While there were just the two NBA games on Thursday night, the two clashes had huge ramifications for the run-in and beyond.
The clashes featured the leaders of both conferences and the top three sides in the overall league standings were in action as the Milwaukee Bucks hosted the Boston Celtics and the Denver Nuggets faced the New Orleans Pelicans.
The Pelicans are far from the odd side out, as they’re in the middle of the Western Conference’s bitter Play-in battle. That fight for the top 10 is set to run through to the final day next Sunday, making it the biggest factor for the regular season run-in.
The Celtics’ clash with the Bucks was billed as a Play-off preview, but the result would have made it one of the great postseason blow-outs.
Their 140-99 win on the Bucks’ turf would have been up there with that infamous Dallas Mavericks win at Phoenix last season, as the league leaders were torn apart.
Jayson Tatum had a stellar night, racking up 40 points thanks to making eight of his 10 three-point shots. He was followed by Jaylen Brown who had 30, while they limited Giannis Antetokounmpo to 24 points.
The Greek Freak played 25 minutes in total and the Bucks lost out by 32 points in those minutes he played. It was truly Tatum’s night, but the Celtics clicked as a team and they moved the ball incredibly well.
The clash did start with a Play-off feel as the pair traded leads early on, but the Celtics took control of the encounter by the end of the first quarter. They had an eight-point lead after the first 12 minutes, which was extended to 28 by half-time.
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The Celtics’ lead reached 49 points at one stage and they closed out to hand the Bucks their joint-heaviest loss of the campaign so far.
Boston finished the night two games shy of the Bucks at the top of the east standings, but turning that around with five games to go looks like a tall order.
The Bucks are 2/13 favourites to secure the top seed, while the Celtics are a 17/4 chance.
The result has left things tight in the Eastern Conference betting. The Bucks are 13/10 favourites to return to the NBA Finals, but the Celtics are nipping at their heels at 6/4.
The pair remain the two favourites for the title and any future series is set to be a lot more competitive than this.
The Celtics host the Utah Jazz next before a showdown for second with the Philadelphia 76ers, while the Bucks could do the Celtics a favour when they return to action against the Sixers on Monday.
The New Orleans Pelicans did their postseason hopes a world of good with a 107-88 win at Western Conference leaders the Denver Nuggets.
The hosts were without reigning MVP Nikola Jokic, with that absence likely to impact the race for this year’s award. Going into Thursday this looked like a potential first-round clash in this season’s Play-offs.
However, Brandon Ingram’s 31 points inspired New Orleans to a win which could help them avoid the Nuggets. The Pelicans are up to seventh after that victory, moving just a game shy of the Golden State Warriors.
It’s not unthinkable they overhaul the champions to secure an automatic spot in the postseason. The Pelicans are now 7-3 across their last 10 games having figured things out without Zion Williamson.
However, they could have the former top pick back before the end of the campaign, as he’s set to be re-evaluated on Wednesday, putting him in line for potential appearances against the New York Knicks and Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Pelicans meet the LA Clippers, Sacramento Kings and Memphis Grizzlies before that, so their run-in is tough.
However, they are now 10/19 to make the Play-offs following that win.
The Nuggets are all but confirmed as the top seed at this point so this wasn’t a hugely vital game for them but it could cost Nikola Jokic, with Joel Embiid the 5/6 favourite for MVP with just a handful of games to go.
Embiid missed a recent game with the Nuggets and Jokic’s triple-double in that win boosted his hopes of retaining the award.
He’s a 13/10 shot for a third MVP win on the spin, but he can’t afford to sit out too many games in the run-in.
With Embiid facing the Bucks and Celtics next and Jokic taking on Kevin Durant’s Phoenix Suns and the Warriors, the pair have a huge double-header to press their MVP cases.
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