The NBA world was stunned this past Friday when Cleveland, 30-11 at the time, suddenly fired Coach David Blatt.
Reports denied star LeBron James was involved in the decision but it’s hard to buy into that given how valuable James is to the franchise going forward.
All Blatt did was lead the Cavs to last season’s NBA Finals as a rookie NBA head coach and the Cavs were competitive despite losing to Golden State in 6 games, despite being without a couple of key starters, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. Assistant coach Tyronn Lue was not named the interim coach in replacing Blatt but rather was given a three year contract as “permanent” head coach.
The Cavs responded with a virtually wire-to-wire 13-point home loss to Chicago. The coaching change was not particularly well received by the hometown fans who often booed lustily at their team’s performance.
Whether the coaching change was a good move or not may not be worthy of discussion until the spring. The Cavs still are the huge favorite to come out of the East and make the NBA Finals. It may well be their performance in those Finals that will offer the first evaluation of the coaching change – unless, of course, the Cavs do not even make it that far.
As this week began every team had played at least 41 games with 7 having played 46 of their 82 regular season contests. The next mileposts of the season occur in about three weeks when the NBA’s All Star break takes place from Feb. 14 to 17 followed shortly thereafter by the trading deadline.
The story for the first half of the season has been the remarkable start by defending champion Golden State. The Warriors started with 24 straight wins before suffering their first defeat. They began this week with a 40-4 record and were unbeaten at home through 20 games.
Golden State has a scoring differential of plus 12.1 points per game through 44 games and the average margin of their 40 wins has been 14.8 points.
As impressive as those numbers are Golden State actually ranks second in both average overall scoring differential and average win margin.
Through Sunday the San Antonio Spurs were 38-6 and just 2 games behind Golden State for the NBA’s best record.
The Spurs’ scoring differential is plus 14.5 and their average margin of victory in their 38 wins is 17.7.
San Antonio leads the league in allowing just 89.8 points per game, an astounding 5.9 points per game better than second best Cleveland!
By the time you are reading this column the Spurs and Warriors will have met for the first of four games this season as Golden State hosted San Antonio on Monday night. The Warriors were favored by about 5 points as the Spurs were expected to play without Tim Duncan who is nursing an ailing knee.
Two well publicized props have been available at many sportsbooks since early in the season. One involves whether Golden State will break the all time record of 73 regular season wins. The other involves a head-to-head matchup of which will be greater – Golden State wins or Philadelphia 76ers losses.
Perhaps it is time to put up yet another interesting prop – who will end the season with more wins, Golden State or San Antonio?
Clearly the Warriors will be a moderate favorite, especially if they won Monday night’s encounter with the Spurs. But it would be folly to underestimate the Spurs’ chances of overtaking the Warriors for the top overall seed with more than 35 games remaining for each team, including three more head to head matchups.
All three meetings will be over the final month of the season. On March 19 the Spurs will host the Warriors. On April 7 the Warriors will host the Spurs and three days later, on April 10, the Spurs will host the quick rematch.
Here’s a preview of three games this weekend.
Houston at Oklahoma City: In their only prior meeting, played in the season’s opening week, Houston, at home, defeated the Thunder, 110-105, as 4.5 point underdogs. The game barely stayed UNDER the Total of 216.5. This is OKC’s first game home following the four-game road trip that ended Wednesday in Minnesota but the Thunder will not play again until hosting Washington on Monday. Houston also last played on Wednesday at San Antonio but will be back in action on Saturday hosting Washington.
At 33-13 Oklahoma City sits third in the West whereas Houston sits seventh with a very average 24-22 mark. OKC has gelled now that rookie coach Billy Donovan has gotten accustomed to life in the NBA from a coach’s perspective. The same cannot be said for the Rockets who have not shown much improvement since firing Kevin McHale earlier in the season. OKLAHOMA CITY.
San Antonio at Cleveland: Cleveland seeks to avenge a 99-95 loss exactly two weeks earlier at San Antonio although the Cavaliers did cover as 6-point underdogs. The game just stayed UNDER the Total of 195.5. This could be a preview of the NBA Finals with Cleveland expected to represent the East and the Spurs expected to meet Golden State in the Western Finals. Cleveland will still be adjusting to the sudden coaching change made last weekend.
This will be the Cavs’ fourth game for new coach Tyronn Lue and is also the second of back-to-back games as Cleveland played at Detroit on Friday. Meanwhile the Spurs are rested after having last hosting Houston on Wednesday. Stability, rest and Gregg Popovich’s strong coaching edge favor the visitors in what should still be a competitively priced contest. SAN ANTONIO.
Chicago at LA Clippers: The Clippers seek to avenge their 83-80 loss in Chicago in early December in a game the visitors were slight 1.5-point underdogs. The low scoring game stayed UNDER the Total by a whopping 40 points! The Clippers had won 10 straight beginning on Christmas Day but since that streak ended in mid-January the team has gone just 2-3, alternating losses and wins through Sunday.
Chicago had a 6-game winning streak that also crossed the end of the calendar year but the Bulls have gone just 3-6 since January 9 and are dealing with the absence of Joakim Noah in addition to other nagging injuries. The Clippers have been without Blake Griffin for more than a month and the Clippers’ lengthy winning streak coincided with his absence. This is the second game of a seven-game road trip and the Bulls play in Utah on Monday. The Clippers last played on Friday and do not play again until Wednesday. LA CLIPPERS.
Andy Iskoe, and his Logical Approach, provides his popular and unique handicapping statistics to GamingToday readers and online visitors. He has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football. Email: [email protected]