At the NBA All Star break, title hunt is wide open

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The NBA’s All Star weekend arrives this weekend and with it comes nearly a full week without NBA games that count.

Just one game this coming Thursday will lead into the break and two games next Thursday will mark the return to action. No games are scheduled from Friday through Wednesday save for next Sunday’s All Star game at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Most teams have about 30 games remaining. In the Eastern Conference only six teams have winning records and all six are in pretty good shape to make the Playoffs. The gap between sixth seeded Milwaukee (28-23) and seventh seeded Charlotte (22-29) is 6 games.

As has been the case for more than a decade, the Western Conference is the stronger and deeper conference. There are 10 teams with winning records, which means currently New Orleans (27-24) and Oklahoma City (26-25) are out of the Playoffs.

Atlanta starts the week with a 7 game lead over Toronto for the top seed in the East. Golden State has a 3 game lead over Memphis for the top seed in the West. What is interesting about these teams is that while all are enjoying fine seasons neither the Hawks, nor the Raptors, nor the Warriors, nor the Grizzlies are steeped either in tradition or have a recent track history of post season success.

This suggests the race to this season’s NBA Title is wide open.

Of last season’s finalists, defending Eastern Conference champion Miami is unlikely to make the Playoffs with their current 21-29 record. Defending champion San Antonio is currently seeded seventh but the Spurs are closer to third-seeded Houston (3 games back) than they are ahead of eighth seeded Phoenix (4 games).

Bettors and bookmakers have taken notice of the strides made by the top four teams cited above as reflected in adjustments made to their odds of winning the NBA Title.

At the South Point sports book the Atlanta Hawks opened the season at odds of 75-to-1. As of last week their odds were down to 12-1. Second seeded Toronto opened the season at 40-1 and is currently priced at 20-1.

Western top seed Golden State opened the season at 25-1 but is now the favorite at 7-2. Second seeded Memphis started at 30-1 but is now down to 13-1.

When LeBron James went back home to Cleveland last summer the Cavs’ odds dropped rapidly from their opening odds of 30-1 to 6-1. As the Cavs made additional moves the odds continued to drop and are now listed at +375, just slightly behind the Warriors.

There is no value in playing the Cavs, Warriors or even the Hawks at their current odds. Too many things can happen, the most obvious being a key injury or two, especially a lengthy one that involves missing time in the Playoffs.

Many bettors who play futures do so with the possibility of being in a position to hedge those bets should their team make it through the first couple of Playoff rounds and make it to the Conference finals.

Such a strategy often involves looking for teams that are attractively priced at the time you make the investment. Odds of 20-1 or more can be considered attractive enough odds, especially at this stage of the season.

The Eastern Conference team that would seem to fit the profile of being a good hedge team is Washington. With a solid backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal the Wizards are attractively priced at odds in the range of 20-1 to 25-1.

Last season the Wizards won their opening round series by defeating favored Chicago in five games. In the Conference semifinals the Wiz lost in six games to Indiana. Although Washington has been mired in a midseason slump with their recent 5-game losing streak (that extended their ATS streak to 0-9) perhaps their 37-point home win over Brooklyn last Saturday was their bottoming out point.

Washington starts the week tied with Chicago for third seed in the East with their 32-20 record. The Wizards are on a pace to win 50 games, which would have them barely over their Season Wins total of 49.5.

The path to the Western Conference finals will be much tougher than the path in the East because there are more good teams that pose threats. At odds of 20-1 the Portland Trailblazers could be the surprise team. The Blazers are currently seeded fourth with a 35-17 record.

After defeating Houston in last season’s opening round of the Playoffs, the Blazers lost to ultimate NBA Champion San Antonio in five games in the Conference semifinals. It may be important for Portland to earn a top four seed as they are 22-5 at home while just 13-12 on the road.

Again, the Wizards and Trailblazers are not likely to win the NBA Title this season but could build upon the post season progress each displayed last season. And at attractive odds, advancing to their respective conference finals would present the first of two potential hedging opportunities.

With no games played this weekend, here’s a preview of the game that will lead into the All Star break.

Cleveland at Chicago (Thu.): Cleveland has made up ground in the Eastern Conference standings such that as of Monday morning the Cavs, though still seeded fifth, were just a half game out of third. Chicago and Washington are tied. After Cleveland’s 12-game winning streak was snapped at Indiana last Friday, the Cavs began a new streak with a one-sided win over the Lakers on Sunday. Chicago started this week on a two game win streak that followed three straight losses.

Despite the sluggish start to their season Cleveland has won both prior meetings with the Bulls. Included are a 6 point overtime win in Chicago in the season’s first week and then a 14 point home win in mid-January. The home team was favored by 4 points in each of those games. The Cavs have started to gel whereas the Bulls are again dealing with nagging injuries. Cleveland could take over the Central Division lead with a win here, continuing the momentum the Cavs have developed after reaching their low point with a 6-game losing streak that ended one month ago. CLEVELAND.

Andy Iskoe, and his Logical Approach, provides his popular and unique handicapping statistics to Gaming Today readers and online visitors. He has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football. Contact Andy at [email protected]

About the Author

Andy Iskoe

Owner and author of “The Logical Approach,” Andy Iskoe has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football.

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