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Best Remaining Races in the NBA: How Late Pursuits Could Impact Betting

Division races do not mean as much these days but the play-in situation does make for some intriguing chases for particular spots in both conferences. There will be several games down the stretch in which these races within the race impact the NBA lines. Here’s a look at a few.


Best Remaining Races in the NBA: How Late Pursuits Could Impact Betting
Jamal Murray #27 of the Denver Nuggets/Henderson/Getty Images/AFP

Western Conference

This isn’t down to a two-team race as the Nuggets sit in third place just two games out and the Clippers are four back, but that’s about as spread out as it’s been all season. Minnesota and Oklahoma City are threatening to create a little pack out front, perhaps with Denver lurking, for that No. 1 seed in what is – again – the superior conference.

It’s not the end-all-be-all, but the NBA champion in seven of the last 11 years did win its respective conference. The Timberwolves, Thunder, and Nuggets are a combined 69-17 at home this season, so playing there has been a huge part of their success. Expect these teams to go all out in the closing days if the No. 1 and/or No. 2 seeds are still up for grabs, and adjust your strategy at the sportsbook accordingly.

Minnesota and Oklahoma City have already completed their season series, splitting four games. Same with the Thunder and Nuggets, with OKC taking three of four to give them a head-to-head edge. But the Timberwolves have to play Denver three more times, which could add some excitement.

We’re several weeks from all of that making a huge difference in your online betting, but put it on the back burner for games such as Minnesota at Denver on April 10.


Second in the East

The Boston Celtics are running away with the East and have a healthy lead on best overall record, giving a truly dominant home team the inside track on homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs.

Cleveland and Milwaukee have settled into a tight two-team tussle for the second seed. New York is a few games back in fourth but the Knicks are slumping and there’s a chance the Cavs and Bucks find themselves on a little island in between Boston and the rest.

While Cleveland has roughly the same record at home (20-10) that it does on the road (18-10), playing in Milwaukee is a big deal for the Bucks. Their 10-win discrepancy between home (24) and road (14) is easily the largest in the East.

Playing for the right to host a potential Eastern Conference semifinals matchup could come into play in the last week or so. Unfortunately, these two Midwest Division squads have finished their season series, splitting four games.


Race to the Top Six

Perhaps the best result of the play-in format is that it creates a mini-race in the middle of both conferences. Some of those good-but-not-great teams scramble to make the top six and avoid having to fight through a play-in game, or perhaps two, just to get into the playoffs.

This will likely change, but as of now, the East has five teams fighting for the last three spots in that conference’s top six. New York, Miami, and Philadelphia are in fourth through sixth with Indiana and Orlando right there – all five teams separated by just 2½ games.

It’s quite likely that a tiebreaker will be needed somewhere in this group. Head-to-head comes first, after which a division leader gets precedent. That might come into play for Miami and Orlando, currently separated by a half-game atop the Southeast. The Heat have won three of their four meetings, so that’s moot, but if one of them is tied with another team in this group and their head-to-heads are even, then a division-winning Miami or Orlando squad would take the tiebreaker.

Out West, there may be even more intrigue, as the back end of the play-in pool (spots nine and 10 in the conference standings) are taken up by the Lakers and Warriors, two veteran teams who have been playing good ball over the past few weeks.

That’s made for a bunched-up scenario in which six teams separated by 3½ games are fighting over two non-play-in spots. And the fact that it has Steph and LeBron – who just authored the best comeback of his career – bringing up the rear, KD’s Suns leading the way (currently) and Luka and Kyrie nestled in the middle makes this down-ballot race a great one.

At least two of those star-studded teams will be in a play-in game, in all likelihood, a fate they’d love to avoid. Think about all of this when analyzing the NBA odds down the stretch.


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Questions Of The Day

Is there a game on Thursday’s schedule that impacts these NBA races?

There are several, but most notably we have the Warriors at the Knicks and the Heat at the Nuggets on our radar. Size up the NBA spreads there, as those should be some fun games on which to have a little action.

Are there any other tiny NBA races to watch?

The lottery system doesn’t allow much for tanking, as the bottom three teams all have the same chances of getting the top pick. Perhaps a team like Charlotte will go into full tank mode to try to get into that bottom trio and give itself a slightly better shot at a No. 1 pick.



The odds and predictions in the article are based on the time of writing and publication. They may differ as to when the actual event takes place.

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