The second half of the marathon that is the NBA regular season is well under way with the most significant milestones in coming weeks being the All Star Break and, more importantly, the trade deadline, which is at noon Pacific time on Thursday, Feb. 24.
While the Carmelo Anthony to New York rumors have resurfaced amid reports of three team trade negotiations there are sure to be some well known players on the move as teams assess their chances for making the playoffs and making a run.
Teams have played roughly 50 games thus far and the combination of both fatigue and nagging injuries are taking a toll and become an even greater part of the handicapping equation.
Teams with gaining rosters, such as Boston and the Lakers, will often rest players or limit playing time. From a handicapping standpoint this may often occur in the second of back to back games when these teams have won the first.
The lines maker will factor these possibilities into the line but often the adjustment may not be great enough to overcome the drop off in talent that will play the majority of minutes.
Additionally, fatigue may be affecting many rookies who will now be entering uncharted territory if they’ve been playing significant minutes.
Teams almost certain of making the playoffs are more likely to employ such strategies and they pick and choose their spots for all out efforts over the next couple of months.
In many instances the pure gap in talent is enough for the better teams to defeat weaker foes. But laying significant points can often be hazardous when playing the elite teams in the league.
There have been only two instances of double digit road favorites and those decisions have been split. Contrary to what you may think the double digit home dogs did not involve Cleveland. Rather, in mid December, Washington was getting 10 points at home from the Lakers and a few nights later took Miami to the wire, losing at home by a single point as 12 point underdogs.
But the Cleveland Cavaliers have set a new mark for futility as they entered Monday night’s game at Dallas having lost 24 straight games overall.
Challenging the Cavs for headlines trumpeting ineptitude are the aforementioned Washington Wizards who have started the season 0-25 on the road.
Somewhere a sports book has to put up a prop as to which will occur first – a road win by Washington or a win anywhere by Cleveland.
Two of the hottest teams entering the week reside in Texas. San Antonio, continues to sport the league’s best record, 42-8, has won 8 of 10 game but rival Dallas has won 9 of 10. A third member of their Southwest Division, Memphis, has also won 8 of 10. The hottest team in the East is Chicago, also winners of 8 of 10 through Sunday.
In addition to woeful Cleveland there are three teams that are struggling mightily entering the week. Having lost 9 of their last 10 games are Minnesota, Toronto and Washington.
Whereas the NFL prides itself on being a league of parity the NBA remains a league of haves and have nots and the gap seems to be widening between the two extremes.
But the pointspread is the great equalizer. At least in theory. The gap between the league’s best and worst straight up records is 34.5 games. But the gap between the league’s best and worst point spread records is just 13 games.
Here’s a look at three games for this weekend.
Lakers at Knicks (Fri): The much improved New York Knicks lost by 22 points when these teams met in Los Angeles in early January, setting the stage for an inspired effort in this rematch. The situation clearly is favorable for the hosts as they catch the Lakers in not just the second of back to back games but off of a game in Boston on Thursday night.
The Lakers will be seeking to avenge a home loss to the Celtics in which they led at halftime but were outplayed in the fourth quarter. The Knicks have started to show an ability to step up in class on their home court with wins this season over Miami, Chicago, San Antonio and Oklahoma City. They should be the slightest of underdogs and primed. KNICKS.
Bulls at Hornets (Sat): These teams meet for the first time this season. Chicago has pulled to within 3½ games of Boston for the top seed in the East. New Orleans is currently seeded fifth in the West, four games behind second seeded Dallas. The Bulls are well rested after having last played Wednesday in Utah. New Orleans played in what should have been an intense game in Orlando on Friday.
Chicago won both meetings last season and is an improved team with a greater emphasis on defense. The total may be quite low as the Bulls are 18-31 to the under this season and the Hornets are 18-34. Still, the matchups and the situation favor a low scoring game as Chicago wraps up a road trip and New Orleans just faced the Magic a night earlier. UNDER.
Heat at Celtics (Sun): These teams meet for the third time this season but the first since mid November, a time at which Boston had the more established presence. Boston won the first two meetings, by 8 at home and 5 in Miami so the Heat clearly would like to make a statement with a strong effort here. Miami starts the week in better health as Boston has several players nursing injuries.
Although Boston in playing just their second game in six days their previous game was Thursday night hosting the Lakers. Miami is almost as fresh, having played Friday in Detroit following two nights off. Both teams should be primed for good efforts but Miami has a bit more in its favor, aside from playing on the road. HEAT.