The midpoint of the regular season is a week or two away and the trading deadline is in just over a month (Feb. 20).
As that deadline approaches teams in contention shall assess their needs and excesses in an attempt to strengthen their rosters. And those assessments should be widespread as the races to make the playoffs should involve many more teams this season but for a couple of diametrically opposed reasons related to conference affiliation.
The Western Conference is historically stronger than the East and through this past Sunday held a 130-64 SU edge (67 percent). Their ATS edge is not nearly as great, just 105-86-3 ATS (55%).
Indiana and Miami are the clear class of the East with their respective 29-7 and 27-10 records. The third best team in the East is Atlanta (20-16) and only one other Toronto at 18-17 is above .500. As it stands now half of the East playoff field would have losing records.
So many teams in the East have losing records that even last place Milwaukee, at 7-29, is just seven games behind the trio of teams currently tied for the eighth and final seed with more than 40 games left. In all, six teams are within just three games of that eighth seed so virtually all might be willing to make that one move to strengthen rosters in order to make a playoff run.
In the West nine teams have winning records and two more are within two games of .500. If the playoffs were based on the standings through this past Sunday, Denver, at 19-17 would just miss out on the final seed despite a better record than five teams that would make the playoffs in the East. Denver is just two games behind a pair of teams tied for the seventh and eighth seeds but just a game ahead of Minnesota and two ahead of Memphis.
Whereas the front office may be more interested in missing the playoffs and improving the chances of getting a high draft choice in what most analysts say is the best college draft in years, that’s not necessarily how the players think.
First, making the playoffs means extra money. Secondly, the higher the draft choice the greater the likelihood that one or more of the players on the current roster won’t be back next season.
So the players have the incentive to continue to try hard to win which could be in opposition to the preferences of management. Unfortunately for the players it’s management that has the power to make or not make trades. But the rumors in the coming weeks will make for interesting discussion and debate, even if only a handful of trades, at most, are consummated.
Three teams continue to hit at 60 percent or better ATS with Phoenix leading the point spread derby with a 24-11-1 ATS record. Close behind is Indiana (24-12) and in the show position is a team under the radar but on the rise, Toronto, at 21-14 ATS.
In contrast to the Money Earners, the biggest Money Burner has been Milwaukee and its 12-24 ATS record. Only one other team, New Orleans, is cashing at 40 percent or worse with its 14-21 record ATS.
Here’s a look at three games this weekend.
Warriors at Thunder (Fri.): With the depth of the West this could be a preview of the Western Conference Finals with up and coming Golden State now in excellent form. After a sluggish start the Warriors just had a 10 game winning streak snapped. Seven of those wins came on the road including a 9-point win at Miami. Oklahoma City is the more established team but is without injured Russell Westbrook who forms one half of one of the top duos in the NBA with Kevin Durant (who was banged up over the weekend but not expected to miss any action).
These teams have met twice with each winning by a single point on its home court but the visitor covering the spread. This is a better spot for the Warriors than for the Thunder who are off of a Thursday night game at Division rival Houston. Even without Westbrook OKC figures to come a short favorite and it would not be a surprise if the visitors come away with the outright win. WARRIORS.
Clippers at Pacers (Sat.): This could be a preview of the NBA Finals although the Clippers are currently facing a challenge with star G Chris Paul out perhaps until late February with a separated shoulder that does not require surgery. In a scheduling quirk both teams’ last games were against the Knicks as Indiana hosted New York on Thursday before the Clippers were at New York on Friday while Indiana was resting. The Pacers continue to have the best record in the league, 29-7, and continue to have the best scoring defense, allowing just 87.9 points per game, nearly two buckets less than second best Chicago.
Indiana won the earlier meeting in Los Angeles, 105-100, on Dec. 1. The Pacers were actually 1-point road favorites in that contest. The price will be much steeper here — perhaps close to double digits. Considering the absence of Paul and that the Clippers played just 24 hours earlier plus the outstanding Indiana defense has, the hosts are likely to improve upon their 8-2 SU and ATS marks against Western Conference foes. PACERS.
Nuggets at Suns (Sun.): This is an important game for Denver which has lost both earlier meetings to the Suns, once at home and once on the road. And this should be a good spot for the Nuggets to narrow the gap as Phoenix is without star G Eric Bledsoe and his 18 points per game average who is out indefinitely with a knee injury. Phoenix is still a young team that has greatly exceeded expectations thus far.
The absence of Bledsoe is key as Denver appears to have turned its season around. The Nuggets start this week as winners of five in a row after dropping eight straight. Both teams played at home on Friday but were idle Saturday. NUGGETS.
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]