Brooklyn - Phoenix
The bubble may have burst for the Phoenix Suns but they remain just one game behind Memphis in the chase for eighth spot in the Western Conference play-off standings.
However, having cooled off after their hot start to the NBA season, the Suns internally must surely be asking themselves whether it is in their long-term interests to reach the post-season.
Phoenix, who visit the Brooklyn Nets on Monday, were never supposed to be this good, this soon, and with a solid nucleus and some valuable Draft picks in their possession, there is a lot to be said for slipping back in the standings with one eye on the future.
So far, the Suns show no sign of such strategic manoeuvring, coming off solid wins over both Boston and Toronto. But as we near the end of the regular season, there will inevitably be some front offices that would rather see a slump engineered to improve lottery odds rather than the sometimes-secondary reward of a first round playoff exit.
A prime candidate is Phoenix although Jeff Hornacek’s candidacy for Coach of the Year and Goran Dragic’s for Most Improved Player would surely be boosted if they beat the cut.
Of course, this wouldn’t be an issue if they were in the East, with Brooklyn currently sixth in the table despite winning five less than their visitors. But with the Suns possessing a 9-6 record on back-to-backs, take them at -2.5 on the handicap at 2.90.
Chicago – Oklahoma City
With Joakim Noah pushing his way into the favourite’s role for Defensive Player of the Year, the Chicago Bulls have maintained a stampede towards third seed in the East. And they’ll try to maintain that momentum when the out-of-sorts Oklahoma City Thunder pay a visit.
OKC’s plans to rest Russell Westbrook in alternative games were exposed when they were crushed by Dallas on Sunday but the All Star is expected to return in Chicago to help a Thunder side which has lost four of its last six on the road.
But the Bulls are playing such exemplary defence that it’s worth looking under points total of 185.5 with the hosts grinding out a third straight win.
Best bet: Back Phoenix at -2.5 on the handicap over Brooklyn at 2.90