Looking for must-win NBA teams? Be careful

April 3, 2019 12:46 AM

With one week to go in the NBA regular season, the Brooklyn Nets are in a frantic game of musical chairs with Detroit, Miami, and Orlando for spots in the lower half of the Eastern Conference playoff brackets. Four teams, three chairs.

Whoever qualifies will enter the playoffs as big series underdogs in the first round against either Milwaukee, Toronto, or Philadelphia. Only seeds #6-8 are available, and those powers will be seeded on the #1-3 rungs.

The odd team out when the melody stops will watch the postseason on TV with the rest of us. (Boston and Indiana will be the #4 and #5 seeds, home court still to be determined.)

Old-school bettors will often warn newbies that betting on teams who “need to win” can be a money pit. Point spreads are stacked against them, so there’s no line value. Teams are just as prone to succumb to the pressure as they are to rise to the occasion. And how good could these “bubble” type teams really be if they’re still fighting just to get into an expanded playoff structure so late in the process? 

At the moment, the four “musical chairs” contestants are certainly playing like they want to extend their seasons. Here are their current runs against the point spread heading into Wednesday night action…

Detroit: 18-7-1 its last 26

Miami: 12-5-1 its last 18

Orlando: 6-3 its last nine

Brooklyn: 5-2 its last seven

A relative cash crescendo as we approach the final note. And a few games matched those teams against each other…meaning the win percentage vs. outsiders is even better. There’s something to be said for bringing intensity late in a season against opponents that are either pacing themselves or tanking. Old-school thinking may need to be updated. 

That said, our four teams of interest flunked litmus tests this past Monday against playoff-bound opponents who decided to show up! They went 0-4 straight up and 1-3 ATS as Detroit ( 5.5) lost at Indiana 111-102, Orlando ( 6.5) lost at Toronto 121-109, Brooklyn (-1) lost to Milwaukee 131-121, and Miami ( 6.5) covered in a 110-105 loss at Boston. 

Musical chairs is one thing. Nobody destined to be seeded #6 to #8 looks ready for dodgeball against the big kids that throw hard. 

A lot of those types of challenges still ahead for the “bubble” brigade in these remaining schedules…

  • Brooklyn: vs. Toronto, at Milwaukee, at Indiana, vs. Miami.
  • Detroit: vs. Indiana, at Oklahoma City, vs. Charlotte, vs. Memphis, at New York.
  • Orlando: vs. New York, vs. Atlanta, at Boston, at Charlotte.
  • Miami: vs. Boston, at Minnesota, at Toronto, vs. Philadelphia, at Brooklyn.
  • Those big kids that throw hard are still prohibitive favorites to dominate the Eastern playoffs. Here are William Hill’s odds to win the Eastern Conference: Milwaukee 13/10 ( 130), Toronto 13/5 ( 260), Philadelphia 3/1, Boston 3/1, Indiana 100/1, Detroit 150/1, Miami 150/1, Brooklyn 200/1, and Orlando 300/1.

Smart bettors may still be able to pick spots with “must-win” teams. Just a few left before the music stops. 

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