Every team will be in action during the last day of the regular season. All the Eastern Conference teams (plus the Houston Rockets) will have their games tip off at 1 p.m. ET in order to make things as fair as possible, and every Western Conference team save Houston will play at 3:30 p.m. ET. Most of these games are inconsequential as the majority of teams are either eliminated from the postseason already or know their seed, but there are a few games that are going to be extremely important. Those games are largely in the Western Conference, and the most important might be the tilt between the New Orleans Pelicans and the Minnesota Timberwolves. As of Friday morning, New Orleans is the No. 8 seed and tied with the No. 7 Los Angeles Lakers at 41-39, while Minnesota is the No. 9 seed at 40-40. The teams split their two previous regular season meetings, so the winner will earn the tiebreaker and that could prove to be enormous.
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Minnesota Timberwolves at New Orleans Pelicans
It’s been an up-and-down season for the New Orleans Pelicans. They were 23-12 on New Year’s Eve, and they were an odds-on favorite to make the playoffs per the NBA futures odds. However, they collapsed in the new year and were one of the worst teams in the league through the next two-and-a-half months. The Pelicans lost 10 straight games at one point, and they went just 10-25 over their next 35 games.
Many observers wrote them off, but they finally started to turn it around in mid-March. New Orleans has won eight of its last ten games, and the Pelicans will at least be a part of the Play-In Tournament. Their only recent losses have come against Golden State and Sacramento, and they will get to take on the New York Knicks in a meaningless game for the Knicks on Friday night. That will give the Pelicans a day of rest that the Minnesota Timberwolves don’t have, as the T-Wolves will go on the road to face San Antonio on Saturday afternoon.
New Orleans would love to have Zion Williamson available for this game or the Play-In Tournament, as the former No. 1 overall pick has been sidelined since January 2 with a strained hamstring. However, his status is very much in doubt, and Jose Alvarado is out too. Fortunately, Brandon Ingram and C.J. McCollum have been playing at a high level with Ingram scoring at least 22 points in 12 straight games and McCollum making 44.8% of his three-pointers in the month of March.
Minnesota does not match up well with New Orleans. The Timberwolves want to funnel everything into defensive stopper Rudy Gobert, but Karl-Anthony Towns is not a good defender and will have a hard time when he is matched up on Ingram. McCollum, Ingram, and Trey Murphy III have all proven they can hit their threes, and that makes the Pelicans the play.
Utah Jazz at Los Angeles Lakers
A lot of people are jumping on the Los Angeles Lakers’ bandwagon now that Anthony Davis and LeBron James are both in the lineup. The franchise has rallied to insure itself of a spot in the Play-In Tournament, but the Lakers are hoping to catch either the LA Clippers or Golden State in order to be the No. 5 or No. 6 seed and avoid the tournament.
There are real concerns about the health of both stars though. James is still dealing with a foot injury, while Davis has a myriad of afflictions. Both players are questionable to play against the Phoenix Suns on Friday, but it would be surprising if we didn’t see them on the court in the season finale given what’s at stake.
As for Utah, the Jazz have been eliminated from the playoffs. They are now sitting their top three scorers, including breakout star Lauri Markkanen. They pushed the Lakers to the brink a couple nights ago without Markkanen and Jordan Clarkson, but this should be a very pedestrian effort from Utah. Los Angeles will be an enormous favorite by the NBA betting line, and the Lakers could cover all numbers.