1. Now that Kevin Garnett will be in street clothes for two weeks, Celtics fans should keep an eye on the Milwaukee Bucks and their performance over the final 13 games. With only a two-game cushion, the Celtics desperately need to stay ahead of Milwaukee, ensuring the 7th seed and a first round match-up against anyone but Miami. In addition, Jeff Green will be called on to step up their games over the 7 games. Green’s offensive production becomes even more vital to Boston’s success.
Darko Index Prediction: Boston finishes 44-38, two games ahead of Milwaukee at 42-40. Jeff Green averages 18-20 ppg in 35 min/game during Garnett’s absence, quieting his critics. However, Boston faces Indiana in the first round, a less-than-ideal match-up.
2. The Heat Streak: If Miami beats Chicago on Wednesday, and New Orleans on Friday, they will be heading into their biggest hurdle before Win #34, which would set the NBA record. That hurdle is the San Antonio Spurs. The game is Sunday night, in San Antonio, and will be televised nationally on NBA TV. An added layer of interest: Popovich rested his trio of elderly stars in the only other Spurs-Heat meeting of the season and got under the wrinkled skin of NBA Czar David Stern by sending them home early. This time, the Spurs are not playing their 7th game in 10 days. I can’t wait for this match-up.
Darko Index Prediction: Miami slips by the Bulls in a tight game on Wednesday, beats New Orleans in a surprisingly tight game, and then rolls into San Antonio on Sunday riding the 29-game streak. What happens in San Antonio? Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter destroy the Miami bench and lead the Spurs to a blowout victory in a huge second-quarter run. Does it matter? Only in the sense that Miami is forced to realize they are not utterly invincible before they meet (and annihilate) the Milwaukee Bucks in mid-April.
3. The battle for the 2nd seed in the East. At the moment, Indiana has a half-game lead on the Knicks and a 2.5 game lead on the Nets. The Knicks have 14 games remaining (7 home, 7 road), the Nets have 12 left (5 home, 7 road), and the Pacers have 11 remaining (4 home, 7 road). While the Nets have more road games, they face only 4 more +.500 opponents, while the Knicks will play 9 of their 14 against +.500 teams.
Darko Index Prediction: The Pacers continue their strong play and end the season with 50 wins, barely edging out both Brooklyn and New York, who finish with 49 wins. Indiana gets the 2nd seed. Brooklyn gets the 3rd seed by virtue of the better division record, which would be the tie-breaker after head-to-head (tied 2-2). Why does it matter? Because the #4 seed gets Miami in Round Two. Tyson Chandler’s absence over the next week may prove to be the difference in which team secures the #3 seed.
4. The Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets are battling for the Western Conference #6 seed. Both have 31 losses as of today (Tuesday, 3/26). The Warriors finish with 7 of 10 at Oracle Arena, with only 3 more games against +.500 teams, while the Rockets have 6 at home and 6 on the road, with 6 more games against +.500 teams.
Darko Index Prediction: With the home cooking, Golden State finishes 48-34, while Houston ends the season at 47-35. Why does it matter? Nobody wants to face #2 seed Oklahoma City, or top seed San Antonio. The Los Angeles Clippers sit at #3, with a 1-game edge on the red-hot Denver Nuggets. Golden State fans would love to see the Warriors match-up with their Pacific-rivals, the Clippers, and the Darko Index would love to watch Steph Curry battle Chris Paul for seven grueling games.