The mantle of “primary challenger to the Heat” seems to change every week in the Eastern Conference. For a brief interlude, the Bulls dreamed of having Derek Rose back in time for the second season, perhaps given them the best chance of unseating the champs. Then Rajon Rondo went down, the Celtics went up, and perhaps it was Boston who could duplicate last year’s insane Conference Finals effort and perhaps take it a step further.
But the team most experts agreed had the “best” chance of doing some damage was the Indiana Pacers. However, if last night’s pathetic home effort against the Oklahoma City Thunder was any indication, they are anything BUT a legitimate threat.
That leaves the New York Knicks. The Knicks are 3-1 against the Heat (though the last win was sans Lebron and Wade) and are currently on an eleven game win streak. So can the Knicks and Carmelo really challenge the Heat??
My bet? Not a chance… the only real drama in the East will be to see if the Heat open as the most prohibitive Vegas favorite to win their conference since the Jordan-era Bulls.
Things might be a little mundane in the East, but the West is abuzz with the most talked about race for the 8th seed in history. The race remained tight last night with the Lakers ENORMOUS two point home win over the Grizzlies, which enabled them to hold their half-game lead over the Jazz, who also won at home over the Hornets. Both teams have tough schedules to close the season and we’ll be sure to have plenty of picks for the most important games down the stretch.
Let’s get to an interesting matchup tonight.
Toronto Raptors at Milwaukee Bucks -6 (Total: 202)
The Bucks have been terrible lately, and have yet to officially wrap up a playoff berth, though it is still all but assured. A win tonight over the Raptors would make it official, and it is a good team to have coming to town if you are a Bucks fan. They have beaten the Raptors nine times in a row.
The Bucks would love to move into the 7th seed and avoid a first round matchup with the Heat, but losing 10 of 14 has all but closed the door on that possibility. However, this is still a team in full-out go-for-it mode, so I expect a good effort at home to try and stop the slide and lock up a post-season berth. It may not have been an impressive season, but in Milwaukee, a trip to the postseason can be viewed as a small success.
Both teams played road games last night, so fatigue shouldn’t be a huge separating factor in this matchup, though the road team in back-to-backs has a tendency to fare more poorly. I like Milwaukee in this matchup regardless, but add in home court advantage against a team that got blown out in New York last night; and a team they’ve have beaten nine times in a row – and it all adds up to a nice Milwaukee victory.
Free Pick: Milwaukee Bucks -6