If the Los Angeles Clippers still harbour hopes of competing for top seed in the Western Conference, then a victory in San Antonio on Friday night ranks high on their to-do list. The Clips are 5½ games behind the Spurs in first and although they’re a near certainty to clinch their first-ever Pacific Division crown and the best record in franchise history, there is still homecourt advantage to be secured.
But the Clippers are feeling the heat after just four wins in their last seven, with Denver and Memphis threatening an assault on their position. And for the first time this season, the speculation has restarted over the merits of head coach Vinny Del Negro as a long-term architect of success, especially with Chris Paul’s free agency looming. That’s why even at 15.00, the Clips look unlikely to make a run at the title which their early season form suggested was a possibility.
The Spurs might just be only team capable of thwarting Miami for the title because of their superb offensive execution and they’re 8.00 to take the championship. Over their last 44 games, San Antonio are 35-9, a run which included a 116-90 victory over the Clippers in which Paul had just four points and Tony Parker 31. Expect more of the same tonight.
Another side feeling the squeeze are the Houston Rockets, who have slid back into a battle to secure one of the last few post-season berths in the West. But if there is some hope, it is in their improved defence. The Rockets, who visit Memphis this evening, haven’t given up more than 96 points in their last four, averaging well below their season mark of 102.6 per night.
Only five of their last 11 opponents have .500 records or better, which gives them a fighting chance of surviving the cut. And with the Grizzlies losing three of their last four, and suffering without Marc Gasol, back the Rockets for lift-off.
Best bet: Take Houston to defeat Memphis at 2.70