Perfect Picks: Post-season races in full swing

The days are ticking by and the playoffs are less than a month away for the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League.

The Toronto Raptors are in a playoff race with Kyle Lowry, their leader and starting point guard, on the sidelines due to an injury.

Toronto currently holds the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference, but they only have a game-and-a-half lead over the Atlanta Hawks and are a mere two games back of the third-place Washington Wizards.

On Tuesday, April 21, the Raptors host the 10th place Chicago Bulls, who have beaten the Raptors in all three previous meetings this season.

After this one-game homestand, the Raptors will hit the road and play three teams not currently in playoff positions. All three games can be considered must-win contests, and the next three after that are on the road, as well.

On Thursday evening, they head to Miami to play the Dolphins. Then on Saturday, the Raptors face the Dallas Mavericks before concluding the trip in Orlando on Monday night.

Also this week, we have a huge matchup in both conferences as two powerhouses square off against one another. The Wizards will head to Cleveland to face the Cavaliers, who are the top team in the East. Kevin Love is due back from the inactive list for the Cavaliers, while the Wizards are desperate to pass the Boston Celtics for second in the conference.

In the West, two MVP candidates will go toe-to-toe with Russell Westbrook and the Thunder facing James Harden and the Rockets. Westbrook leads the NBA with 32 triple-doubles and has a chance of breaking records by season’s end.

The NBA post-season gets underway on April 23.

The NHL playoffs begin on April 12, and multiple Canadian teams are in contention for the playoffs and possible runs towards the Stanley Cup. There are currently four teams in the mix, which is quite an upgrade after a goose egg north of the border last year.

One of the hottest teams in the NHL, the Calgary Flames, have recently won 10 straight games. They are close to becoming the second-place team in the Pacific Division.

This week, the Flames head out on a three-game road trip and will face teams who desperately need points to make the playoffs.

It starts in Washington as Calgary faces the league-leading Capitals. The Caps are only two points up on the Pittsburgh Penguins and would like to win their second straight President’s Trophy.

On Thursday evening, Washington heads to Nashville to battle the Predators, who currently occupy the second wild card spot in the Western Conference.

The Capitals’ road swing concludes Saturday night on Hockey Night in Canada, when they’ll head to St. Louis to face the suddenly hot Blues under new head coach Mike Yeo.

Also on CBC this same Saturday night, two Canadian teams will square off with major playoff implications on the line. The Ottawa Senators head to Montreal to face the Canadiens, which will be the third matchup in under a week.

In the National Collegiate Athletic Association (also known as the NCAA), March Madness started last Thursday, and the Sweet 16 games are this weekend. Although I don’t know the matchups, I will predict my Final 4 and winner.

The Kansas Jayhawks, Duke Blue Devils, Arizona Wildcats and University of California Los Angeles Bruins are my picks for the last four teams standing, and I have UCLA cutting the nets on April 3.

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