Miami - Indiana
There’s more than bragging rights on the line when the Miami Heat take on the Indiana Pacers on Friday night. A psychological boost is on offer, as is an opportunity to prop up sagging form.
And, quite probably, the prize of top seeding in the East – and potentially, homecourt advantage in the Conference Finals - as the playoffs come into view.
From being the top two in the title betting all season long, Miami and Indiana are both staggering towards the post-season rather than strutting their stuff.
The Pacers have won just three of their last ten and now boast a mere 1/2 game lead over their rivals, thanks only to a narrow win over Milwaukee on Wednesday that saw their entire starting line-up rested.
The Heat have fared little better, losing three of their last four and coming out on top in just 10 of their last 21 outings. While the reigning champions are 5.00 to face San Antonio again in this season’s finals, the balance of power appears to have shifted to the West where the Spurs, Oklahoma City, LA Clippers and the Houston Rockets are all demonstrating serious credentials. A good reason why their Conference is 1.82 to deliver this year’s winners with the East at 1.95.
The problems with both Miami and Indiana are numerous but intangible. Self-belief is an issue, clearly, while their mid-season momentum has been lost. Neither has the consistency they would wish for with losses both to poor opponents as well as their fellow elite. While the Heat could, behind LeBron James, find another gear, it’s hard to see how the Pacers dig themselves out of this trough, especially with Paul George’s shocking loss of form.
This is still, in all probability, a preview of the Eastern Finals with Miami set to be without Dwyane Wade for a ninth straight game. Expect a low scorer, below 190.5 points, with little to separate the falling giants.
With the Cleveland Cavaliers now out of playoff contention, where will their heads lie when they travel to the Milwaukee Bucks?
The hosts’ only target is to retain their status as the worst team in the league and the highest lottery odds. After six consecutive losses, that should remain their possession.
But the Bucks have kept fighting and with the Cavs left with nothing to play for, have a punt on Milwaukee at 2.55 for a rare win.
Best bet: Stay under 190.5 total points in Miami-Indiana at 1.40