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When handicapping and betting the NBA we often concentrate just on teams’ overall performance against the point spread or focus on team currently on winning or losing streaks.

Another area that deserves attention is a team’s performance when expected to win (when that team is favored) or expected to lose (when made the underdog).

Many factors are involved in making the line with the starting point being which is the better team. Adjustments are then made for the site of the game, current form and other factors, the most important of which is generally considered to be key injuries.

There are 22 NBA teams that have been the betting favorite in at least 15 games this season. Two of them have covered in at least 60 percent of those games that did not end in point spread pushes. The best performing favorite has been the Los Angeles Clippers who are 17-8 ATS (68 percent). Portland has been almost as profitable with it’s 18-9 ATS record (66.7 percent).

At the other end of the point spread spectrum is Toronto. The Raptors have been favored in 37 of their 48 games, going just 21-14-2 ATS for 40 percent. Though falling short of the 15-game minimum, it is worth noting that Sacramento has been a very strong 10-2 ATS when favored.

The weakest teams in the NBA are rarely favored, but when they are, Atlanta has gone 0-3 ATS when laying points while Cleveland is 1-3 ATS and Phoenix 1-2 ATS when asked to win SU. That’s a combined 2-8 ATS for a trio of teams that are just 34-108 SU more than halfway through this season.

The results for underdogs have featured a few more teams at the extremes. Of the 20 teams that have been underdogs in at least 15 games three have covered at 60 percent or better and three others have cashed less than 40 percent of the time when getting points.

The best overall underdog has been Miami. The Heat have covered in 66.7 percent of the games in which they were getting points, going 14-7-1 ATS. Also performing well as underdogs are Dallas (19-10 ATS, 65.6 percent) and San Antonio (14-9 ATS, 60.9 percent).

The underperforming underdogs have been Memphis, Washington and the Los Angeles Clippers. Memphis is just 10-19 as underdogs (34.4 percent) with the Wizards at 39.1 percent (9-14 ATS) and the Clippers at 8-12 ATS (40 percent).

The very good teams in the league are not often made underdogs. But when they are, those games are mostly against other good teams and usually on the road. Oklahoma City is 6-2 ATS as an underdog and Milwaukee is 4-1 ATS in that role.

Understand that we are looking at a small sample size even for teams that have been favorites or underdogs in 25 to 30 games or so. But at least these results give us a sense of how teams perform vs. public perception or expectation for such teams.

My approach is to prefer backing good teams as underdogs even though such teams are generally facing winning teams because such underdogs know how to win even if stepping up in class. Conversely, I prefer to avoid playing against weak teams when favored as such teams are so rarely favored because they are not very good.

Raptors at Rockets (Friday): Houston’s James Harden seems well on his way to a second straight NBA MVP award as he continues to score in bunches and Houston continues to climb up the Western Conference standings where they are currently seeded sixth. Now dealing with injuries to Chris Paul and Clint Capella, Harden will be called upon in the coming weeks to carry even more of a burden.

Toronto is effectively tied with Milwaukee for the top spot in the East and both have better records than the top team in the West, Golden State. At 15-9 Toronto has one of the best road records in the league. Kawhi Leonard has made the Raptors a better team at both ends of the court. RAPTORS

Warriors at Celtics (Saturday): Perhaps a switch went off and the two-time defending champion Warriors decided that as the old year morphed into 2019 it was time to elevate their level of play. After “struggling” for much of the season based on their past established standards the Warriors have overtaken Denver for the best record in the West at 33-14.

Through Monday, Golden State has won eight straight and 10 of 11, going 7-3-1 ATS in the process with seven of the 10 wins on the road and also seven of the wins by double digits.

Boston is seeded fifth in the East and their play has been very streaky. Just within the past five weeks the Celtics had a pair of three game losing streaks while also having a pair of four game winning streaks. Klay Thompson has started to heat up for the Warriors after some struggles earlier in the season. And the debut of DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins only adds strength.

Golden State often chooses when to display its might and against a team they could potentially face in the NBA Finals would seem to be such a spot. WARRIORS

Bucks at Thunder (Sunday): This is an attractive matchup that features two outstanding players who will at least be in the MVP conversation.

At 34-12 Milwaukee had the best record in the NBA through Monday, percentage points ahead of Toronto. A league best 21-4 at home, the Bucks are also a solid 13-8 on the road where they’ve won four of their last five, including a win two weeks ago at Houston.

Milwaukee has fared well as underdogs this season going not just 4-1 ATS but winning all four of those games in which they covered. BUCKS

Last week: 2-1

Season: 23-18

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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