Golden State venture east to take on the Timberwolves this Sunday evening without their talismanic leader Steph Curry. The guard's absence should not hinder them in this game, but, with Houston challenging, the shadow of his injury history looms large, writes Mark Kirwan....
"The Warriors have battled through without their main man this season, going 11-6 when Curry-less, but the prospect of him missing crucial games in a tough Western bracket come playoff time is worrying"
Golden State Warriors @ Minnesota Timberwolves
March 11, 19:30 GMT
Live on Betfair Video and BT Sport 3
Steph Curry's career has been defined by the strength of his ankles. His early years in the league featured several absences due to repeated ankle sprains and the cumulative damage of these issues jeopardised his future.
GSW stood by him and have benefited from his stellar play at a reduced price, building a dynasty, and adding strength on strength by signing Kevin Durant to an already dominant roster. But the gnawing fear that the face of the franchise could disappear with one awkward landing is never far away.
"It's just always a hold-your-breath type of moment when that happens," Draymond Green said this week following the Warriors win over the Spurs, where Steph ankle gave way after attempting a lay-up.
Green spoke for all Warriors fans. It's the second time in recent weeks Curry has given cause for concern, tweaking the same ankle at Atlanta days previously.
The Warriors have battled through without their main man this season, going 11-6 when Curry-less, but the prospect of him missing crucial games in a tough Western bracket come playoff time is worrying.
Minnesota have ailments of their own to worry about though.
Jimmy Butler's loss has taken a lot of the swag out of the T'Wolves threat in the West. Prior to his season-ending loss, Minnesota were one of the friskier looking teams beneath the Rockets and Warriors at the top of the West.
Though never quite convincing - their memorable loss in double overtime to Cleveland seems emblematic of their nearly-team status - they looked like they could make charge come May.
Not any more. They've lost three games on the bounce, and seven of their last 11.
GSW won't make it easy to cease this form on Sunday. The Timberwolves have covered the handicap just twice in that 11 game run. Take Golden State -5 at [1.96].
Cleveland Cavaliers @ Los Angeles Lakers
March 12, 01:00 GMT
Live on Betfair Video and BT Sport 1
Following their deadline overhaul, the Cavaliers looked to be turning a corner. Striking wins over Boston and OKC heralded the arrival of George Hill, Rodney Hood and Larry Nance Jr in Cleveland, and rivals in the weaker East may have wondered if Cleveland would now surge through to May.
They need not have worried. The Cavs have reverted to their inconsistent form since, going 4-5 straight-up and 3-6 against the spread in recent weeks.
Cleveland's only wins since the deadline over playoff caliber teams have come against Clippers and Nuggets teams who vying for the eighth seed in the West.
The most interesting aspect of this match-up from a Lakers point of view is that fans in the Staples Centre might be looking at their new leader for next season.
With LeBron out-of-contract this summer, rumours continue to swirl that he will make #LABron reality. Paul George's probable availability is generating chatter of another super team on the California coast.
At the moment, this is fantasy, but the Lakers do have reason for optimism even if these probable free-agents go elsewhere.
Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma - all under 23 - are a core the Lakers can look to build around even without the signing of a star player or two.
Ball's play has stabilised in recent months after a rough start to his debut season, and he's now scoring at a steady pace while leading the team in assists, even with Isaiah Thomas on the roster.
The Lakers still, mathematically, can make the playoffs, but don't bank on it. Not bottoming out is a sign of progress here. They should play an erratic Cleveland close, but I would expect LeBron to put on a show for his possible new home crowd. Back the Cavaliers -2.5 at [1.94].
Philadelphia 76ers @ Brooklyn Nets
March 11, 11:30 GMT
Live on Betfair Video
Ball has also benefited from Ben Simmons grabbing the attention of the national media away from Hollywood and focusing it on Philly's young team.
The Sixers are reaping the benefits of a prolonged period in the doldrums, so much so that Markelle Fultz's apparent loss of all shooting ability can be looked at (for now) as a minor diversion from their improving play on the court.
Two players who've endured stuttering starts to their professional careers have been central to this. While Joel Embiid leads the team in scoring, making his first All Star bow this year, it is second year Aussie point guard Ben Simmons who is drawing comparisons to all-time greats with his play recently.
Simmons ties for fifth in the league in assists per game this season, challenging more illustrious names in his first healthy season as a pro.
His play makes Philly an interesting threat in the East, where they are currently sixth and could meet LeBron's Cavaliers in a mouth-watering first round pairing.
The Nets are looking to end the season on a high. They lost their starting point guard Jeremy Lin in the season opener, immediately dampening expectations.
D'Angelo Russell has also missed significant time, and hopes of a post-season return for the worst team in the league last season disappeared.
Their absences did allow Spencer Dinwiddie to emerge as an intriguing talent. With his play, the Brooklyn backcourt begins to look crowded, and, since Russell's return, these two have not shown the chemistry fan would've hoped for. Decisions will need to be made in off-season.
The Nets are still playing though. The Sixers have covered just twice in their last 11 games on the road. I would take the home underdog with the points at [1.95].