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With the football season officially finished following New England’s remarkable comeback to win Super Bowl 51, college and pro basketball will be the focus of the sporting world for the next several months with the college basketball tournament and the NBA Playoffs determining the next major sports championships of 2017.

The NBA is well past the halfway point as teams have played slightly more than 50 games of the grueling 82-game regular season schedule.

The All Star break is in two weeks with the last games being played on Thursday, Feb. 16, and play resuming the following Thursday, aside from that Sunday’s All Star game.

The time off will be a very welcome relief for most players not involved in the All Star festivities as the grind of what will then have been nearly 60 games has taken a toll.

That toll is reflected in how the standings have taken shape, with teams in contention for the Playoffs and legitimate shots at making deep Playoff runs distancing themselves from the lesser teams who are not in position to well withstand the rigors of the long season that is nearly two thirds complete.

As the final third of the season is about to unfold, teams will look to the trading deadline in a couple of weeks to make moves designed to enhance their chances of improving their seeding position for the Playoffs, or to make a run at one of the final spots that will remain contested deep into April.

Cleveland currently holds the top seed in the Eastern Conference with a two-game lead over Boston. Washington and Toronto are effectively tied for the third and fourth seeds. Atlanta, Indiana, Chicago and Detroit comprise the bottom four seeds but both Chicago and Detroit have losing records. Four teams – Charlotte, Milwaukee, New York and Miami are all within two games of the eighth seeded Pistons.

In the West, Golden State has a 3.5 game lead over San Antonio for the top seed. At 43-8 the Warriors have the best record in the league with the Spurs’ 39-11 mark second best. Houston is seeded third, four games behind the Spurs with Utah holding the fourth seed.

The bottom four seeds are held by the LA Clippers, Memphis, Oklahoma City and Denver. Only the Nuggets have a losing record of the group, and the top seven teams appear very secure in making the post season. Seventh seeded Oklahoma City started this week seven games ahead of 22-28 Denver.

The primary goal of every NBA team is to make the Playoffs. Secondary goals are to make the Playoffs with as high a seed as possible. But the primary objective is to make the Playoffs.

As such teams tend to place added emphasis when facing Playoff quality teams, especially within their own conference. The effort level may be considerably less when hosting teams out of Playoff contention, often content to just come away with a win without taxing the starters too much.

This sets up nicely to play poor teams that have not shown signs of quitting on the season when getting significant points when facing teams contending for the Playoffs, especially when the underdog is rested and facing a foe with a bigger game on deck or just having been played. Something to track over the next few weeks.

A look at the global pointspread results for the season to date show home teams with an overall 393-365-9 ATS record through Sunday (51.9 percent) with home favorites 249-232-7 ATS (51.8 percent), home underdogs 137-126-2 ATS (52.1 percent) and home pick ‘ems 7-7 ATS (50.0 percent), attesting to the excellent job the linesmaker has done in achieving balance in the overall results.

Home teams are 448-319 SU thus far (58.4 percent). OVER still has a considerable edge versus UNDER for the season with 401 games going OVER the total, 360 UNDER and 6 pushes.

Here’s a look at three games this weekend.

Indiana at Washington (Fri.): These teams have split their first two meetings with each winning at home, although Washington covered in its loss at Indiana. The games were decided by 2 and 6 points. Both also went OVER the total but only did so by less than 2 points. The games were played over a 10 day stretch in December. Washington has been perhaps the hottest team in the NBA over the past six weeks and certainly has been at home.

Through Sunday the Wizards have woven their magic to the tune of 17 straight home wins dating back to Dec. 8. The linesmakers have had trouble adjusting as Washington is 15-2 ATS in those games! They started this week on a seven-game winning streak and had won 14 of 16 since opening 2017 with a pair of road losses.

Indiana also started the week playing well, winners of six in a row (5-1 ATS). The fine recent play of the Pacers may keep this line within a couple of buckets, making a case for the confident Wizards to either extend their home winning streak or begin a new one, depending on Monday night’s home game against Cleveland. WASHINGTON

Boston at Utah (Sat.): Boston hosted Utah on Jan. 3, winning 115-104 and covering as 5.5 point home chalk. The game sailed OVER the total of 200. The Celtics are playing their third game in four nights, all on the road. Through Sunday, Boston had won seven in a row but after covering in the first three of those wins the Celtics lost ATS the next four.

Utah has gone 3-3 SU following a six-game winning streak in mid-January. The Jazz have been money burners over the past month, going 4-12 ATS starting with that loss in Boston. Utah is also playing its third game in four nights with those first two games on the road. 

This matchup features a contrast in styles with Boston being an OVER team in recent weeks. Utah has been a strong UNDER team since early December.

That both teams are here off a pair of midweek road games could result in at least one sluggish quarter, aided by the altitude. UNDER

Detroit at Toronto (Sun.): Toronto has been in a slump since mid-January, going 3-8 SU, 4-7 ATS since mid-January and is now 2.5 games behind Boston in the Atlantic Division after having led the Division for most of the season. Detroit has been streaky for much of the past month, winning or losing multiple games in a row since Jan. 3 through Sunday in which the Pistons’ loss at Indiana snapped a two-game winning streak.

The only meeting this season between the two teams was on opening night when Toronto defeated the Pistons, 109-92, easily covering as 6.5-point home favorites. 

Toronto has had injury issues over the past month but has also rested players, arguably in an effort to be fresher as Playoffs time approaches. Toronto has played well at home, going 17-9 SU and outscoring the opposition by 8.9 points per game.

The Pistons are just 9-18 SU on the road, outscored by 5.5 points per game. The Raptors have been idle since Wednesday whereas Detroit hosted San Antonio Friday night. TORONTO

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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