We have entered the final third of the NBA regular season and the playoff picture is becoming clearer. In the Western Conference, the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs are flying and should be joined in the playoffs by the Houston Rockets, LA Clippers and Utah Jazz. Over in the Eastern Conference, the Cleveland Cavaliers have finally found consistency and are in pole position to finish the regular season at the top to earn the number one seed status, with the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards hot on their heels. Below them, the Toronto Raptors and Atlanta Hawks are both looking good for a playoff place. But in both conferences, the remaining places are very much up for grabs. It is interesting to take a look at the teams that are hitting form at just the right time and could offer interesting long-shot options when predicting who will win the Conferences and the 2017 NBA Championship.
The Warriors are looking immense at present and are naturally favourites to win the NBA Championship. Paddy Power is offering the best price at 8/11, and they are also heavy favourites to win the Western Conference, with 888 Sport offering a market leading 6/17. They have won it for the last two years in a row, and look just as brilliant this time around, with Kevin Durant bolstering an already exceptional team. But they will not have it all their own way. At 5/1 with Sky Bet, Bet365 and Betfred, the Spurs are an interesting choice to win the Western Conference. They have the second-best record in the league, way better than the Cavs, and they welcome back Pau Gasol after the All-Star break. Then there is the Houston Rockets at 16/1 with Ladbrokes, led by MVP frontrunner James Harden (now 10/11 with Paddy Power). And for a real long-shot, how about the Memphis Grizzlies at 50/1 with William Hill and Coral? They are 7-3 in their last 10 games and have really found their rhythm, with Marc Gasol the driving force. If they could steal fourth seed from the Clippers they would have a good shot.
Things get really interesting in the Eastern Conference thanks to the form of the Wizards and the Celtics. The Wizards have the best record in the east in 2017 and have now achieved as strong a record as the Cavs and Celtics at home. They have just scored 100-plus points for the 22nd straight game, something only 10 teams have achieved since 2000. They are 9-1 in their last 10, the best record in the league at the moment. They have the momentum and can be a real threat in the playoffs. At Boston, Isaiah Thomas is breaking records left, right and centre, and they would also be 9-1 in their last 10 were it not for a controversial defeat at the hands of the Chicago Bulls. Their 8-2 is nevertheless impressive and they are another that could run Cleveland and LeBron James close. The Cavs are just 2/5 with Betfred, which does not offer much value, so the 15/2 at Sky Bet on Boston looks good, as does the 12/1 Boyle Sports is offering on the Celtics. Another team building up a head of steam is Miami, currently 10th in the east but 8-2 in 10 and looking like muscling into playoff contention thanks to their stellar defence. Sky Bet and William Hill are offering 150/1.
Friday sees Harden and the Rockets travel to New Orleans to face the Pelicans, who are 14-15 at home this season. On the road, Houston is 19-11, and while it should be a tight game Houston can sneak this one to consolidate their third position in the Western Conference, and Paddy Power had good odds on a straight win for the Rockets at 5/6. The LA Clippers have found form of late, winning four in a row, but it is unlikely to count for much on the road against the Warriors on Friday. The point spread looks pretty ambitious, however, and Clippers +13 looks good at 10/11 with Paddy Power.