We see it in all sports. At some point during regular season play, a team that has been dominating its competition goes into a slump, which often raises questions as to whether the assessment of its chances of winning a championship may have been too optimistic.
The NBA’s regular season is 82 games stretched out over nearly six months with teams typically playing 3 or 4 games each week. Virtually every team will look unbeatable at times and others appear to be learning the game. Often, our perceptions are formed based upon what we see early in the season, especially if it corresponds to preseason previews and carryover from the previous season.
For much of the season it has been taken for granted Indiana and Miami would meet in the Eastern Conference Finals. The gap between those two teams and the rest of the East was huge and only Chicago could be reasonably competitive in a seven game series against the Pacers or Heat given the high quality of the Bulls’ defense.
But as this week dawns there are some who are questioning the once seeming invincibility of both the Heat and the Pacers. Indiana’s loss at Dallas on Sunday was its fourth in a row. Even with five straight prior to the recent slide, the Pacers were 1-4 ATS during that win streak and had been on a 2-8-1 ATS run dating back to Feb. 7. That ATS run has now been extended to 2-12-1 starting the week.
This reversal of form brings up the question whether the Pacers are merely undergoing a midseason slump or if there are other factors at play? The Pacers made some moves that might have upset team chemistry. The release of Danny Granger and signing of the enigmatic and oft injured Andrew Bynum might well have puzzled the remaining roster.
Referring to the oft used cliché phrase “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” one can certainly make the assertion those personnel moves were curious. Taken from a player’s perspective, they may have had more to do with the off-court issues of team finances rather than the on-court objective of winning a championship.
Miami starts this week riding a three game losing streak following losses at Houston, San Antonio and Chicago. Unlike Indiana, Miami’s streak seems to have come out of the blue and may be more the result of a simple midseason slump than any inherent problems. Not only had the Heat won eight straight games prior to the three game slide, but Miami was also 6-0-2 ATS during the winning streak. Every team in the league gets “up” for the two time defending champions.
The recent struggles of the Heat and Pacers have resulted in the best record in the NBA now residing in the West, but it is not Oklahoma City, which had led much of the season. The Thunder have been just ordinary, going since February with only an 8-7 record. Somewhat below the radar is San Antonio, having won 9 of its last 10 to overtake OKC as the top seed in the West.
San Antonio is an identical 23-8 both at home and on the road. That road record is especially impressive. Only Oklahoma City (20-11) and Golden State (20-14) have managed to win 20 games away from home.
The ability to win on the road is a huge factor come the Playoffs.
After starting the season going 0-11 SU and 1-10 ATS against the top teams in the NBA – those teams currently winning at least 65 percent of their games – the Spurs have won all three such games since. And all have been played since the All Star break with the wins coming at the LA Clippers, at Portland and at home over Miami.
Cagey coach Gregg Popovich seems to be working his magic once again in pacing his team nicely through the regular season. All the talk of gloom and doom – including in this column – may have been premature and the team that took Miami to seven games in last season’s NBA Finals may get another chance to claim a fifth title in the last 15 seasons.
Another serious title consider is Houston, the hottest team in the NBA for quite some time. The Rockets started this week on a five game winning streak and, dating back to the start of 2014, are 23-6 straight up.
Oh yeah. Let’s not forget the LA Clippers. First season coach Doc Rivers has his team playing great basketball. The combo of Blake Griffin and Chris Paul is every bit as good as any tandem in the league.
Here’s a look at three games this weekend.
Memphis at Toronto (Fri.): The Raptors started this week having won 9 of 11 games and are 19-9 over the past two months. Toronto also has a winning record against Western Conference teams albeit just 13-12. Memphis is 17-7 versus teams in the East. Both are “play on” teams. Toronto is known more as an offensive team although not to the extent Memphis is regarded for its defense. Yet only Indiana and Chicago are allowing fewer points per game in the East than Toronto (97.1). UNDER.
Brooklyn at Washington (Sat.): Washington won both prior meetings this season – on the road by 4 and at home by 6. But the teams have not met since mid-December. Brooklyn had yet to start its improved play when the teams last met as coach Jason Kidd was still learning the ropes as a first time NBA head coach. He has shown improvement in the three months since the last meeting and the value should be on the Nets in this spot. The Nets have a winning road record both SU (8-7) and ATS (9-6) since the start of 2014 and have two nights of rest. BROOKLYN.
Houston at Miami (Sun.): Houston has excelled when playing with rest and the Rockets have been off since Thursday. Miami is winding up a four game home stand and is playing a fifth game in eight days, having last hosted Denver on Friday night. Houston will be the underdog in this game. Entering this week the Rockets had been favored in 14 of its previous 15 games. In its lone role as a puppy in this stretch (that dates back to February 1) Houston lost and failed to cover as a 5 point underdog at the LA Clippers. Miami will be motivated to avenge the loss at Houston two weeks ago. MIAMI.
Andy Iskoe, and his Logical Approach, provides his popular and unique handicapping statistics to Gaming Today readers and online visitors. He has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football. Contact Andy at [email protected]