Having fallen 2½ games behind the Los Angeles Lakers in the race for the final play-off berth in the NBA’s Western Conference, the Utah Jazz have little margin for error when they host the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night.
A defeat, combined with a win for the Lakers over Golden State, and Utah would be on the brink of missing the post-season. But as favourites by -8.5 points on the handicap to pick up a sixth successive victory over the Wolves in Salt Lake City, the Jazz also know a repeat - coupled with an LA loss - would put them back in pole position as the two-way race heads into the final straight.
Minnesota lost here 106-84 earlier this season and are stumbling towards the summer, having given up 100 points in three consecutive games. This should help Utah, who have failed to break 100 in their last four. The sides also meet in Minneapolis this weekend, where the lottery-bound strugglers lost 97-93 when these sides last faced off in February. So with so much at stake, expect it to be all that Jazz.
That would heap some pressure on the Lakers, who play later against the Warriors. LA have won four or their last five, with those victories coming by an average of 12.2 points. On their own court they will be hard to stop.
The perils of late-season betting may be underlined in Cleveland tonight, when the Cavaliers host New York. The Knicks had their 13-game winning streak ended on Thursday by Chicago and with so many injuries it would seem foolish for coach Mike Woodson not to hold out his stars against the Cavaliers.
The Knicks are still favoured on the handicap by -4.5 at 1.91 but with second seed in the East likely resting on Sunday’s home clash with Indiana, it could open the door to a Cavaliers upset as New York think ahead.
Best bet: Take Utah on the handicap over Minnesota at 1.91