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Entering the final weekend of NBA seeding play, some teams are still fighting for their playoff lives, while others seem like they've checked out. (We're looking at you, Los Angeles.) Here are our best bets for Saturday's slate.
It's far too early to fade the Lakers as legitimate title contenders, but it might be time to start shorting them in seeding play. Los Angeles is 1-4 against the spread in Orlando with a minus-7.6 net rating - second-worst behind the winless Wizards.
It wouldn't be fair to say that L.A. is quitting on the bubble, but it wouldn't be a stretch. Three of the Lakers' seven losses by 15-plus points have come this week alone, and they've been outscored in the fourth quarter in each of their last four games. Can you blame them? They've clinched the No. 1 seed out West and have no shot of catching the Bucks for home-court advantage in the Finals.
Conversely, the Pacers are locked in a tight race for the No. 4 seed in the East and have played like it, boasting a 3-1 record with one of the best net ratings (plus-2.4). Thursday's loss to the surging Suns was a setback, but Indiana is stellar in this spot. They own a 5-1 ATS record this year following a loss of 15 or more points. It's worth backing the Pacers here at a great price.
Pick: Pacers +8
On Thursday, we wondered aloud whether we should take the Suns seriously after an impressive 3-0 start to seeding play. Then, they took it to the Pacers to erase any doubts about the legitimacy of their hot start.
Look, we aren't saying the Suns are suddenly "good" in a traditional sense, but the numbers don't lie. Phoenix is undefeated ATS with the second-best net rating in the bubble (plus-8.0) and owns a top-eight offense and defense. Its once-slim playoff hopes are now within arm's reach, making Saturday's game against the Heat a must-win.
To Miami's credit, losses against the Bucks and Raptors shouldn't diminish how well they've played this week, especially with star Jimmy Butler on the mend. He'll miss Saturday's game, too, and guard Goran Dragic's status is in question.
The Heat are one of the best bets in the NBA when fully healthy, but their suffocating defense has fallen apart this year when depth and chemistry aren't on their side. These two teams are trending in opposite directions, so ride the red-hot Suns while there's still value.
Pick: Suns +2.5
C Jackson Cowart is a betting writer for theScore. He's an award-winning journalist with stops at The Charlotte Observer, The San Diego Union-Tribune, The Times Herald-Record, and BetChicago. He's also a proud graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, and his love of sweet tea is rivaled only by that of a juicy prop bet. Find him on Twitter @CJacksonCowart.