Last night’s NBA All-Star Game – Team LeBron 157, Team Giannis 155 – actually was riveting in the new-formatted fourth quarter though we could have lived without all those replay reviews … ugh.
In any event, the show goes on and it promises to be a wild ride the rest of the way. Not everyone has locked down an NBA Playoff berth just yet and so let’s take a look around to see what’s straight ahead for a few post-season hopefuls that right now are on the outside lookin’ in …

WASHINGTON (20-33) – Maybe we all thought this year’s Wizards were in a tanking mode, but the bottom line is the D.C. crew enters the unofficial second half of this here-and-now season just three games back of #8th seed Orlando (24-31) in the Eastern Conference. True, the Wizards play the worst defense in the association – they are allowing 119.8 points per game! – but they are a more-than-respectable 28-25 ATS (against the spread) and pure scorer G Bradley Beal (29.1 ppg) has the faculties to take over a game at the proverbial snap of a finger. In our view, Washington must play plus-.500 ball the rest of the way if it’s gonna truly compete for a playoff berth and right out of the chute there’s four straight games against fellow Eastern Conference squads – win three-of-four against Cleveland / at Chicago / Milwaukee / Brooklyn before starting a four-game western swing and we’ll take you seriously, guys.

PORTLAND (25-31) – Out West, the top eight teams are all playing plus-.500 ball, the bottom seven squads are not. Just call ’em the “Haves” and the “Have Nots”, if you will. The guard-heavy Trail Blazers (25-31) don’t play much defense at all – they rank 26th in the 30-team NBA while yielding 115.3 ppg – and things are bound to get worse before they get better with G Dame Lilliard (29.5 ppg) still on the shelf with a groin injury. How is it that Portland’s eight games below .500 against the odds at 23-31-2 or that the Blazers are eight games below .500 SU (straight-up) when playing fellow conference opponents (see 15-23)?

NEW ORLEANS (23-32) – Just to let y’all know, the 5.5-game gap between the Pelicans (right now in 11th place)and the West’s #8 seed is far from insurmountable. Keep in mind N’Orleans won six of its last nine pre-All Star Game tilts SU and overall the Pels are a better-than-you-would-think 26-25-4 ATS … and that’s with super-rookie Zion Williamson on the floor for just 10 games! Williamson (22.1 ppg) surely has electrified the Crescent City hoops scene and a quick glance at the upcoming sked reveals road games at the Lilliard-less Trail Blazers and those wobbly Golden State Warriors and between now and March 11th there’s two games against Minnesota and a key tilt at Sacramento. Hmmm.

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You better believe we’re getting down to crunch time in the world of College Basketball – we’re now less than a month out from the always-fun Selection Show on March 15th and so let’s check out the key games this Monday / Tuesday for a couple of “bubble teams”…

Tonight, it’s … XAVIER (16-9, 5-7) at ST. JOHN’S (14-11, 3-9) – 6:30 p.m.ET, Fox Sports 1
Here’s how we see it with the Xavier Musketeers: They need to finish at-or-above .500 in Big East Conference play this year and then would probably need at least one mini-conference win next month to cinch a berth in this year’s NCAA Tournament. And consider the “X-men” have six remaining regular-season games: Home to Villanova, DePaul and Butler and at St. John’s here, then at Georgetown and Providence too. Get to 21 wins – somehow and some way — overall in a Big East that’s either the best or second-best conference in the land and Travis Steele’s squad makes it but the “stretch run” begins here and that means F Naji Marshall must shoot it better than 30.7 pct from “3” here.
Spread Stat – Xavier is a weak 9-15-1 ATS this 2019-2020 season but the Musketeers have covered their last four in a row.

On Tuesday night, it’s … PURDUE (14-12, 7-9) at WISCONSIN (15-10, 8-6) – 7 p.m. ET., ESPN
This is a “double-bubble” game, right?
The visiting Purdue Boilermakers (NET 33) and host Wisky Badgers (NET 29) both have “more to do” if either / both are gonna land NCAA Tournament berths next month but let’s consider Purdue is coming off back-to-back double-digit losses to Penn State and Ohio State, so the arrow’s currently pointing downward. The ‘Makers copped a 70-51 home win against Wisconsin back on Jan. 24th and we say the black-and-gold needs minimum 19 wins to snag a spot. On the flip side, the Badgers come in here off back-to-back double-digit wins and likely need 20 wins or more to cash an NCAA ticket. Watch for Wisconsin to start fast after getting into a 45-17 hole the first time these clubs clashed this season.
Spread Stat – Wisconsin is just 11-13-1 spreadwise this year; Purdue is 11-15 against the numbers.

Want to know some other current bubble teams out there? Try Wichita State, Oklahoma, Loyola-Chicago, Stanford and Miss State.

NOTE: More College B-Ball News/Notes in the next edition of Jim Sez.