With the end of the regular season looming larger on the horizon we have seen a number of games being played at ‘playoff intensity’ as teams make a final push for the post-season. A number of the league’s top players have put in big performances in the last week. Trae Young had his first 50-point game as the Hawks beat the Heat, Joel Embiid returned the favour with 49 points against the Hawks on Monday night while LeBron James and Anthony Davis paired up for 61 points as the Lakers overcame the Celtics in a thriller at the Staples Center.
Elsewhere in the league, the Bucks became the first team to clinch a playoff spot with their 49th regular season win against the Washington Wizards. In that game, Bradley Beal became the first player since Kobe Bryant (in 2007) to score 50+ points in back-to-back games. He scored 53 in a defeat to the Chicago Bulls on the previous night.
Let’s see what this week has in store for NBA fans.
Boston Celtics @ Utah Jazz
26th February 2020 @ 10:30PM
The Celtics play the fourth and final game of their current roadtrip in Salt Lake City on Wednesday night. This game tips off just over 24 hours after last night’s win/loss to Portland after strong performances in Los Angeles and Minnesota.
That trip to the Staples Center was a litmus test for Brad Stevens’ young Celtics team and they stood up to the challenge. Jayson Tatum went for 41 against some of the league’s best defensive players while Gordon Hayward had a near triple-double while leading the team in minutes.
Many pundits have declined to include as potential NBA Finalists and their odds of +2000 with CanPlay suggests this may be a year too soon. However, they are one of only four Eastern Conference teams to have picked up a win against the Milwaukee Bucks in the regular season this year and they could cause some problems in the playoffs.
Similarly, the Utah Jazz have the potential to cause some upsets in April and May. They are on a three game losing streak since returning from the All-Star break although we have every faith that Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell will find their stride in the coming 20 games.
We’re backing the Jazz to win this one. Home court advantage and an extra day of rest swings the tie in their favour.
Portland Trail Blazers @ Indiana Pacers
27th February 2020 @ 8PM
Another important game with regards to the playoff picture.
In the Western Conference, the Trail Blazers have closed the gap on the Memphis Grizzlies to just two games and they are within touching distance of claiming 8th seed. In the East, the Pacers have slipped back dramatically as they look to incorporate Victor Oladipo back into the starting line-up.
Indiana have lost seven of their last ten and they are currently lined up for a tough 1st round matchup with the Boston Celtics. Nate McMillan’s roster has also been damaged with the news that Jeremy Lamb will miss the remainder of the season after suffering multiple injuries to his left knee.
Portland need to start picking up wins if they want to reach the playoffs. Back Lillard & Co. to do the business on Thursday night.
Denver Nuggets @ Los Angeles Clippers
28th February 2020 @ 10:30PM
2nd plays 3rd in the Western Conference on Saturday night as the Nuggets travel to Los Angeles to face the Clippers. This is the third time these two will have faced each other and Mike Malone’s Nuggets have come out on top on both occasions. Most recently, the Nuggets gave a brilliant team performance in January as they won 114-104 in the Pepsi Center. Kawhi Leonard’s 30 points could not match all-round play of Malone’s men. Eight players recorded double digit points tallies for Denver.
We could see a similar outcome in Saturday night’s game. Paul George has averaged only 13.6 points-per-game over the last 10 as the Clippers have slumped to a 38-19 record. In contrast, Nikola Jokic has averaged well over 20 points-per-game as the Nuggets have won seven of their last ten in the NBA.
Back the Nuggets to continue their good run of form and stretch their advantage over the Los Angeles Clippers. Back Denver to win with CanPlay.