Washington - Toronto
A little motivation goes a long way, and it’s worth keeping tabs on the ambitions of the NBA’s Eastern Conference middle-order over the second half of the regular season as they either hurdle towards the Draft lottery or pursue the easiest route into the play-offs in years.
Just five wins separate the Toronto Raptors in fourth place and Orlando in 15th, and while several general managers might have expected to have settled for rebuilding, they now find themselves in the thick of a race to be the least-bad invitee to the post-season. As the trading deadline approaches, expect some to either blow up the bus and get even weaker, or seize the initiative to pull out a genuine challenge.
Toronto, perhaps more by accident than design, look poised to make a run at a once-improbable homecourt advantage in the first round of the play-offs with their fortunes turned around since they traded away Rudy Gay for what looked like a bunch of disposable pieces.
Canada’s team have won four straight and eight out of 10, a spell capped by an emphatic defeat of Indiana two days ago. They’ve held three of their last four opponents to under 83 points and also claimed five out of six on the road.
On Friday, the Raptors travel to the Washington Wizards, who sit one game behind in the Eastern standings and who have definite play-off ambitions.
John Wall scored 37 when the Wiz lost 96-88 north of the border in November, and on current form head under the total points line again as Toronto try to keep grinding out the wins.
LA Lakers - Utah
In the West, even mediocrity won’t get you into the play-offs, hence it’s not looking hopeful for the woeful LA Lakers and the Utah Jazz, who square off in Los Angeles tonight.
The Lakers have lost six straight, including a 105-103 reverse in Utah last week. Although Pau Gasol missed that game, the hosts have further injury woes and the Jazz are good value at either +4.5 on the handicap or 2.50 for the win.
Best bet: Go under the total points line in Washington-Toronto
Read Mark Woods' NBA betting tips every day