You could argue it’s never been tighter at the top of the Eastern Conference standings than it is right now with just two games separating the top five teams (and only 5.5 separating the top nine). Two of those top five will face off on Sunday when Philly visits Chicago, and that matchup is one of eight on a busy and important day in the NBA.
Elsewhere, Atlanta visits Dallas, and the new-look Clippers host the Bucks. All these teams are essentially auditioning their rosters to see if adjustments need to be made before Thursday’s trade deadline.
That’s the question for coaches and general managers, but for bettors, the only thing that matters is covering a spread. We think these three teams will get the job done today:
It seemed like the Celtics were sleepwalking for much of the last three months, but their first four-game win streak couldn’t have come at a better time. Nor could this game against the worst-in-the-East Orlando Magic. Admittedly, they’re playing a little better of late, but this is not a team to trust over a long sample size, and Boston is solid with its last six wins coming by an average of nearly 23 per game.
The Celts are also 7-4 as road favorites this season, and they should take this one handily.
Don’t look now, but the Pelicans are making an unexpected playoff push. They’re still on the outside looking in, and the team is only 20-32 on the season, but after Portland’s recent swoon, they now trail the Blazers by just a half game for the final spot in the conference play-in tournament. And Portland just traded two of its most important role players in Norman Powell and Robert Covington to the Clippers without getting much value in return.
That makes this and every subsequent game noticeably more important for New Orleans as it strives to get its young core some quality playoff reps. And this one is very winnable against the bottom-dwelling Rockets, who are just 8-16 against the spread at home this season, including three home losses last week by an average of nearly 20 points per contest. The Pelicans should cover the 4.5 with some ease.
Pack it in or push for the playoffs? That was the question facing Clippers management following Paul George’s injury, and the answer to that would possibly determine if we saw George or Kawhi Leonard again this season.
We still aren’t sure about the latter, but on the first question, LA gave a resounding “Yes!” when it traded for Norman Powell and Robert Covington earlier this week. The team needed reinforcements, and they got them. They had relied on a bevy of veterans – Marcus Morris, Serge Ibaka, Reggie Jackson – for about a month and a half, and those players are still important, but they don’t have to carry the entire load, and Clippers up and down the roster should perform better as a result.
Milwaukee is obviously a tough squad, but they’ve failed to cover four straight road games, and the Clippers are 14-10 on the season as underdogs. They’ll keep this one close.