NBA Betting and Handicapping: Scouting the Week Ahead
by Alan Matthews - 4/15/2013
If you are looking for some drama in the NBA's final few days of the regular season ... well, keep looking. There really isn't much.
The Miami Heat have had the Eastern Conference wrapped up for months and, thus, have nothing to play for in their final two games. That probably means plenty of rest for LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Ditto the Knicks and Carmelo Anthony. He's not playing Monday, and I highly doubt he does Wednesday. It looks like Melo will end Kevin Durant's scoring title streak at three straight years as Anthony leads 28.7 to 28.1. At the beginning of April, Anthony trailed Durant by 0.42 points per game.
I do expect to see Durant play in the Thunder's two games this week simply because that's how coach Scott Brooks operates. OKC has a magic number of one to clinch the top seed in the Western Conference over San Antonio.
Of course, the big news in the NBA was the torn Achilles' tendon suffered by Lakers star Kobe Bryant. He's obviously done for this year, and it would be a minor miracle for him to be ready for next year's opener, although you can never rule it out with the fiercely-motivated Bryant. Now the Lakers are really Dwight Howard's team, and he looked very good in Sunday's 91-86 win over the visiting Spurs. Without Kobe to siphon off touches, Howard got 40 offensive touches against San Antonio, 26 in the paint. He finished with 26 points and 17 rebounds as L.A. moved closer to a playoff spot. It almost certainly will face the Thunder in the West's opening round. The Lakers' odds to win the Western Conference skyrocketed in the wake of Kobe's injury, rising to +6500 on Sportsbook.ag.
The only drama in the West is for the No. 3 seed, which is Denver's to lose. The Nuggets simply need to win at Milwaukee on Monday or Phoenix on Wednesday -- the latter seems a lock considering the Suns are putrid and Denver has won 22 straight at home. However, the Nuggets almost certainly will be without Kenneth Faried this week and perhaps longer. He went down with a sprained ankle in Sunday's 118-109 win over Portland. The Nuggets just can't get a break. They also recently lost Danilo Gallinari for the season and finally had welcomed back point guard Ty Lawson on Sunday for the first time since March 27, and then Faried goes down. I think Denver will beat Houston (which it swept this year) or Golden State in the first round without Faried, but that's probably it. "Manimal" is averaging 11.7 points and a team-best 9.3 rebounds. Asked if he thought he'd be ready for the playoffs, Faried said, "I'm going to play." George Karl already has said he would rest starters in Wednesday's season finale if the Nuggets have claimed the No. 3 spot by then.
The best first-round matchup in the West looks to be Clippers at Grizzlies in a rematch from last season's playoffs. L.A. won 91-87 in Memphis on Saturday to snap the Grizzlies' 13-game home winning streak and take the season series, 3-1. The Clippers have a team record with 23 road wins this year.
The East playoffs look pretty set: Miami-Milwaukee and New York-Boston are done deals. Miami remains the overwhelming -600 favorite to win the East. Sportsbook.ag also has a prop on Miami's “over/under” total losses in the East playoffs: 3.5, with the over a -145 favorite. I think I'd lean under there because the Heat should sweep the Bucks and not lose more than a game in the conference semifinals against Brooklyn or Atlanta (as things stand). I then wouldn't expect more than two losses against either the Knicks or Pacers in the conference finals.
Speaking of the Knicks, they won't have big men Kenyon Martin (ankle), Tyson Chandler (neck) and Marcus Camby (foot) to close out the regular season, but all are expected to be available in the postseason. New York won three of four vs. Boston in the regular season.
The No. 3 Pacers don't yet know if they will face either the Bulls or Hawks in the first round -- I can assure you that Indiana would much rather see Atlanta. The Hawks have a game lead over Chicago for the No. 5 seed, however. That spot means a much more appealing matchup against No. 4 Brooklyn. The Bulls are 3-1 against the Nets but 1-3 against the Pacers this season. The bright side about finishing at No. 6 for Chicago -- which will get injured Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson back for the playoffs -- is that it means the Bulls stay out of the Heat's side of the bracket. Should the Bulls upset the Pacers, they would feel good about their chances in the second round against the Knicks, presuming they beat Boston. The Bulls were 4-0 against the Knicks this year and recently ended their 13-game winning streak. The playoffs begin Saturday.
There's actually a little drama at the bottom of the NBA standings as the Magic and Bobcats "battle" for the worst record and the most ping-pong balls in next month's draft lottery. Charlotte currently has a one-game "lead" over Orlando, but the Bobcats could easily go 2-0 this week at home against New York and Cleveland. The Magic host the Bulls on Monday and visit the Heat on Wednesday. If the teams finish tied with the worst record, a coin flip will decide which gets an extra ping-pong ball in the lottery and that 25 percent chance of the No. 1 overall pick. I'd expect that Charlotte would take Nerlens Noel with that pick but don't think the Magic would.
Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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