Sure, the Eastern Conference is much improved this season. But those playoffs are going to be a bore most likely as simply a cakewalk for the Cleveland Cavaliers. But how much fun is the Western Conference postseason going to be? The only three teams with at least 30 wins in the NBA are all in the West: Golden State, San Antonio and surging Oklahoma City, which has won 19 of 23 and outscored opponents by more than 11 points per game in that stretch. OKC is 27-8 this year (translates to 63 wins) with Kevin Durant in the lineup and has outscored teams by 10.6 points per game with him. Yet the Thunder seem assured of no better than the third seed in the conference and thus would have to probably beat both the Spurs and Warriors to get to the NBA Finals. Good luck with that!
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Bucks at Heat (-6, 195.5)
Milwaukee won in Charlotte 105-92 on Saturday for its second straight victory. Khris Middleton had 24 points (11-for-16 from the field) and Greg Monroe 19 points and 10 boards. The Bucks have won four of six and Middleton is averaging 23 points in those. Point guard Jerryd Bayless returned after missing the previous six with a sprained left ankle. Miami was embarrassed 99-74 in Oklahoma City on Sunday. Dwyane Wade returned after missing a game with shoulder soreness and had 22 points on his 34th birthday. It was the fewest points scored by the Heat this season. Chris Andersen (sore left knee), Josh McRoberts (bruised right knee), Goran Dragic (strained left calf) and Beno Udrih (neck) all sat out. All four are likely out again. This is the first meeting of the season between the teams. Milwaukee won all four of its matchups against Miami last season, holding the Heat to an average of 89.8 points per game.
Key trends: The Heat are 4-0 against the spread in their past four after an ATS loss. Milwaukee is 1-4 ATS in its past five following a double-digit win. The "over/under" has hit under in five of Miami's past six vs. teams with a losing record.
Early lean: Huge on the under. Take Miami.
Timberwolves at Pelicans (-4.5, 205)
New Orleans was in Memphis on Monday afternoon. Minnesota ended a nine-game losing streak with a 30-point home destruction of Phoenix on Sunday, the team's largest margin of victory in nearly two years. Ricky Rubio and Andrew Wiggins scored 18 points each. Kevin Martin added 11 after missing one game to an illness. The Wolves shot 56.5 percent from the field. This is the first meeting between New Orleans and Minnesota this year. The Pelicans won all four last year, including a 48-ponit victory on Nov. 14, 2014. That's the worst loss in Timberwolves history. The home team has won eight of the past 10 meetings. The Wolves have dropped four in a row in the Big Easy.
Key trends: The home team is 9-1 ATS in the past 10 meetings. The over is 4-1 in the past five in New Orleans.
Early lean: Pelicans, assuming no major injuries Monday, and over.
Thunder at Nuggets (+8, 211.5)
Oklahoma City trashed visiting Miami by 25 on Sunday for its fourth straight victory. Russell Westbrook had his 24th career triple-double and fifth this season with 13 points, 15 assists and 10 rebounds. OKC is 5-0 this year when he does so and 20-4 all-time. Durant had 24 points and 10 rebounds. Miami's 77 points were the fewest allowed by the Thunder this year. During the winning streak the Thunder have allowed 88 points per game on 41 percent shooting overall. Denver beat visiting Indiana 129-126 on Sunday. Randy Foye hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 21 seconds left. The Nuggets had 75 second-half points, an NBA season high this year for any half. Nuggets center Jusuf Nurkic missed a second straight game with a left knee problem. Oklahoma City is 2-0 vs. Denver this year, winning both at home by double digits and scoring at least 117 in each.
Key trends: OKC has covered five of the past seven meetings. The over is 4-1 in the past five.
Early lean: Big on the over. Give the points.
Pacers at Suns (+5, 207.5)
Indiana lost a third straight Sunday, 129-126 in Denver, to start a four-game trip out West. The Pacers led by 12 at halftime, shot 66 percent in the first half and were 7-for-10 from 3-point range. Paul George's 3-point attempt in the final seconds that would have tied it was blocked by Emmanuel Mudiay. Rookie Myles Turner scored a career-high 25 points for Indiana. George Hill (personal reasons), Rodney Stuckey (sprained right foot) and Ian Mahinmi (sore left heel) did not play. Stuckey for sure won't play here. The other two are questionable. Phoenix has lost four straight and 13 of 14. It took that 30-point beating in Minnesota on Sunday, and I'm half-surprised Coach Jeff Hornacek is still employed as that was clearly rock bottom. Center Alex Len was out with a left hand sprain but might return here. Phoenix lost in Indiana last Tuesday, 116-97. The Suns' best player remaining, Brandon Knight, missed it with a stomach virus but is OK now. Phoenix has won two straight at home in this series by a combined 41 points.
Key trends: The Pacers are 1-9 ATS in the past 10 meetings. The over is 4-1 in the past five for each team.
Early lean: Love the over here as well. Take Phoenix.
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