At long last, the playoff picture is pretty much settled in at least one of the conferences. We know the 10 teams in the Eastern Conference that will take part in the postseason, and the only thing that is yet to be determined is the No. 6 seed. The top five seeds are essentially set, but the Brooklyn Nets are trying to hold off the Miami Heat in order to not have to take part in the play-in tournament. Brooklyn only leads Miami by one game after the Nets lost on Tuesday night, while the Heat picked up an easy road win over Detroit in the Motor City.
There’s still a lot to be determined in the Western Conference though. The top four seeds are pretty much set in the West, but only two games separate the No. 5 Golden State Warriors from the No. 9 Minnesota Timberwolves at this point. All five teams are trying to avoid the play-in tournament, but only two teams will be able to lock up a spot in the playoffs proper. Meanwhile, it’s essentially a two-team race for the final spot in the play-in tournament with the Oklahoma City Thunder and Dallas Mavericks duking it out. Utah still has an outside shot too, but the Jazz are 1.5 games out and all three teams have lost three straight games.
NBA Betting Odds at BetRivers Sportsbook
Oklahoma City Thunder at Utah Jazz
At this point, the Oklahoma City Thunder may as well go for it. Oklahoma City has been one of the most surprising teams this season at 38-42, and the Thunder have won too many games to have a realistic chance of winning the lottery. This is a very young team that could benefit from some postseason experience, and OKC already passed at a chance to pack it in when Shai Gilgeous-Alexander missed a few games a couple weeks ago only to return to the lineup.
The Thunder have a half-game lead on the Dallas Mavericks for the last spot in the play-in tournament, and they have just two games left to play in the regular season. Oklahoma City will go on the road to face Utah on Thursday night, but the Jazz seam ready to call it a season after a tough overtime loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night. That loss made it very difficult for Utah to make the postseason given its remaining games, and the team would be hard-pressed to win a game, much less a series in the playoffs with Lauri Markkanen as its best player. Additionally, the Jazz might be ready to shut down Markkanen as he has only played one game over the last eight days due to a hand injury.
Denver Nuggets at Phoenix Suns
You might not think there is value in this game by the NBA betting odds at first glance. The Denver Nuggets will be the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference as long as they win one of their last three games, while the Phoenix Suns are pretty much locked into the No. 4 seed. These two teams are the favorites to win the Western Conference by the NBA futures lines, so it would usually be safe to assume that neither team wants to show much of anything in this relatively meaningless game.
However, Denver head coach Michael Malone is laying down the gauntlet to his team. Malone called the Nuggets soft after they were routed by 21 points by the lowly Houston Rockets on Tuesday night. A win in that game would have led to Denver locking up the No. 1 overall seed, so it’s fair for Malone to be disappointed.
Look for the Nuggets to come out strong in an effort to put the game away in the first half. Meanwhile, the Suns just want to get everyone healthy before the playoffs as this team has been affected by the injury bug this year. Phoenix has already had to deal with two Kevin Durant injuries, and he has only played six games with the team since he was traded. Devin Booker has missed almost 30 games and Chris Paul has missed more than 20 games, so rest should be on the docket for Phoenix given the Suns are almost certainly the No. 4 seed in the West.