The West is tight with four teams battling
Before focusing on the NBA this week some words need to be written about the passing of a true Las Vegas legend. Last Thursday we lost Lee Pete, long time Las Vegas radio host and mentor to many of us in the sports handicapping and broadcasting community. Lee lost his long battle against ALS after moving back to his hometown of Toledo, Ohio after more than 30 years extolling the virtues of Las Vegas while talking sports and sports betting over the airways on virtually a nightly basis for most of those three decades. Lee’s involvement in sports dated back to his days after World War II as a star QB at the University of Toledo where he set several records, some of which stand to this day that led to tryouts with Detroit and Green Bay. But injuries precluded an NFL career and the NFL’s loss was radio’s gain as Lee was a pioneer of sports talk radio back in the 1950’s beginning in Toledo and concluding in Las Vegas. Lee’s best known show was the Stardust Line when his co-host was the legendary Jim Brown for quite a number of seasons. Listeners up and down the west coast tuned in on Sunday nights for stories and insights that could be found nowhere else. Lee was a great storyteller and a genuinely nice guy. Condolences go out to his wife Patti and his family and legion of friends. You will be missed, Lee.
There are just over two weeks and fewer than 10 games per team remaining in the NBA’s regular season. The Playoff field of 16 teams has been half filled with four teams in each conference having mathematically qualified for the post season.
There are several interesting races for playoff seedings especially in the West where just one single game separates the four teams currently sitting second through fifth after this past Sunday’s action. For all intents and purposes the eight western teams are known but three teams are effectively tied for the final three spots. Memphis, currently sitting ninth, is all but out of the chase, six and a half games out of the final playoff position.
In the East two teams are battling for the eighth and final Playoff spot with Toronto a half game up on Chicago by virtue of having one less loss entering the week. With both the Raptors and Bulls below .500 it may well be that the lengthy streak of a losing team from the East making the postseason will continue. So much for the optimism expressed last week that we might finally have nothing but winning teams make the Playoffs.
Overall road teams have outperformed home teams against the points by a margin of 33 games, ignoring pushes (555-522). UNDERs have a similar edge versus OVERs (557 vs. 528) with 11 pushes. Yet despite those edges because of the 11-10 vig blindly having bet on road teams or UNDERs would have you showing a loss as the lines makers have again done their job of evening things out over the course of the season.
The best chances for success remain in isolating what the bettor feels are situations that present an advantage that cannot be overcome by even a point or two adjustment in the line. That’s where handicapping goes from being a science to an art. The science is in the development and maintaining accurate power ratings. The art is in the interpretation and application of those ratings in making adjustments to account for what can be a myriad of intangible factors that influence how a game is likely to be played and thus affect the outcome of your wager.
Here’s a look at three attractive games this weekend.
Utah at L.A. Lakers (Friday): The Lakers are all but certain to earn the top seed in the West with a six game lead and nine to play. Utah is in the four way battle for the second seed, beginning the week a half game behind Dallas and tied with Denver for the Northwest Division lead. The Lakers have won two of three meetings this season including a 15 point road win just before the All Star break, their first meeting since mid December. Interestingly Utah actually has the better record over the past half season, going 30-11 over their last 41 games while the Lakers are 28-13. Utah is the healthier team and should be getting several buckets in this spot. This is the Lakers’ first game home following a multi-game road trip and home teams in that spot have been solid "go-against" teams all season. UTAH.
Oklahoma City at Dallas (Saturday): Dallas has won two of three previous meetings this season. This game could well be played at Playoff intensity as both teams have motivation to improve their seedings. Dallas could finish as high as second or as low as fourth. Oklahoma City could finish as high as sixth or as low as eighth. Finishing eighth would mean a first round meeting with the Lakers, likely meaning an early end to their Playoff experience. Two of their three meetings have stayed UNDER the Total with the one game that went OVER doing so by a single point. The Thunder has an extra day of rest after Dallas hosted Orlando two nights earlier on Thursday. With both teams having motivation and with this being a potential preview of an opening round series the expected intensity should keep this game lower scoring than expected. UNDER.
Cleveland at Boston (Sunday): Cleveland has all but clinched the top seed in the East while Boston is battling Atlanta for the third seed behind Orlando. After Boston won at Cleveland to open the season the Cavs have won the next two meetings, both of which have occurred with the past five weeks. And both of those wins have been by double digits. Both teams are playing well entering this week as the Cavs are 9-1 in their last 10 games while the Celts are 7-3. But Boston was unable to defeat a quality foe this past Sunday at home, losing by 21 to San Antonio despite catching the Spurs off of four straight games against Playoff teams including the last two against Cleveland and the Lakers. Both teams are rested after having last played on Friday. With this being a very possible Playoff preview the preference is to go with a Cleveland team whose road record (26-12) is better than Boston’s home mark (23-13). Boston will be playing with more of a need to improve their seeding which should allow for a slight point value in the line as well. CLEVELAND.