Getting to finish line still a challenge for NBA

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The NBA season is just five weeks old and already 22 games have been postponed due to COVID-19 related issues. That’s slightly less than 10% of the games scheduled.

Reports keep stressing that the virus will be a lingering issue until vaccinations become more widely available which suggests there will continue to be postponements over the next several months.

The NBA has scheduled an All-Star break from March 5-10 and has even suggested there might be an All-Star Game. However, the league might reconsider those plans and use that scheduled down time to make up some of the postponed games. Consideration may also need to be given to resurrecting the bubble concept that worked so well last summer in Orlando.

Yes, it will be an inconvenience to all involved but if the NBA hopes to complete the current season close to or on time, there may be few other alternatives. And I would not be surprised to learn if the NBA is already planning for a repeat of that playoffs bubble should the coronavirus situation worsen and/or continue in the spring months. They’ve already shown it can work.

Last week I discussed some research on how teams respond after suffering a blowout loss which I defined as a loss by more than 24 points. Sadly, the results for the current season did not show an edge for wagering purposes.

The same must be said of research I did using a different definition of a one-sided result – games in which the point spread result is off by more than 24 points, such as a four-point underdog that loses by 30 or a 10-point favorite that loses outright by more than 14 points. The results are disappointing but illustrate what I and many other handicappers and bettors do on a constant basis.

In any walk of life most beneficial discoveries result only after repeated failed attempts. Fortunately, technology over the past few decades has made our research almost instantaneous when checking out handicapping theories against past results. In the real world of science such research often takes years or longer before breakthroughs occur.

Divisional races in the NBA mean very little other than to guarantee division winners a protected one through four playoff seed. Normally, NBA teams play just four games against their four division rivals, three or four against other conference rivals and two games against all teams in the other conference.

I’d like to see the NBA do one of two things. Either expand the division schedule such as we see in the other sports, or eliminate divisions entirely and just use overall conference standings as the basis for playoff seedings.

Either could be accomplished by cutting the number of interconference games from 30 to 15 each season and making 14 of those games Division games or spread out more evenly within the conference. Yes, it might mean the Knicks play the Lakers only every other season or host them for one game in one season and play on the road the next. If the NBA goes the added Divisional games route it would enhance regional and longstanding rivalries by doubling the number of games, say, between the Celtics and 76ers from four to eight per full season.

Friday

Nuggets at Spurs: Denver is playing its fifth straight road game while the Spurs are in the second of a five-game homestand. After struggling for the first month Denver is in good current form, having won four straight through Monday, the last on the road.

Both teams are healthy as they meet for the only time prior to the release of the schedule for the second half of the season. The Spurs remain a team in transition from their glory days of the past 20 plus seasons. With seven regulars averaging between 11.8 and 20.1 points per game, the Spurs are achieving much sought after balance, led by DeMar DeRozan.

The Nuggets are more top heavy, relying on Nikola Jokic (25.4 ppg), Jamal Murray (19.3) and Michael Porter Jr (18.4, but missed 10 games due to Covid)). Denver won the only two meetings between the teams last season giving Spurs coach Gregg Popovich added motivational material. In what’s a negative spot for the visitors, this sets up nicely. SPURS

Saturday

Rockets at Pelicans: Houston has won two straight games, both on the road, following its 4-9 start as the James Harden situation was a huge distraction over the season’s first month. But with Harden traded to Brooklyn the Rockets can concentrate solely on basketball and building for the future.

Harden’s scoring will be missed but his departure will provide opportunities for others to shape the team’s identity. UNLV’s Christian Wood is emerging as a team leader and is contributing 23.5 points and 10.8 rebounds per game.

New Orleans has to be considered an early-season disappointment, having gone 1-8 following a 4-2 start. Budding star Zion Williamson is doing his part, scoring 23.4 points per game while shooting just under 60% from the field and grabbing 7.9 boards. Brandon Ingram is providing similar support but the team has yet to gel. New Orleans has great potential but the short-term upside for Houston seems rosier. ROCKETS

Sunday

Magic at Raptors: Hoping to build upon a strong second half of last season Orlando got off to a hot 6-2 start. But the Magic have gone 2-8 since although they’ve started to be more competitive. The first four of those losses were by 14 or more points and an average of 26.3. Their four most recent losses have been by single digits. An optimist would regard that as progress.

Toronto’s season has unfolded almost the exact opposite, starting 2-8 but going 5-2 since. This is the first of back-to-back home-and-home games between the two (recall Toronto is based in Tampa for now). The Raptors appear to have gotten used to their temporary home and are moving up the conference standings. They are playing the far better basketball.

This is an important game for Toronto with their upcoming rematch at Orlando on Tuesday the first of a six-game road trip. RAPTORS

Last week: 2-1

Season: 8-10

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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