This is the last Friday night the NBA will have its usual showcase spot on the nation’s daily sports docket, at least for a few weeks. Next week there will be power conference tournaments rolling, and the March Madness takes over. But the league will go into exile with a couple good games tonight. NBA Friday leads TheSportsNotebook’s daily sports discussion, and then we look ahead into the weekend where each day might be dubbed Big East Saturday and Big Ten Sunday.
The Eastern Conference has a wide-open race among five teams for playoff seeding, and that includes the 4-spot, with its homecourt advantage in the first round. Boston and Atlanta are two of the combatants and they meet in the Garden at 8 PM ET to start an ESPN doubleheader. Then we shift over to the West where it’s Houston-Golden State. The Warriors are #6 in the West, but only four games ahead of the ninth-place Los Angeles Lakers. Most of the discussion about whether the Lakers can make the playoffs focuses on catching Houston or Utah, but Golden State’s spot could be in play too.
Speaking of Utah, they’ll visit Chicago in a non-televised game (at least for those outside the local market and aren’t League Pass subscribers) that affects both of the playoff scenarios described above. On the college front, the teams to watch on a quiet night are Belmont and BYU. Belmont plays Tennessee State in the Ohio Valley semis and is good enough to get in the at-large discussion if they don’t win this tournament. BYU is the one team in the West Coast Conference that could realistically play its way past NCAA locks St. Mary’s and Gonzaga and take a bid from a bubble contender. A victory tonight gives BYU the chance to pull off the upset parlay.
The NHL Network will keep its cameras on the Chicago Blackhawks, who visit Colorado (9 PM ET). The Blackhawks are now 21-0-3 and made it halfway through the shortened season with a point in each game. A more significant race in the playoff picture is Ottawa-NY Rangers, both on the bottom half of the Eastern Conference playoff seeding right now.
BIG EAST SATURDAY
Georgetown, Marquette and Louisville are in a dead-heat for the regular season title and all three teams play in consecutive timeslots to start off Saturday. The Hoyas host Syracuse (Noon ET, ESPN). Then it’s Marquette going to St. John’s (2 PM ET, ESPN). And the tripleheader concludes with Notre Dame-Louisville (4 PM ET, CBS). Let’s see how many of the trio can grab their piece of championship hardware. Please note that both Syracuse and Notre Dame are two games out, so they can’t angle their way in.
The Big East Trifecta is better than the Duke-North Carolina prime-time affair on ESPN at 9 PM ET. If you want an off-the-radar game try San Diego State-Boise State (3:30 PM ET, NBC Sports Network). Boise is indisputably on the bubble and I think San Diego State could end up there if they lose here and go out in the first game of the conference tournament next week—quite possibly a rematch with Boise in the 4-5 game.
NHL action runs all day, with the tripleheader starting at 1 PM ET. It goes Boston-Philadelphia, St. Louis-San Jose and Pittsburgh-Toronto. The NBA jumps in at night with a 7:30 PM ET tip between the Jazz and Knicks from MSG. That’s a pretty good game if you’re not burned out from the all-day Big East action and don’t feel like having ESPN pretend that Duke-Carolina is really a big deal this year.
BIG TEN SUNDAY
Indiana controls its destiny in the Big Ten race, but that control is with a big caveat—they have to win at Michigan. If the Wolverines hold serve at home, it gives not only them, but Michigan State and Ohio State a chance to create a championship that could split four ways. Ohio State plays to keep its hopes alive at 12:30 PM ET on ESPN when they host Illinois. This is the Illini’s chance for payback when they lost a season finale in Columbus in 2005, a game that cost them an undefeated regular season. Then CBS picks it up at 4 PM with the Indiana-Michigan game. If the Wolverines win and you get the Big Ten Network, keep watching basketball at 6 PM ET when the Spartans host Northwestern.
ABC will carry an NBA doubleheader of Boston-Oklahoma City and Chicago-LA Lakers, with the four teams representing just about every race possible in the playoff hunt—the Lakers for survival itself, the Thunder for the top seed in the West and the Celtics and Bulls in the aforementioned Eastern Conference dogfight. Action starts at 1 PM ET from OkC. And for some reason the Pacers-Heat got shunted to NBA-TV at 6 PM ET. Although we should note this more a game that’s about “message-sending”, if you believe in that concept, than actual seeding consequences.
The NHL will be on NBC at 12:30 PM ET, with Rangers-Capitals. It’s a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference semi-finals, but both teams—especially Washington—are still struggling this year. NBC Sports Network finishes the evening off with a ho-hum game between Buffalo-Philadelphia. Unless hockey is the only sport you watch, that’s not a game that should trump Indiana-Miami, or the one notable college game of Maryland-Virginia (6 PM ET, ESPNU) where the Cavs probably need to win and the Terps definitely need to win—and keep winning next week.
CLEAN-UP FROM THURSDAY NIGHT
I’m disgusted at every level. Wisconsin, the team I root for, looked awful in a 58-43 loss to Michigan State. And my best bet of the night was Louisiana Tech (-2) at New Mexico State and the Bulldogs only lost by 18. My best bets are now down (-3.3) betting units in the first week of doing this, leading me to give thanks that the betting is purely hypothetical. I will take a shot tonight on an NBA game, with Toronto (+7.5) at the Lakers. Los Angeles is unfocused enough, and Toronto talented enough with Rudy Gay, to make me think the line can be covered and an outright upset even a reasonable 35 percent possibility. But this hypothetical bet is just with the points.
By the way, if you’re into horse racing, or just want to learn more about it, my podcasting colleague Greg DePalma has a show today that focuses on a couple notable Derby Prep races from California and Florida. Visit Prime Sports Network and check it out.