The NBA playoffs are in sight (they start on April 13) but there are still plenty of reasons to watch (and bet on) the remaining regular season matchups. In doing so, here are a few themes to keep in mind:
Growing injury panic
We have reached that stress-inducing point in the season where teams are trying to balance meaningful games with avoiding injuries. In recent days, we have seen a knee injury for the Portland Trail Blazers’ C.J. McCollum, a foot injury for the Milwaukee Bucks’ Malcolm Brogdon and minor issues for the Boston Celtics’ Gordon Hayward and Al Horford as well as an ankle injury for the Toronto Raptors’ Kyle Lowry.
Of that group, only Brogdon is seemingly in danger of missing postseason action, with his recovery timeline expected to be four to six weeks, but one misstep or bad landing now can derail a whole season. It is hard to be critical of teams that try to build in some rest for their stars over the final weeks of the regular season - but keep an eye on the injury report.
The race for the third seed in the West
The Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder and Blazers would all surely prefer to delay a potential showdown with the Golden State Warriors until the Western Conference Finals, so look for this trio to be going all out for the third seed. But all three have reason to be looking over their shoulder too - James Harden is showing some signs of wear and tear in Houston, McCollum is out for Portland while the Thunder have been erratic over the past month.
The Rockets hold a slight advantage in the standings but there are still key games to be played. Do not count out a late surge from the San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers or Utah Jazz either. They are within touching distance of home court advantage are have health on their side.
The fight for the third seed in the East
With the Indiana Pacers in the midst of a rough West Coast swing, the Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics are left to fight for the third seed - and they meet on Wednesday night. On current form, look for the 76ers (currently third) to hang onto that spot.
If the top seeds all survive the first round, that would mean 76ers-Raptors and Bucks-Celtics in the conference semi-finals. On paper, those are two phenomenal series.
The tanking battle
The three teams with the worst records in the league have the best chance of landing the number one pick in the draft. Currently that is the New York Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers and Phoenix Suns. But the Chicago Bulls are within touching distance of breaking into that group.
There will be jockeying for position on this front (and for some of the other lottery spots) over the last few weeks of the season. Weigh up the spreads accordingly.