San Antonio have made the postseason every year since 1998, but that run is under threat as their star player wages a low-key war with one of most stable franchises in the league, writes Mark Kirwan....
"The perennial playoff contenders are now scrapping for a lower seeding. Six wins in their last six games, including victories over four other Western playoff hopefuls, suggests minds have focused in west Texas on the closing month of the season."
San Antonio Spurs @ Milwaukee Bucks
Sunday March 25th, 20:30 GMT
Live on Betfair Video and BT Sport 1
During their 20-year streak as a playoff contender San Antonio have secured a reputation for management of player health, unflashy efficiency and lack of drama.
That makes the controversy around their leading talent Kawhi Leonard, who refuses to play despite being medically cleared by the Spurs staff, all the more surprising.
Through the opening months of the season coach Greg Popovich guided San Antonio to third place in the West despite Leonard's injury, but since the turn of the year the issue has affected the team on and off the court. The Spurs lost seven of nine in February, and the start of March was not much better.
The perennial playoff contenders are now scrapping for a lower seeding. Six wins in their last six games, including victories over four other Western playoff hopefuls, suggests minds have focused in west Texas on the closing month of the season.
LaMarcus Aldridge has been forced to lead the team without Leonard. He secured the Spurs' only All Star berth this season, and hit a career-high 45 points against the Jazz this week.
San Antonio also still lead the league defensively, and their effort ought to ensure the streak lives on for another season.
Their task this evening against Milwaukee will be made easier if Giannis Antetokounmpo cannot line out.
Milwaukee's all star forward made a big splash in last season's playoffs, his performance in a tight series against Toronto putting his considerable name on the lips of many league watchers.
The Bucks could be in line to face Toronto again this year. The Raptors will likely be first seeds this year however, while the Bucks could limp in at eight. They could also miss out completely, which would be a major failure for a season where a lot was expected.
Milwaukee have covered the spread just four times in their last 18 games. If Giannis cannot play, expect that trend to continue. Take San Antonio with the points on the Handicap market at [1.9].
Los Angeles Clippers @ Toronto Raptors
Sunday March 25th, 23:00 GMT
Live on Betfair Video
The Raptors five game lead at the top of the East ought to be unassailable at this point. They play Boston twice and Cleveland once in their closing nine games, which could give a glimpse of the conference finals, but should not make a difference in the standings.
Toronto have won 20 of their last 23 games. Their 30-6 home record makes the Air Canada Centre the toughest venue to visit in the league based on numbers.
Recent form has seen them dip slightly, their offence failing to cover the spread in their last five games.
They've allowed sub-standard teams build leads against them before late fight-backs recently too. Most recently the Nets. DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry collected 21 points in the fourth quarter as Toronto turned a seven point deficit into a four point win.
The Clippers will take all wins, pretty or ugly, at this stage. They sit two games out of the playoffs with ten left on their schedule. Any win will do.
They've had a brutal run of fixtures in the last ten days. Houston, OKC, Portland, Minnesota and Indiana have beaten LA in that span, their only win coming against the Bucks when Giannis left the game injured.
Doc Rivers' team is clearly in transition, Blake Griffin's trade to Detroit signalling the end of an era. Since that move, there have been signs of improvement, but the coach's future is as much in the balance as the team's, a postseason appearance would make it a lot easier to argue the case for his staying.
DeAndre Jordan is an asset, either on court or as a trade piece. Tobias Harris has performed well, and Avery Bradley, when healthy, can be very good.
Both of these teams can score. Neither are trustworthy on the spread at the moment. I would look at Over 225.5 on the Total Points market at [1.96].
Portland Trail Blazers @ Oklahoma City Thunder
Monday March 26th, 00:00 GMT
Live on Betfair Video
The top two teams in the most competitive division in the league meet in a game that could decide seeding in the first round of the playoffs.
All five teams could make the postseason, but Portland and Oklahoma are the stand out contenders, holding third and fourth in the West behind Houston and Golden State.
Portland have burst into life in the second half of the season, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum leading the team on a 13 game winning streak, that was only ended by the Rockets earlier this week.
This run saw the Blazers streak ahead of other playoff contenders to grab third spot in the Western conference, a spot that many would've expected the Thunder to own, especially with San Antonio struggling.
That's not to suggest Russell Westbrook, Paul George and company have been slacking. OKC's form has been almost as strong as Portland's in recent weeks. If OKC can knock off Portland here they'll overtake them in the standings as the season's end looms.
This should be very closely fought. Losses to Houston and Boston have stalled Portland's surge. A trip to OKC is not what they'll have wanted.
I would still look at the Trail Blazers on the Handicap market at [1.99] though, as they know how much is at stake and should play this very tight.