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The NBA season is a long one. Although Major League Baseball plays 162 games, twice as many as the NBA, the sport of basketball is much more demanding physically on a game by game basis. As such there are cycles of play that seem to turn in an instant with winning and losing streaks occurring on a frequent basis with no clue as to when they will begin nor many hints as to when they may end.

Teams that look brilliant in November will often struggle in December. The early play of the Los Angeles Clippers may be the best current illustration of this phenomenon.

After starting 14-2 and being acclaimed by some as the most likely challenger to Golden State in the Western Conference the Clippers lost three straight contests. The first two of the losses were by margins of 11 and 21 points. Both were on the road to teams that are currently at .500 – Detroit and Indiana. Neither was on the front or back end of back to back nights. The third straight loss was perhaps the most stunning. The Clippers led by 18 points early in the fourth quarter at Brooklyn, two nights after the loss at Indiana.

The lowly Nets, currently 5-14, rallied to force overtime and, in two overtimes, defeated the Clippers 127-122.

Two nights later the Clippers took that three game losing streak into Cleveland and routed the Cavaliers 113-94 which they followed up the very next night in the final game of their 6 game road trip with an 18 point win at New Orleans.

Buoyed by that end to their road trip the Clippers hosted Indiana in a revenge game on Sunday night, just a week after the 21 point loss at the Pacers. Same teams, different venue, similar result. Indiana won 111-102. And that was after the Clippers had built an early 11 point lead after one quarter.

Such a string of results is not uncommon in the NBA. It’s a game played that involves just five players in action for a team at any one time. Players pace themselves, both in a game and throughout a season, and being able to identify such situations – often a game or two ahead of time – is a key to successful handicapping and wagering, Even then there are no assurances that such situations will unfold as expected.

Another oddity has been the play of the San Antonio Spurs. Last season the Spurs did not lose at home until their second to last home game when they lost to Golden State.

This season the Spurs have started just 5-4 at home including three straight home losses after an initial home win. Meanwhile, through Sunday, the Spurs were a perfect 11-0 on the road, including 8-3 ATS.

The NBA may indeed be “Fantastic” according to the promos. It is also fascinating and frustrating which makes it all the more challenging in the day to day battles between bookmaker and bettor.

Here’s a preview of three games this weekend.

Houston at Oklahoma City (Friday): Both teams are rested although OKC has two extra days of rest after having last played on Monday. Houston last hosted the Lakers on Wednesday. OKC next plays on Sunday while Houston hosts Dallas on Saturday. This situation does favor the hosts who defeated the Rockets on this court in mid November 105-103.

Both teams have gotten off to similar strong starts and OKC had won 5 straight through Sunday. The Thunder figure to come as short favorites – they were favored by 2.5 in that first meeting. With the situation favoring OKC the value will be on the Rockets in what should be another entertaining battle between Russell Westbrook of OKC versus James Harden of the Rockets. HOUSTON

Charlotte at Cleveland (Saturday): Charlotte has struggled following a promising 8-3 start, dropping six of nine since. Cleveland starts the week in its own slump, having lost three straight through Sunday following their 13-2 start. Two of the losses were by double digits. The Cavs will be playing their fourth game since Monday, including Monday’s game at Toronto, Cleveland’s closest pursuer in the East (14-6).

Should the Cavs win at least two of the three games heading into this contest there will be some value in taking the underdog Hornets who lost by just 7 points here in their November 13 meeting. But if the Cavs lost two of those three games heading into this contest the play would be to back the Cavs even though the line may be close to double digits.

New York Knicks at LA Lakers (Sunday): Both teams have been pleasant surprises in the early stages of the season. At 10-12 the Lakers have thus far exceeded expectations although they have been beset by injuries. The Knicks labored early in the season, starting 5-7 but started this week having gone 6-2 since albeit five of those wins have been at home. The Knicks are just 2-6 SU on the road and opened this road trip at Sacramento on Friday night, who they defeated at home this past Sunday.

This game should be close to a pick ‘em and the preference is to back the Knicks who are healthier and have more reliable scoring options. Even in their road losses the Knicks were much more competitive in their most recent losses than they were in losing each of their first four road games by double digits. NEW YORK

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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