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Play resumed last Tuesday following the All Star break and Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant guaranteed his team would make the playoffs.

The Lakers won their first three games following the break, defeating Boston, Portland and Dallas to pull within 2½ games of eighth seeded Houston. Just one game ahead of the Rockets is Utah, currently seeded seventh. At 28-29 the Lake Show has pulled to within a game of .500 and has 25 games left.

The much volatile prop bet as to whether the Lakers would or would not make the playoffs was priced at -125 “No” prior to Sunday’s win at Dallas. Although they were expected to lose at Denver Monday night there is a strong possibility by midweek the prop will be fairly close to -110 each way.

Positioning for the playoffs takes on added importance after the All Star break as just over a month and a half remains until the regular season ends on April 17.

Securing one of the top four seeds in each conference carries with it home court advantage in the opening best-of-seven round of the playoffs.

College basketball uses the concept of “RPI” to determine which teams to invite as participants in its annual Men’s Basketball Tournament to fill out the field of 68 teams. A total of 37 bids are awarded to join the 31 teams that automatically qualify as Conference Champions.

Essentially the RPI concept looks both at how a team has performed over the course of the season by considering a team’s record and the strength of the schedule it played based upon the record of its opponents and its opponents’ opponents.

The NBA determines the 16 teams to make the playoffs simply on the basis of the standings. But a concept similar to RPI can be used to evaluate NBA teams in an attempt to find teams that may be overvalued or undervalued based on the schedule each team has played.

Using this concept we may be able to find teams whose straight up records may be more the result of having played a tough or easy schedule more than being reflective of being a good or poor team as measured by the standings.

Following this concept the top two teams in terms of NBA RPI are Golden State and Houston. Both have winning records but the Warriors have played the fourth toughest schedule and the Rockets have played the second toughest schedule.

In fact, the top seven teams in terms of this concept each have winning point spread records of at least four games above .500 and are a collective 219-172-5 ATS for 56% point spread winners, a percentage that is higher when eliminating games played against one another by members of this group.

Joining Golden State and Houston in this group are Denver, LA Clippers, Memphis, Miami and San Antonio. Conversely, the bottom seven teams in terms of NBA RPI are a collective 171-211-8 ATS (44.8 percent) with only one member of the group (Cleveland) having a winning ATS record.

Again, this record is even worse when eliminating games between two of the seven teams playing one another. In addition to Cleveland the teams in this group are Atlanta, Charlotte, Detroit, Milwaukee, Orlando and Portland.

There have been 79 games between teams in the first group against teams in the second group. The first group – the teams with the better NBA RPI – are 59-20 SU and 45-33-1 ATS against the weaker NBA RPI group.

You might want to use these lists in your own handicapping and look for matchups involving teams in each group. Often the difference between winning and losing bettors is that the losing bettors look only at the obvious, readily available data in assessing the chances of two teams in a game.

Winning bettors often dig deeper, going beyond the common or mainstream data often quoted as supporting a team’s chances of winning or losing an upcoming contest.

Although bettors in general have become more educated and sophisticated over even just the past 10 years, a large part of the public still bases its decisions on standings, what a team did in its last effort, and over emphasizing the potential impact of injuries.

This often leads to exaggerating the perceived edges a team has in a game, which leads to a wager by the public when sharper bettors are either avoiding that game entirely or playing the other side because the in depth analysis often contradicts the superficial or basic data relied upon by a large segment of the betting public.

In a sense, this is a way of stating that in order to stay ahead of the game it’s good to “think outside the box.”

The science of handicapping has evolved over the years and will continue to evolve. To be successful on a consistent basis the challenge is to develop a better grasp of the “artistic” side of handicapping, often referred to as “situational” or “spot play” handicapping and finding a proper balance between the two.

Here’s a look at three attractive games to be played this weekend, two of which involve the red hot Miami Heat.

Memphis Grizzlies at Miami Heat (Fri.): Miami is the clear favorite to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals. Memphis is in that second tier of teams contending with San Antonio, Oklahoma City and the LA Clippers in the West. Memphis has a different look after trading away star Rudy Gay, yet they’ve not missed Gay all that much.

The Grizzlies started this week having won seven games in a row, going 5-2 ATS in the process. Yet Memphis was favored in all seven games and are likely to be underdogs of about 3 baskets here. Miami will be playing to avenge a 104-86 loss suffered at Memphis in mid-November.

LeBron James and his Heat teammates have been playing at an extremely high level over the past month and had won 11 in a row through Sunday, going 8-3 ATS during this streak in which they were favored in all but one game.

Miami may be a bit vulnerable here as they have a double revenge date on deck at New York on Sunday, the team that dealt the Heat their two worst defeats thus far this season. GRIZZLIES.

Brooklyn Nets at Chicago Bulls (Sat.): It might surprise some to learn Brooklyn started this week a half game ahead of Chicago in the Eastern Conference. Both teams are contending with Atlanta for the fourth, fifth and sixth seeds although the Nets are just two games behind New York for the Atlantic Division lead.

Both teams have played just mediocre basketball over the past couple of weeks. Each has a narrow home win over the other this season. The Nets are off of a home game against Dallas on Friday. Chicago has an extra day of rest but has a key Divisional game at Indiana on Sunday, whom they trail by three games.

The close versus far away status of Chicago’s Derrick Rose now has the star PG close to getting back into action very shortly, but he’s not expected to make his season debut here. Brooklyn star Joe Johnson had missed a couple of games but should be back for this game. NETS.

Miami Heat at New York Knicks (Sun.): Miami has played its best basketball of the season over the past month as they seek to avenge a pair of 20-point losses to the Knicks. Both of those losses came as favorites – the first on the road and the second at home – but were administered in the first five weeks of the season when the Knicks were playing their best basketball.

Prior to this past Sunday’s no-covering win over Philadelphia, New York had lost four in a row. They started this week having gone 0-6-1 in their last seven games. Both teams have road games at weak opponents on Monday so we should get focused efforts from both teams here. Miami will clearly want to send a message to the Knicks as well as extend their lead as the top team in the East.

The Knicks are a different team for this third matchup as Amar’e Stoudemire was injured for the first two meetings. Carmelo Anthony seems to be reverting to some bad habits, which takes away from the team concept that marked New York’s early season success. The Knicks have gone just 15-15 SU over their last 30 games (11-17-2 ATS). HEAT.

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]

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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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