NBA Worthy of All-Star hype

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This past weekend’s NBA All Star festivities were largely considered a success, especially the new format of the All Star game itself. Rather than have teams representing the two conferences as had been the traditional format since the game’s inception, the NBA used a modified form of the playground method of choosing up sides from the available talent, regardless of team and conference affiliation.

The two captains were LeBron James and Stephen Curry and the new format, which was well received, produced an entertaining and competitive All Star game.

Team LeBron defeated Team Stephen, 148-145, with bettors who backed LeBron’s team (bet up from a 2 to a 2.5-point favorite) cashing their tickets as did those who bet the UNDER. The Total took quite a nosedive, opening at 341.5 and closing at 332, using the lines from the Westgate.

Regular season play resumes on Thursday with a half dozen games and the other 18 teams resume on Friday. The players should be very well rested as teams will have been idle for at least a week. There might be some rust as the players return although they will also have benefitted from the extra time given for nagging injuries to continue to heal.

Over the years handicapping and betting the NBA has evolved from more of a scientific exercise to one that now relies more on artistry. It’s a topic I have written and spoken about often.

By this description I refer to the science of handicapping as involving the development and use of Power Ratings in making decisions about how to bet a specific game. It takes the premise of “all things being equal, Team A is x points better than Team B.” Of course, all things are rarely, if ever, equal.

Back in the days before personal computers and the internet it was often difficult to gather and process meaningful statistical information unless you kept track of it yourself. That started to change nearly a generation ago as technology made it easier to gather, assemble, process and share information on a worldwide and instantaneous basis.

Those developments reduced the edges long enjoyed by handicappers who had been in front of the curve by tracking that information and keeping it to themselves. In those days developing and arriving at a Power Rating was basically the end of the process with the linesmaking process not nearly as detailed and sophisticated as it is today and has been for a number of years.

With all the information now available nearly every bettor and handicapper has pretty solid Power Ratings and other similar tools that do not differ that much from one another. The interpretation, tweaking and application of those numbers has taken on added importance, making the artistic part of the process – and how that process differs from person to person – more important to finding winners than just having “good numbers.”

This is especially true in the NBA where the overall talent level is as great as it has ever been and where coaching decisions in terms of resting players on a game to game basis is in more widespread use than ever before.

Put another way, “situational handicapping” has become more important than ever in finding games in which your numbers are useful and other games in which the numbers are secondary and often can be ignored.

One of the major challenges facing handicappers and betters is how to best balance a team’s current form and its established season-to-date level of performance.

One set of thinking places greater emphasis on what a team has accomplished over the totality of the season, making adjustment for the team’s current form gleaned from recent performances.

The opposite point of view considers current form/recent performance to have considerably more weight than what a team has accomplished over the entirety of the season to date, convinced how a team may have performed weeks or months ago has little bearing on how that team is playing currently and how it is likely to perform in its upcoming game.

Along these lines comes the question as to what constitutes current form and how far back we should look for a reasonable assessment of current form.

This is a subjective decision and some will use a very small sample of perhaps five or six games while others will use as many as 20 games (which represents a quarter of an NBA season).

I have long used the past 15 games as a pretty good indicator of current form in the NBA. Generally this will cover about one month of games with generally a half dozen home games and a half dozen road games included in the 15 game sample. And there are generally games against good, bad and average teams in most instances.

I try to focus on teams that show results of 10-5 or better (or 5-10 or worse) in the three main categories of SU results, ATS results and Totals, looking for matchups of teams in good current form (SU and/or ATS) facing a team in poor current form (SU and/or ATS). 

For Totals I look for a pair of teams that have each been prone to going OVER or staying UNDER the Total over their last 15 games (using the scores at the end of regulation so as to eliminate the impact of overtime games that can flip the Total result from an UNDER to an OVER).

Often there are signs when current form may be starting to show a reversal, such as teams that have been winning and covering but now continue to win without covering as the line catches up. Or the reverse when teams continue to lose but begin to cover as the line is slow to recognize the improved play even though it occurs in losses.

Here are thoughts on three games to be played this weekend.

Minnesota at Houston (Friday) – Minnesota entered the All Star break having lost 3 of its last 5 games but was 0-5 ATS in those games, winning but failing to cover in home wins over Sacramento and the Clippers. Houston had won 10 in a row heading into the break and was 17-2 since January 8, going a modest 11-8 ATS over this stretch.

 In two prior meetings the Rockets routed Minnesota, winning both meeting by the same 18 points, once at home and once on the road, with both meetings occurring within the past month. At the All Star break Houston was the top seed in the West by a half game over Golden State, by virtue of having played, and lost, one less game as both had 44 wins. Minnesota was seeded fourth, 10 games behind the Rockets. 

The previous meetings show the edges enjoyed by the hosts and despite the Rockets being solid chalk, they are worth backing here as both teams play their first game in more than a week. HOUSTON.

Dallas at Utah (Saturday) – Both teams played on Friday night but whereas Utah hosted Portland and is home for a second straight game Dallas was at the Lakers. Utah was the hottest team in the league prior to the All Star break, winning 11 straight games. The Jazz were 8-3 ATS during that run although all 3 ATS losses came in their final 4 games. Dallas has struggled all season but for a brief 4 game winning streak at the end of 2017. 

Since that streak ended on January 3 the Mavericks are just 5-15 SU but 10-10 ATS including cashing 4 tickets over their final 6 games heading into the break. 

These teams have met just once this season, back on October 30, when the Jazz defeated the Mavs by 18 points on this court, easily covering as 8.5 point favorites. This line should be in a similar range given the season-to-date performance of these teams and their current form. Despite both playing on Friday night, the previous week long period of inactivity should have both teams fresh.  DALLAS

San Antonio at Cleveland (Sunday) – These teams met a month ago with the Spurs defeating the Cavs 114-102, covering as 2.5 point home underdogs. It was 1 of just 4 SU wins by the Spurs as Underdogs this season who have lost 13 times taking points this season. 

The Spurs are just 8-9 ATS as Underdogs this season. That game was played while Cleveland was in the midst of an ugly 7-14 SU, 3-18 ATS run which lasted from December 19 through February. And even though the Cavs had won 9 of 10 games prior to December 19, they were just 3-7 ATS in those games. But that was then and this is now. 

Cleveland won and covered 4 straight heading into the All Star break including a pair of wins at Boston and Oklahoma City that followed the major trades the Cavs made at the trade deadline. The team clearly responded well to the restructuring of the roster and the Cavs have been reinstated as the betting favorites to win the Eastern Conference. 

San Antonio continues to be plagued by injuries to key players. The time off during the break will have benefitted the Spurs, who resumed play at Denver on Friday. The Cavs may be a bit overpriced in this spot but having lost earlier at San Antonio and having had more time to assimilate their new players into the rotation the preference will be to back the Cavs. 

Normally the first game home after an extended road trip is a negative but remember that the Spurs had the All Star break to spend with their families. That will be a much better spot in which to back the Spurs. Not here. CLEVELAND.

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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