Although the actual midpoint of the regular season occurred a couple of weeks ago, the figurative half way point is generally considered when the NBA takes a few day’s hiatus dedicated to the All Star game.
The singular event has evolved over the years from just a lone game featuring many of the NBA stars to an entire weekend of festivities that include a matchup involving the league’s rising stars and a skills competition that includes the annually popular slam dunk contest.
While the league pats itself on the back this weekend many general managers and player personnel directors are considering trade proposals and possibilities with an eye toward the upcoming trade deadline and filling needs thought to advance a team’s chances of either making the Playoffs or going deep in them.
Other teams will be focusing on shedding players to free up salary cap space with an eye toward next season and make players available to the contending teams.
In assessing the prospects for specific teams that could present value over the remainder of the season, here are some thoughts, Division by Division.
Atlantic: Both Toronto and Brooklyn have elevated their play in recent weeks. In fact, going back more than halfway through all of the games already played, both the Nets and Raptors have won more than 60 percent of their last 30 games. Toronto is 19-11 over that stretch and Brooklyn is 18-12.
Toronto leads the Division with a 26-24 overall record whereas the Nets are still below .500 at 23-26, but trending upward. Were the Playoffs to start now Toronto would be seeded third in the East and the Nets would be seventh.
Both teams, especially Brooklyn, have some upside. It would not be a surprise if we see the Nets pass the Raptors in the standings and ultimately win the Atlantic Division title.
Central: At 39-11 Indiana’s 14 game lead is the largest of any of the six Division leaders. No other team in the Division is playing winning ball with Chicago sitting second at with a 25-25 season record.
The Bulls have been without Derrick Rose for all but 10 games this season and have suffered other key injuries as well. They are well coached and still rely mostly on defense to stay competitive. In fact, the Bulls have played 30 OVER and just 20 UNDER through Sunday.
Going forward the Bulls should continue to be a team to look to play UNDER. At 92.1 points per game Chicago is the lowest scoring team in the league, just slightly ahead of Milwaukee (92.3). But Chicago is allowing the second fewest points per game, 92.8. Only Indiana is allowing fewer (90.7).
Because of their emphasis on defense the Bulls should also make for an attractive underdog play, especially against teams from the West where many teams look at defense as a necessary evil.
Southeast: Miami is almost as dominant with a 10 game lead over second place Atlanta. The Hawks are one game above .500, 25-24, but just a half game ahead of Washington.
The Wizards are 25-25 and qualify as one of those “under the radar” teams as they’ve not had much success in many years. Washington has served notice over the past month that fortunes are on the upswing with home wins over Miami, Oklahoma City and Portland all within the past month.
Prior to the victory over Miami the Wizards were winless in seven games against the NBA’s elite teams. Look for the Wizards to be attractive as underdogs, even on the road where Washington is 10-3 ATS getting points since mid-December, winning eight outright.
Northwest: The real fun is in the Western Conference where 9 of the 15 teams have winning records and two more teams are within three games of .500. Despite having the best record in the NBA at 41-12, Oklahoma City has just a four-game lead over Portland in this Division. Only Indiana (24-2) has a better home record than OKC’s 23-3.
And although they are usually heavily favored at home the Thunder have been especially strong of late with their current 7-2 ATS run at home. In addition to having one of the NBA’s top offenses, the Thunder is one of just four Western teams allowing under 100 points per game.
Pacific: The Los Angeles Clippers lead the Division by four games over Phoenix with Golden State just a half game behind the Suns. Chris Paul returned to the lineup this past Sunday after missing 18 games, during which stretch the Clippers were 12-6 SU and 9-9 ATS. All Star forward Blake Griffin is playing the best basketball of his career.
The Clippers remain a “go with” team as does Phoenix. The Suns continue to be a moneymaker at the betting windows, covering better than two every three games with their 33-16-1 ATS record through Sunday. They have lost back to back games ATS just four times this season and have yet to post three straight ATS losses.
Southwest: Perhaps the NBA’s best Division where four of the fiveteams have winning records and last place New Orleans is 22-28.
All five are in excellent current form with Division leader San Antonio’s 5-5 record over its last 10 games the weakest of the five. The Spurs start the week with just a three-game lead over Houston with the Rockets having the NBA’s best record over its last 10 games at 8-2.
The team to watch in coming weeks is Memphis. The Grizzlies are allowing just 94.9 points per game, fewest of any team in the Western Conference. They do have some short term injury concerns with G Mike Conley sidelined but the Grizzlies start the week having won three in a row in his absence.
Look to play the Grizzlies as an underdog, especially against other than the league’s elite teams.
With no games scheduled from Friday through Monday, here’s a look at the two games to be played on Thursday.
Brooklyn at Chicago (Thu.): Brooklyn finally appears poised to make a move in the weak Atlantic. After dropping three in a row the Nets start the week having won 3-of-4.
The Bulls won the only prior meeting with the Nets this season, 95-78, on Christmas Day. This should be a competitively priced game with a fairly low Total (it was 189.5 in that first meeting) and it’s reasonable to expect another low scoring game. UNDER.
OKC at LA Lakers (Thu.): In their only meeting this season OKC routed the Lakers 122-97 at home in mid-December as 12 point favorites. Since then things have gotten worse for Los Angeles as injuries have exposed even more lack of depth.
Not only is Oklahoma City 18-9 on the road but 11 of the wins have been by double digits. The Lakers are just 8-14 SU at home and four of their last six home losses have been by double digits. OKLA CITY.
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]