Four weeks remain in this most strange of NBA seasons, and all but seven teams are still alive for the postseason thanks to the introduction of the play-in tournament. Thanks to that situation, almost every game on every night still has immense consequences attached, and none more so that the first game we’ll highlight here:
The great thing about the play-in is that it’s keeping interest high in several NBA cities that otherwise would have given up hope long ago, but there is a dirty little secret that no one seems to be realizing, which is that there is still a massive gap between being one of the top eight seeds and in ninth or tenth.
If a team finishes seventh or eighth, they have to lose twice to miss the playoffs, whereas the ninth and tenth place finishers have to win twice just to make it. Looking at the standings right now, both Indiana and San Antonio are on the borderline between eight and nine. Getting above that Mendoza line will be massive for their eventual chances to get into a full seven-game series.
That much is clear. Figuring out which is the hotter team between the two, however…not so much. Coming into Sunday, the Pacers were 5-5 in their last 10 games but with a negative 2.3 net rating over that time despite only having to face two of the league’s big eight in that stretch.
The Spurs have a much better efficiency differential of negative 0.4 in their last 10, but have just three wins against seven losses to show for it. On the bright side, they’re coming off maybe their best win of the season Saturday night, a 26-point drubbing of the mighty Suns in Phoenix. That they did it without DeMar DeRozan, Patty Mills, and Jakob Poeltl is even more encouraging.
All three were off due to rest thanks to a back to back, but each should be back for this matchup. Given that San Antonio is also 11-4 as a road dog this season – good enough for the second best cover rate in the league in such situations – and this becomes an easy choice.
The Pick: San Antonio -1.5 @ -105 (Click To Bet)
This will likely be the final game that the Los Angeles is without one of their big two, Anthony Davis, as he is nearing a return to action after an injury that has kept him out for nearly two months. Shortly after that, the reigning Finals MVP, LeBron James, will be back on the court, likely at some point within the next few weeks.
In a way, the Lakers can already breathe easy. Yes, they’ve fallen to where they’d no longer have home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs if the postseason began today, but there was a point where most onlookers feared they’d fall all the way down to one of the play-in spots…or worse.
It hasn’t happened. Los Angeles has withstood the loss of James and AD, most recently defeating this very Jazz team in an overtime game in LA two days ago, 127-115. The loss dropped Utah to 4-4 in their last eight games, and things don’t figure to get much easier with Donovan Mitchell sidelined with a sprained ankle for at least the next few games.
That doesn’t mean they should worry here. For one, Rudy Gobert, Mike Conley and Derrick Favors – all of whom missed Saturday’s bout with the Lakers for rest – will be back. More importantly, this season has proven it very difficult for teams to win both parts of a baseball style series, even at home, with sweeps happening less than a third of the time.
Go with Utah to right the ship with most of their roster intact and ready to go.
The Pick: Utah -5.5 @ -110 (Click To Bet)
Chicago Bulls at Boston Celtics
No team has more wins than the Celtics over their last 10 games, and Chicago has struggled mightily, barely pulling out a home game against the lowly Cavaliers to end their five-game losing streak. Zach LaVine remains out, so this one goes to Boston.
Golden State Warriors at Philadelphia 76ers
Steph is feeling it, meaning no lead is safe and the backdoor is always open. Philly is just 3-5 against the spread in their last eight. Go with the road team and give the points.
Houston Rockets at Miami Heat
Have the Heat finally righted the ship? Their Sunday win against Brooklyn came without James Harden and without Kevin Durant for all but the first three minutes. Still, it’s impossible to pick against them at home against Houston, who is also on a back to back.
Oklahoma City Thunder at Washington Wizards
The Thunder’s advanced stats profile them as by far the worst team in the league since the break. The Wiz miraculously have something to play for. Go with Washington at home.
Phoenix Suns at Milwaukee Bucks
Both teams are coming off bad losses that weren’t terribly close, but Phoenix seems to still be in the running for the top seed whereas Milwaukee has seemingly settled into the third spot. Take Phoenix.
Memphis Grizzlies at Denver Nuggets
Nikola Jokic is about to put the finishing touches on his MVP case, and Denver at home is never a bad bet.
Cleveland Cavaliers at Detroit Pistons
Stay away from the day’s lone meaningless game, but Detroit is the hotter team against the spread if you must.
NBA Expert Picks
(Click Odds To Bet)
San Antonio -1.5 @ -105 (Click To Bet)
Utah -5.5 @ -110 (Click To Bet)
NBA Free Picks
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