Coach Pop played it straight last night and let his full complement of starters and key reserves play their normal amount of minutes. The result was the second straight season-sweep of the Dallas Mavericks, and more importantly, lowered their magic number to one in terms of locking up of the top seed in the Western Conference. A single win by the Spurs or loss by the Thunder in their combined seven remaining games ensures that the road to the Finals will go through San Antonio, which all but seals the playoff seeding.
Meanwhile, the East will take a huge step towards resolution tonight when the Heat and Pacers conclude their season series with each team struggling but the stakes at an all-time regular season high. These two teams are tied in the loss column, with the Pacers holding the tiebreaker advantage. A win tonight by the Pacers would essentially put them 1.5 games ahead while a win by the Heat would force the Pacers to run the table (which would mean winning against OKC Sunday on ABC) and hoping for one more Miami slip-up.
This game tonight is HUGE. And I’ll admit up front – I’m not picking it. With Dwyane Wade’s status in question, there are too many uncertainties to hazard a wager this early in the day. But I am looking forward to watching. If you are looking to put some action on the game, keep an eye on what the Heat plan to do with D-Wade tonight before throwing down on the matchup…
Tonight’s Free Pick:
New Orleans Pelicans at Oklahoma City Thunder -15 (Total: 198)
There’s the sitting your entire starting lineup move that Frank Vogel pulled, and then there’s the sitting your entire starting lineup move that the Pelicans are backed into pulling. Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson and Jason Smith sounds like a lineup that could give the Suns, Mavs and Grizz a challenge, right? Well, that’s the MASH report for the Pelicans who will have all five in street clothes and Anthony Davis joins the barely-walking wounded for the rest of the season. Who is the starting lineup for tonight? If you can name THREE of them off the top of your head, a tip of the cap to you for reallllly getting your money’s worth out of your NBA League Pass…(good guesses would include Anthony Morrow, Brian Roberts, Jeff Withey, and not Smush Parker. Smush would be a bad guess.)
The result is a team with absolutely no chance to compete against the Thunder tonight. I don’t expect them to extend Westbrook and Durant a ton tonight with Indiana looming on Sunday and San Antonio in the immediate rear-view, but even this classic trap-game recipe won’t be enough to make this game tonight any more than the JV scrimmaging the varsity.
Expect OKC to get up huge and coast to a twenty-plus win. There might be some garbage time moments in the 4th quarter that make you worry about the backdoor cover, but I’ll have enough faith that KD and crew put the margin SO wide early that the cover is all but a foregone conclusion by the mid-third.