Coaching changes don’t always help

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The NBA world was surprised if not shocked over the weekend when the third coach this season was fired. The first two firings were not all that much of a surprise other than the fact that they occurred rather early in the season. 

A common handicapping situation that has been applied across all sports is to back a team in their first game following a coaching change, expecting a maximum effort as the change is often interpreted as a ‘wake up call’ to the players that management is not afraid to make changes and those changes may involve alterations to the roster. 

Barely two weeks into the season Cleveland fired coach Tyron Lue and replaced him with Larry Drew on an interim basis. The Cavs had gotten off to an 0-6 start (3-3 ATS).  

In their first game following the change the Cavs won and covered, albeit as 4.5-point home favorites over lowly Atlanta. Following the win the Cavs lost eight of nine, going 4-5 in the process ATS. Since Drew took over the Cavs are 8-26 SU and 15-19 ATS. The conclusion can be made that the coaching change had a minimal positive impact in the short term and over the longer term the team has performed as expected prior to the start of the season with the bettors having suffered losses if they expected performances to improve significantly following the change. 

A couple of weeks after Thanksgiving Chicago parted ways with Fred Hoiberg, turning the reins over to Jim Boylen, also on an interim basis. The Bulls lost Boylen’s debut 96-90 at Indiana but did cover as 8.5-point underdogs.  

The Bulls followed that effort with a win and cover in a two-point home win over Oklahoma City. Since that win, the Bulls have gone just 4-10 SU and only slightly better ATS, going 6-8 ATS. More recently, the Bulls have gone 5-3 ATS over their last eight games, perhaps an indication of progress. Chicago has covered four of its last five road games, three of which were outright wins (at San Antonio, Cleveland and Washington). 

This past Sunday, following a 22-point win over the Lakers – yes, you read that correctly, a blowout win – Minnesota fired Tom Thibodeau. This move came as a major surprise as there did not appear to be any indications or rumors of such an impending move. Assistant Ryan Saunders has been named interim coach. 

Expected to be a contender for one of the final two Playoff spots in the West with a Season Wins Total of 42, the Timberwolves had just “improved” to 19-21 and start this week seeded 11th. But unlike the situations in Chicago and Cleveland, the roster in Minnesota has plenty of young, maturing talent. Don’t be surprised if this coaching change pays off both on the court and at the betting windows over the next couple of months. 

Over the next week, teams will reach the mathematical midpoint of the season by playing game number 41. The NBA trade deadline this season is February 7, earlier than in past seasons. Teams are busy assessing their prospects for both making the Playoffs and how far they believe they can go and as such we may see a flurry of trades over the next month. 

Rumors of impending trades create added uncertainty in the betting marketplace in much the way decisions to rest or not to rest starters does on a nightly basis. It is important to pay attention to those line moves that take place in the three to five hours prior to game time as often word gets out as to coaches’ intentions. It has become more important than ever to be involved in social media to follow, for example, the tweets of trusted sources that often include local team beat writers. 

It is worth remembering from time to time that whereas the bookmakers have the edge of 11-10 the bettors have the edge in being able to choose which games to bet or not to bet, casting aside those where there do not appear to be edges.  And having access to the latest information can often create edges. 

Here are preview of three weekend games. 

Friday

Mavericks at Timberwolves: Ryan Saunders’ debut as Minnesota’s interim coach began on Tuesday at Oklahoma City and following a pair of off nights he makes his home debut here. Their only prior meeting with Dallas was in the season’s first week when Dallas defeated the T-Wolves 140-136 as 1.5-point home favorites.  

Minnesota should bring added energy into this game against a Mavericks team that trails the host by one game in the conference standings. Saunders may open things up more than the defensive oriented Tom Thibodeau which suggests Derrick Rose, Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns could be on the verge of at least a short-term breakout. TIMBERWOLVES 

Saturday

Spurs at Thunder: Both teams have been playing their best basketball of the season over the past few weeks as they meet for the second time in three nights after playing in San Antonio on Thursday.  

The Spurs are on current runs of 13-3 SU, 14-2 ATS since December 7. OKC has won 8 of 12 games since mid- December. 

This is one of my favorite situations to target during the season involving quick home-and-home series, looking to play either the loser of the first game to gain quick revenge or to play the Total in the rematch depending on the result of the first game. Should the Spurs win at home on Thursday the play here would be on OKC in the rematch. Should the Thunder win on the road on Thursday the play would be to look UNDER the Total in the rematch. 

Sunday 

Rockets at Magic: Houston has overcome a shaky start to its season to begin its climb in the West. The Rockets enter play this week on a 12-2 SU run during which they’ve gone 11-2-1 ATS. 

Projected to win just 30 games, Orlando had exceeded that pace for the first couple of months of the season, standing 14-15 in mid-December. But reality has set in and the Magic are 3-8 since and hosted Boston on Saturday night while Houston is off a home game Friday night against Cleveland.  

James Harden is making a strong case for another MVP award and the matchups greatly favor the Rockets here. Yes, they will be sizeable favorites here but after what should have been a physical game against the Celtics we can expect the Rockets to wear down in the second half. MAGIC

Last week: 3-0

Season: 20-15

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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