Skip to main content


Powered by:

FanDuel Sponsored Image

Setting The Pick – Playing till the final whistle

Tyrese Maxey Philadelphia 76ers Tyrese Maxey - The Canadian Press

Of the 20 spots allocated for the playoffs and play-in tournament, 17 are still up for contention.

Only two slates remain on the NBA schedule, yet there’s little room to rest for the majority of the league.

Indiana mathematically still has a shot at the third seed, while their worst-case scenario has them finishing as low as eighth.

In the West, three play-in-bound teams are tied with the same record as they seek to avoid the elimination game.

With so many permutations outstanding, it’s impossible to project how the playoff picture will settle.

But the good news for bettors is you’re going to get honest actors over this final weekend – fewer unexpected DNPs and more teams playing playoff-like rotations.

Here are three high-stakes games to circle as the regular season comes to a close.

Game 1 – Orlando Magic at Philadelphia 76ers

Prior to Wednesday night, there was a world where the Magic could’ve miraculously finished second in the East. They would’ve needed to defeat a wounded Milwaukee team and win outright.

Unfortunately, Bobby Portis and company squashed those dreams.

Now, if Orlando lose their final two games they could drop all the way down to the eighth seed. Talk about a range of outcomes.

For Philadelphia, the return of reigning MVP Joel Embiid has totally changed the tone of their season. Upon his return, their odds to win the East were cut from 20-to-1 to its present number on FanDuel, +800.

The Sixers have strung together six straight wins keeping the door open for a guaranteed playoff berth. One of the ways for that to happen requires Philly to win their final two games and Orlando to lose their final two.

That’s what makes this Friday night tilt so critical.

Given the stakes at hand, I anticipate both teams will treat this matchup like a playoff game. No one wants to be in the play-in tournament.

If this is being viewed like an elimination game, bank on rotations to get shorter and superstars to take on more usage.

When comparing their closing time lineups, Orlando’s top-end talent simply can’t compete with Philadelphia’s.

On top of the Sixers being clear favourites for Friday, I expect Tyrese Maxey to be a key engine of their offence against the league’s third-best defence.

He’s shot 50 per cent against the Magic in two games this season and will benefit from the added attention put on Embiid.

In recent games, Orlando has given up big scoring nights to point guards like Damian Lillard (29), Fred VanVleet (37), and CJ McCollum (36).

Count on Maxey to continue the trend.

The play: PHI moneyline and Maxey over points

Game 2 – Phoenix Suns at Sacramento Kings

Few teams will face more pressure during these upcoming playoffs than the Phoenix Suns.

After new owner, Mat Ishbia, green-lit the blockbuster for Kevin Durant last trade deadline, the Suns have been in “championship or bust” mode ever since.

Phoenix came into the year as the second choice to win the Western Conference, but if they’re not careful, they could find themselves facing elimination in the play-in tournament.

The Suns and Kings are currently tied 2-2 in their season series while the Lakers own the tiebreaker over Durant and company. Both teams currently sit two games back of Phoenix.

If the Suns slip up and lose their final games against Sacramento and Minnesota, they could end up hosting the Warriors in a win-or-go-home matchup.

But based on their -1500 price to make the playoffs on the FanDuel, oddsmakers seem confident Phoenix will figure it out.

With Sacramento being forced to play the second night of a back-to-back, the Suns are in an advantageous position, even on the road. 

A big challenge for the Kings has been the loss of Malik Monk, arguably their third-best player this season.

Since his departure, they’ve averaged 111.4 points per game, a sizeable gap from their 117.1 ppg in the games prior.

Additionally, they’ve played in 14 back-to-backs this season and have averaged 110.9 ppg with no rest.

I’m not suggesting the Suns are a defensive force by any means, but in a game with playoff-like intensity, buckets might be harder to come by.

The play: SAC under team total

Game 3 – Los Angeles Lakers at New Orleans Pelicans

Even though the Lakers are locked into the play-in tournament, moving up from the tenth to the eighth seed significantly improves their championship odds.

As it stands, FanDuel has them as 27-to-1 longshots to win the West. Add in the fact that Denver has essentially secured the top seed and we can agree that Los Angeles has every incentive to move up the standings.

The only way L.A. can avoid Denver is to win both Friday and Sunday on top of having the Kings and Warriors lose one additional game each. That’s a lot of scenarios to be played out.

Now, if the Lakers do the unthinkable and lose to Memphis, this is all for naught.

From the Pelicans’ side, they’re not clear of the play-in tournament even with the win over Sacramento on Thursday.

Phoenix will still be within striking distance of sixth if New Orleans fails to create separation tonight; the Suns own the tiebreaker.

Chances are this head-to-head matchup will have the most at stake on Sunday.

With all the chips pushed into the middle, I expect LeBron James to summon a vintage performance.

One of the sneaky ways he makes an impact in high leverage games is on the glass. With 282 playoff games worth of data, his rebounding production jumps by 20 per cent versus the regular season.

His scoring only jumps up by 5 per cent, while his assists actually dip slightly come playoff time.

Over his past five games, he’s failed to clear seven boards. Over three games versus New Orleans this year, he’s grabbed five or less in them all.

There’s a chance his rebounding prop gets dragged down as a result of these two factors, and if so, I see it as a buy-low opportunity in a game that James will put it all on the line for.

The play: James over rebounds