total points
Wednesday, 1am: Houston Rockets @ Oklahoma City Thunder
Houston’s game at Oklahoma City begins a challenging roadtrip. This encounter is followed by the Bucks and Raptors, as the Rockets look to extend their remarkable 15-game winning streak and hold off the Golden State Warriors atop the West.
The Thunder could yet snatch third seed, but defeat to Portland in the second of a back-to-back at the weekend was a severe setback. Carmelo Anthony sat out that game and is currently listed as day-to-day. Oklahoma City have now conceded 105 or more points in each of their last seven.
James Harden returns to his former team in the form of his life, and as the centrepiece of a club whose chances of winning the title are increasing on a daily basis. It will take a magical Russell Westbrook display – which is always possible – to stop Houston making it 16.
TIP: Houston Rockets to win
Friday, 1am: Boston Celtics @ Minnesota Timberwolves
Boston have the best road record in the Eastern Conference. Minnesota have lost just seven games at Target Center all season. It should be a real showdown later this week as the Timberwolves aim to wrestle back towards the top four in the West, and Boston hope to keep pace with Toronto.
The loss of Jimmy Butler – possibly for the rest of the season – is huge for Minnesota. The veteran shooting guard was the lynchpin of a talented young roster, but consecutive divisional defeats to Portland and Utah have seen Tom Thibodeau’s club drop to fifth, just two games clear of the Clippers in ninth.
The Celtics pushed Houston all the way at the weekend. Their pre-All-Star blip seems to have been nothing more than that. I think Kyrie Irving and co. will have too much for Minnesota in this one.
TIP: Boston Celtics to win
Saturday, 12:30am: Houston Rockets @ Toronto Raptors
The winning streak could be 17 by the time Houston face Toronto. This weekend-beginning showpiece sees the top teams in each conference face-off, but the expectation is that it will show how far apart the West and East are this year.
The Raptors boast a home record better even than the Rockets and Warriors, having lost a mere five times at Air Canada Centre this season. They also had a resounding 129-113 victory over Houston back in October, and have lost once in their last 12 games ahead of this week’s games.
I am on the fence for this one. Toronto have been exceptional this season, but Houston’s run shows no signs of ending. One thing we can expect with the Rockets, though, is points. And a lot of them.
TIP: Over 224.5 total points
*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*