We’ve long heard about ‘regression to the mean’ over the years, a reference to the phenomenon of an extreme unbalanced result towards one end of the spectrum in the short term ultimately reversing direction and evening out such that over the longer term the results are pretty close to 50/50.
Remember all those high scoring games at the start of the current NBA regular season and the predominance of overs vs. over the first month or so?
I bring it up as a result of what I found when I checked the season-to-date results through this past Sunday.
With just 22 games to be played on Tuesday and Wednesday nights the totals results for the season, using the closing number at the Westgate SuperBook, reveal 598 games going over the total, 598 staying under and 16 pushes.
Pretty remarkable for a sample size of just over 1,200 games which serves as a reminder to not overreact to a short-term extreme set of results. If anything, look for spots to play opposite of what has just occurred over the short term going forward until that eventual evening out has taken place.
Which brings us to the NBA playoffs.
The focus of this column will be a preview of the Western Conference layoffs but with some thoughts on the Eastern Conference
The only seeds that have been determined in the West prior to Tuesday’s games are the top two seeds. Two-time defending NBA Champion Golden State owns the top seed while Denver will be seeded second.
Currently seeded third through eighth are Houston, Portland, Utah, Oklahoma City, San Antonio and the Los Angeles Clippers. But none of those six teams is locked into its specific seed despite three of the six having just one game remaining and the three having two to play.
Note that there is only a nine-game gap between the Warriors’ 56 wins and the Clippers’ 47. The point is that no team in the West has had a truly outstanding season.
If Golden State wins its final two games the Warriors will finish with just 58 wins – the lowest number of wins over the course of a full 82-game season since the Lakers topped the West with 57 wins in 2009-10.
Conversely, the eighth-seeded team will end up winning either 47 or 48 games, which will be the best record for an 8 seed in the West since Dallas finished eighth with 49 wins in 2013-14.
It appears we have a fairly evenly matched playoff field in the West while the gap between the No. 1 and 8 seeds in the East will be between 19 and 22 games.
The Warriors have played 83 playoff games over the past four seasons, the equivalent of an entire regular season. That’s a lot of wear, tear and body fatigue relative to rest of the league. There are concerns about their locker room chemistry, the reported impending departure of Kevin Durant and other issues that could make the Warriors vulnerable.
Yet the Warriors remain the solid favorites to win the NBA title at odds of 1-2 at the Westgate. Their odds to win the Western Conference are an almost unheard of 2-7, meaning you would have to bet $700 to win $200.
The three hottest teams in the NBA over the past three weeks are all in the West and none is named Golden State. The Warriors have gone a solid 11-4 SU over their last 15 games and are a profitable 9-6 ATS. But Houston, Portland and Utah have each gone 12-3 over that same stretch and, of the three, the Rockets have been best at rewarding their backers, going 10-4-1 ATS.
At 3-1 odds to win the West, the Rockets are an attractive alternative. And even their 6-1 odds to win it all can be considered attractive. Portland at 100-1 to win the West is another team to consider as a reasonable long shot.
The season-ending injury to C Jusuf Nurkic seemed to doom the Trail Blazers’ chances. But Enes Kanter has filled in well (four double- doubles in his last five games) and Damian Lillard’s backcourt mate, CJ McCollum, has returned from injury after missing almost a month.
Portland was 2-2 against the Warriors this season, 2-1 against Houston but just 1-3 against Denver, the three teams likely to finish ahead of the Blazers in the standings.
In the East, Milwaukee has been the team to beat for much of the season and the Bucks would certainly have confidence should the reach the NBA Finals.
The Bucks split their two games with Golden State, swept both Denver and Houston and split with Portland. They would have the home-court edge in the NBA Finals and are 33-7 at home heading into Wednesday’ season finale vs. Oklahoma City.
The Bucks finished with a 27-14 road record, second only to Golden State’s 26-13 with the Warriors finishing with road games at New Orleans and Memphis.
Last week: 2-1