With the All Star festivities behind us the next major date of note is this Thursday.
In fact, there are two major events that will take place. One will be the resumption of play following a week’s absence of regular season games. The second is the annual trade deadline.
Several minor trades have taken place over the past couple of weeks, the most noteworthy of which was the trade of Serge Ibaka from Orlando to Toronto. The Raptors are considered a contender in the Eastern Conference and Ibaka should address some concerns that contributed to a recent slump by the Raptors that saw them fall out of first place in the Atlantic Division.
The first major trade took place late Sunday night just after the All Star game concluded in New Orleans. The rumors surrounding Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins came true as one of the best players in the league was traded. The destination may come as a surprise to many as “Boogie” will join another rising superstar, Anthony Davis, in New Orleans.
The trade gives the Pelicans perhaps the most talented frontcourt in the NBA, pairing two former Kentucky Wildcats. That has generated speculation that current Kentucky coach John Calipari will return to the pros as New Orleans’ coach next season.
Calipari immediately shot down those reports as one would expect, considering his Wildcats are gearing up for yet another run at another college title. But given Calipari’s comments during the season, often critical of his players and their lack of effort at many time, one can sense some frustration, which, while understanding the denials, makes the speculation realistic once the current college season ends.
New Orleans clearly got the better of that transaction and Cousins’ initial reactions were positive. Neither Sacramento nor New Orleans is among the eight teams currently qualified for the Playoffs. At the All Star break it was Sacramento in better position to make a late season run.
The Kings were in ninth position, just a game and a half behind eighth seeded Denver. New Orleans was in eleventh position but just a game behind the Kings and two and a half games behind Denver. The top seven teams in the West appear almost certain to make the Playoffs so the final weeks of the season will involve a half dozen teams battling for the number eight seed and the right to be swiftly eliminated by Golden State in the opening round of the Playoffs.
The drama surrounding New York’s Carmelo Anthony seems to suggest he will not be traded by the deadline but there could be a few other big name players involved in transactions. The Eastern Conference Playoffs scenario has many tightly bunched teams with, for example, just four and half games separating Indiana, currently seeded sixth, and Charlotte, currently seeded eleventh. With teams having roughly a third of the season remaining one key addition could be what propels a team into the Playoffs, more so in the East.
In looking for teams that might be poised for a strong finish to the season one factor to consider is how teams have fared against winning teams. One factor I have used over the years classifies teams into four categories based on a team’s winning percentage. Although this might not be the best pure way to classify teams it does serve a purpose in looking at bottom line results – wins and losses.
I analyze how teams fare against winning teams, looking at elite teams, or at least teams with elite records. These are teams winning at least 65 percent of its games (teams on a pace to win at least 54 games over the course of a full 82 game regular season). The other classification of winning teams are those with winning records but with a winning percentage below 65 percent.
At the All Star break there were just four teams in the elite group and nine in the non-elite winning group. The elite group consists of Golden State, San Antonio, Cleveland and Houston. Boston just misses out by one win of being in that group.
Realizing we are dealing with very small sample sizes, only one team in the elite group has a winning record against the other three teams in that group. San Antonio is 4-1 both SU and ATS in games versus the Spurs, Cavs and Rockets. It is worth noting the Spurs are also 2-0 both SU and ATS against Boston.
Golden State is just 2-3 both SU and ATS against the other three teams. Cleveland is 2-2 SU, 1-3 ATS. And Houston is 2-4 SU, 3-3 ATS. Interestingly, Boston is just 1-6 SU, 3-3-1 ATS against the group of four elite teams.
Against the group of nine non-elite winning teams Golden State is 15-2 SU, 12-4-1 ATS. Cleveland is 11-6 SU, 8-8-1 ATS. San Antonio is 9-5 SU, 7-7 ATS. And Houston again rates fourth in this group, 9-9 SU, 8-10 ATS.
What these stats suggest, even acknowledging the small sample sizes, is San Antonio might be a solid “go with” team in the Playoffs even though Tim Duncan is retired.
The stats may also suggest Houston could be a solid “go against” team in the Playoffs, possibly ripe for an early ouster given their average to poor results against winning teams.
Against the 12 winning teams they’ve faced Houston is 11-13 both SU and ATS. Against the 17 teams at .500 or less the Rockets are 29-5 SU and 22-12 ATS.
Here’s a look at three games to be played this weekend, without knowledge of any additional trades that may be consummated prior to the weekend.
Boston at Toronto (Fri.): Neither team played on Thursday so both will be playing their first game in more than a week. These teams are meeting for the fourth time this season and Toronto has won two of the three prior meetings; they have covered in all three. The most recent meeting was on Feb. 1 when the Celtics defeated the Raptors 109-104 but failed to cover as 6-point home favorites.
Boston has played the much better basketball in 2017, going 17-6 SU but just 11-12 ATS. Since the calendar changed Toronto has gone 11-14 both SU and ATS. As a result Boston has passed Toronto into second place in the East, starting the week. The Raptors are two games behind the Celtics for the lead in the Atlantic Division and actually seeded fourth in the East, having also been passed by Washington.
Although he will get perhaps just a smattering of support for MVP honors, Boston’s Isaiah Thomas is having an outstanding season, especially with his play in the fourth quarter. Going back nearly half a season, Boston is 22-14 in its last 30 games, Toronto just 14-16. In their last four games as underdogs, dating back to Jan. 25, the Celtics are not just 4-0 ATS as underdogs, they’ve won all four games. BOSTON
Chicago at Cleveland (Sat.): Cleveland entered the All Star break 39-16 and holders of the best record in the East. Surprisingly not only have two of those 16 losses been to Chicago but the Cavs have yet to defeat the Bulls this season. The first loss occurred in Chicago in early December, losing 111-105.
A month later the Cavs lost at home, 106-94. Cleveland is likely to add a player at the deadline after trading Chris Anderson to Charlotte for a draft choice, opening up a roster spot. Chicago is currently seventh in the East and one of many teams either in or out of the top eight on any given day.
Considering those two prior losses to the Bulls we should get a solid effort from the hosts, who resumed play on Thursday hosting the Knicks, whereas Chicago is playing for a second straight night after hosting Phoenix on Friday. CLEVELAND
Utah at Washington (Sun.): Washington has been playing outstanding basketball for more than two months, going 23-7 in its last 30 games. Utah has been steady all season although they did drop three in a row prior to defeating Portland to close pre-All Star break play.
At 35-22 the Jazz are seeded fifth in the West but just a half game behind the fourth seeded Clippers for the final spot, with first round home court advantage in the Playoffs. This is their first meeting this season and Washington continues to play dominant basketball at home, going 19-1 SU, 16-4 ATS since Dec. 8 with six of their last eight home wins by double digits.
Utah has been decent on the road SU, going 5-5 since Jan. 3. But the Jazz are just 2-8 ATS in those games, with both covers in back-to-back games early this month. For the season Utah is just 3-13 SU as underdogs, 4-12 ATS. Both teams resumed play with road games on Friday. WASHINGTON