Suns, 76ers aim to lock in top seeds

jvt

We are down to the final two weeks of the NBA season, and absolutely nothing has been decided. No seed is final, no play-in teams are final and multiple win totals remain to be decided. The teams at the top of the conferences have really started to peak. Phoenix and Philadelphia turned in undefeated weeks as they attempt to lock in the top seeds in their conferences.

 

Teams are also starting to get healthy. LeBron James is back on the floor, Trae Young returned from injury and Charlotte saw Malik Monk and LaMelo Ball play basketball last week. Absolutely nothing is set in stone, and the next eight games will be must-watch television.

 

1. Phoenix Suns (1)

Week recap: 3-0 SU/2-1 ATS

 

It was an incredible week for the Phoenix Suns. Not only did they defeat every opponent, but two of those opponents were in the running to take the first seed in the Western Conference. The Suns were just a half-game behind the Jazz with eight games left and a 3-0 SU and ATS record against them.

 

2. Philadelphia 76ers (3)

Week recap: 4-0 SU/3-1 ATS

 

Philadelphia led the league in net rating ( 20.2) and defensive efficiency (100.3) last week. The 76ers slaughtered a short-handed Hawks team twice and beat the Spurs and the Bulls. Not the strongest competition, but the ability to destroy lesser opponents is a positive. They now control the top seed in the Eastern Conference with seven games left.

 

3. Denver Nuggets (4)

Week recap: 3-1 SU/2-2 ATS

 

Denver took a pretty tough loss Monday night in Los Angeles against the Lakers, but this team is 9-3 SU since losing Jamal Murray. The Nuggets are only 5-7 ATS over that stretch, and things could be getting slightly worse. PJ Dozier went down with a hip injury, and Monte Morris and Will Barton are still ailing. Who is left to suit up?

 

4. Los Angeles Clippers (2)

Week recap: 0-2 SU/0-2 ATS

 

It was a winless week for Los Angeles, but there is some nuance to it. First, the Clippers dropped a game to the top-seeded Suns without Kawhi Leonard. Then Leonard returned a couple of days later, but the Clippers lost to Denver at home despite averaging 1.195 points per possession. Patrick Beverley returned Tuesday, so this team is slowly coming together.

 

5. Milwaukee Bucks (6)

Week recap: 3-1 SU/3-1 ATS

 

Milwaukee scored a big win over Brooklyn on Sunday, but the loss to Houston was inexcusable. Giannis Antetokounmpo was injured 45 seconds into that game, but to allow that team to drop 1.315 points per possession and shoot 54.3% from deep shows the problems the Bucks have without Antetokounmpo on the floor.

 

6. New York Knicks (7)

Week recap: 3-0 SU/3-0 ATS

 

When is the betting market going to catch up to how good this team is? The market moved against the Knicks on Monday, but New York handled Memphis for its 12th win in 13 games. The Knicks are 14-1 ATS in its last 15 games and lead the league in net rating in that span.

 

7. Brooklyn Nets (5)

Week recap: 2-2 SU/2-2 ATS

 

The Nets ended the week with consecutive losses to Portland and Milwaukee, but Kevin Durant was on the floor just one of them. Their inconsistent defense showed up again last week, giving up 114.1 points per 100 possessions. It’s just a waiting game as James Harden is still on the mend.

 

8. Utah Jazz (8)

Week recap: 3-1 SU/2-2 ATS

 

Wins over the Spurs, Raptors and Kings is really nothing to get excited about, but the Jazz were able to maintain their spot on top of the conference due to those victories. The loss to Phoenix was pretty ugly, but the absences of Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell held them back.

 

9. Atlanta Hawks (10)

Week recap: 2-2 SU/2-2 ATS

 

Trae Young missed the first game of the week, and after taking a beating in Philadelphia when he came back, the Hawks ripped off wins and covers against Chicago and Portland. The week culminated when they blew out the Trail Blazers and averaged 1.247 points per possession. New York has been great, but when fully healthy this is the fourth-best team in the Eastern Conference.

 

10. Miami Heat (11)

Week recap: 3-0 SU/3-0 ATS

 

Dare we say the Miami Heat are back on track? Not only did the Heat win each game last week, but they are in the midst of a larger 7-2 SU and ATS run. Miami has the fourth-most efficient offense in the league over that stretch and led the league in offensive efficiency (125.8) last week. If the offense is back, watch out.

 

11. Dallas Mavericks (14)

Week recap: 3-1 SU/2-2 ATS

 

It is always two steps forward but one step back with the Mavericks. Dallas won its first three games last week, including an impressive win over the Washington Wizards, but then lost by 12 to Sacramento in a game from which Luka Doncic was ejected. The Mavs’ defense struggled in the last two games, allowing the Wizards and Kings to average 1.199 points per possession.

 

12. Washington Wizards (16)

Week recap: 3-1 SU/4-0 ATS

 

Russell Westbrook averaged 22.3 points, 15.3 rebounds and 14.5 assists on 51.5% shooting last week, and Washington’s lone loss came by a single point in Dallas. The offense has been peaking, and the Wizards are 13-3 SU/13-2-1 ATS in their last 16 games. They are well on their way to a playoff berth and should be a big favorite to take one of those play-in seeds.

 

13. Boston Celtics (9)

Week recap: 2-2 SU/1-3 ATS

 

I understand that Boston was short-handed, but an outright loss to Oklahoma City as an 11-point favorite is inexcusable. The Celtics had the 27th-ranked defense in the league last week, allowing 118.2 points per 100 possessions, and as a result they were the seventh seed.

 

14. Portland Trail Blazers (18)

Week recap: 4-1 SU/4-1 ATS

 

It was a great four-game run for Portland last week, but their play defensively was clearly unsustainable. Sure enough, Boston and Atlanta ripped the Trail Blazers for 1.198 points per possession in the final two games last week. Friday’s game with the Los Angeles Lakers looms large in the race to escape the top play-in spot.

15. Memphis Grizzlies (12)

Week recap: 1-3 SU/1-3 ATS

 

After a strong stretch in April in which Memphis led the league in offensive efficiency at one point, the offense tanked. The Grizzlies managed just 103.7 points per 100 possessions last week and shot 32.6% from deep. Regression on offense was coming, but this is shocking.

 

16. Los Angeles Lakers (13)

Week recap: 1-3 SU/1-3 ATS

 

Anthony Davis screamed “We’re back” when the Lakers beat a short-handed Denver team on Monday, but that might not be the case. LeBron James tweaked his ankle, and Dennis Schroder might be out for the rest of the regular season due to medical protocols. The next four games are against the Clippers, Trail Blazers, Suns and Knicks. Is this team really going to finish seventh?

 

17. Golden State Warriors (15)

Week recap: 2-2 SU/2-2 ATS

 

Steph Curry can do only so much, and reliance on one player ultimately ends up with some uneven results. The Warriors blew out the Rockets and Pelicans but were held to just 0.831 points per possession against Dallas. Their two games against New Orleans could all but cement their spot in the play-in tournament.

 

18. Toronto Raptors (17)

Week recap: 1-3 SU/2-2 ATS

 

Toronto snapped a three-game slide with a road win over the Lakers, and the offense woke up as Pascal Siakam and Kyle Lowry dropped 30-point double-doubles. The Raptors had eight games left, and three games separate them from Washington. Their season seems all but done, but they might be one of a few teams that still play hard down the stretch.

 

19. New Orleans Pelicans (19)

Week recap: 2-2 SU/1-2-1 ATS

 

The Pelicans’ offense has suddenly disappeared, and their shooting has been the biggest issue. Steph Curry made more 3-point shots than their entire team Monday, and the Pelicans scored less than a point per possession. This team is all but eliminated, but how it handles the last eight games will be fascinating.

 

20. Charlotte Hornets (20)

Week recap: 1-3 SU/1-3 ATS

 

The Hornets are finally healthy, and now they can focus on winning a spot in the Eastern Conference play-in tournament. With LaMelo Ball and Malik Monk on the floor, this team has a 5.1 net rating and a 114.1 offensive rating. This team is different when it is whole, and bettors will start to see that over the next two weeks.

 

21. Indiana Pacers (21)

Week recap: 1-3 SU/1-3 ATS

 

The Pacers’ defense got cooked for 116.9 points per 100 possessions last week, but their offense was perky enough to post a 117.7 offensive rating. They are comfortably inside the top 10 seeds, but their loss to Washington is massive as they are in danger of being the lowest seed in the play-in tournament.

 

22. San Antonio Spurs (22)

Week recap: 0-4 SU/2-2 ATS

 

San Antonio had an awful week, losing every game and getting outscored by 4.3 points per 100 possessions. The Spurs’ defense continued its regression and coughed up 1.173 points per possession, and they are now 21st in defensive efficiency after the All-Star break. They also lost Derrick White for the season. Their stint in the play-in tourney will likely be short.

 

23. Minnesota Timberwolves (25)

Week recap: 2-1 SU/2-0-1 ATS

 

Minnesota has been eliminated, but this team will be on my card often down the stretch. D’Angelo Russell is finally healthy and is a great pairing with Karl-Anthony Towns. This team wants to win to end the season, and it shows in its 5-2 ATS record over the last seven games.

 

24. Sacramento Kings (24)

Week recap: 2-1 SU/2-1 ATS

 

Sacramento deserves credit for beating the Lakers and Mavericks to close out the week. However, the Kings allowed just 1.071 and 1.043 points per possession in those victories, but that is not sustainable for the 30th-ranked defense in the league.

 

25. Chicago Bulls (23)

Week recap: 0-4 SU/0-4 ATS

 

This has been a nightmare for Chicago. In dropping their last four games, the Bulls were outscored by 13.2 points per 100 possessions while scoring less than a point per possession. Nikola Vucevic is banged up, and Zach LaVine missed a massive chunk of time. A team that seemed primed to make the postseason probably won’t even make the play-in.

 

26. Detroit Pistons (26)

Week recap: 0-3 SU/0-3 ATS

 

The young and plucky Pistons have been stripped of their fight. In their three games last week, Detroit ranked 23rd in offensive efficiency, scoring just 105.4 points every 100 possessions. This might be a team looking to pack it in down the stretch.

 

27. Cleveland Cavaliers (27)

Week recap: 0-3 SU/0-3 ATS

 

Cleveland’s net rating was only 5.6 points better than Oklahoma City’s last week, and stars like Darius Garland are missing time. The Cavaliers have some young stars, so they might have some fight left in them when they are healthy. But Larry Nance is done for the year, so that is a massive blow.

 

28. Orlando Magic (29)

Week recap: 3-1 SU/3-1 ATS

 

Where did this come from? Orlando posted the second-best defensive rating in the league last week and dropped just one game. Well, the Magic did play Cleveland, Detroit and Memphis twice, which helps water down the results. No way this team will end the season in this form.

 

29. Houston Rockets (28)

Week recap: 1-3 SU/1-3 ATS

 

Houston ravaged a Giannis-less Bucks team on NFL draft night but averaged less than 1.029 points per possession in the other three games last week. This team is pretty much locked into this spot in the power rankings and will stumble into a few covers the last few weeks.

 

30. Oklahoma City Thunder (30)

Week recap: 1-3 SU/2-2 ATS

 

Oklahoma City took advantage of a short-handed Boston team and covered against Phoenix, which was in a bad scheduling spot. The Thunder are awful and look like they will indeed go Under their win total.

 

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