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New Orleans will be the center of the NBA universe this weekend with the annual All Star festivities weekend, the highlight of which will be Sunday’s All Star game featuring most of the league’s elite players.

As with All Star games in most sports the intensity level of the competition will be low for most of the contest, although when it comes to the final few minutes of the fourth quarter that level will pick up. After all, the players are aware of the difference between the checks the winners receive versus those received by the losing team ($50,000 per player on the winning team, $25,000 for the losing players).

It’s a fun weekend with the three-point shooting and slam dunk contests providing entertainment on Saturday. Friday’s Rising Stars contest gets the festivities underway and it can be argued the amount of young, up-and-coming talent is at an all-time level. The future of the NBA is bright as a new generation of talent is making its mark.

Rather than taking just a weekend off for the All Star break the NBA takes a full week before resuming play. Most of the league will play their final pre-break games on Wednesday with just two games on Thursday. Play will resume the following Thursday, Feb. 23, which will have the players well rested.

Through last Sunday teams had played between 53 and 57 games, roughly two thirds of the 82-game regular season schedule. The trade deadline is Feb. 23, when the NBA resumes play, and the focus then becomes the race to the Playoffs.

Golden State remains the team to beat. At 44-8 through Sunday the Warriors have the best record in the league, five games better than second-best San Antonio. Cleveland has the best record in the East, 37-16. The Cavs are 2.5 games ahead of Boston for the best record in the East.

Barring key injuries it certainly appears the NBA Finals will be a rubber match between Cleveland and Golden State with the Cavs seeking to defend the title they won from the Warriors last season.

If Cleveland and Golden State do meet in the NBA Finals it would be 

the first time in NBA history the Finals would feature the same two teams for a third straight season.

There have been 14 previous instances of the same teams meeting in the Finals in back to back seasons, the most recent occurrence, obviously, being last season.

Looking at how teams are performing against the pointspread no team is hitting 60 percent or more ATS and only 1 team is at under 40 percent.

The two best pointspread teams are teams that had struggled for much of the season but have recently turned things around. At 59.3 percent the Philadelphia 76ers are the NBA Betting Board leaders (32-22 TAS) followed very closely by Miami (32-23, 58.2 percent).

Miami’s recent 13 game winning streak, in which they covered every game, turned the Heat from ATS losers to winners. Prior to the streak, which ended, ironically, at Philadelphia last Saturday, the Heat were down 5.2 net units with a 19-22 ATS record. The Heat are now up 6.7 net units for the season which is of no consolation to those who had backed the Heat in November and December and had given up on backing them as one of their New Year’s resolutions.

Perhaps surprisingly the next two leaders in the Pointspread Derby are two of the league’s best teams, Houston and San Antonio. The Rockets are 40-17 SU, the third best record in the league. Houston is also a money making 33-24 ATS (57.9 percent).

San Antonio, despite losing at New Yor, has the NBA’s second best record at 41-13, is a very strong 31-12 ATS (57.4 percent). And the fifth best team ATS is also a very good team as Toronto is 32-23 SU as well as 31-23-1 ATS (57.4 percent).

The winning team that fits nicely in what had been the classic stereotype of a team with a strong winning SU record but a poor ATS record is defending champion Cleveland. The Cavs, 37-16 SU, are just 24-27-2 ATS (47.1 percent).

The only team covering less than 40 percent of their games is Milwaukee. The Bucks are 21-32 ATS (39.6 percent). The worst team in the NBA, 9-45 Brooklyn, has covered just 43.4 percent of its games (23-30-1 ATS).

Of the 8 teams covering less than 45 percent of their games only one, Utah, has a winning SU record.

These results may suggest that perhaps we are not seeing favorites priced as highly in the current betting environment as we might have 10 or 20 years ago. The betting marketplace is much more diverse than ever before – in all sports.

Twenty years ago the “sharps” had the edges in playing underdogs the public has become more comfortable in playing those same underdogs. In many instances, this has created “value” in playing on favorites that are lower priced than they would have been in similar scenarios years ago.

There are many explanations being offered for this shift in betting characteristics but it is hard to prove whether any, many or all can explain this phenomenon.

Several things are worth bearing in mind. “Big Money” is not necessarily “Smart Money” and the recent explosion in advanced statistical analysis, commonly referred to as sabermetrics (which specifically began as a discipline applied to baseball but has come to be recognized as a term that covers all sports).

Such analytics explain what has happened, as do the “old school” statistics but they are not all that much better, if better at all, in predicting what will happen than the statistics that have been in play for ages. Yet all of the publicity given to this “new school” of analysis suggests that they are better and thus there is greater reliance in some parts of the marketplace on those stats.

In looking to stay a step or two ahead of the bookmakers and the marketplace many professionals now look at favorites without the same disdain they showed a decade ago.

As with many things in lift things usually come full circle. The significant difference across those many aspects is the circumference of the circle.

Here’s a preview of one of the two games prior to the All Star break.

Washington at Indiana (Thu): Washington currently is seeded third in the East, a game ahead of Toronto and 2.5 games behind Boston. Indiana is seeded sixth, 2 games behind Atlanta and 3.5 games ahead of Chicago. The home team has won all three prior meetings this season although twice the SU loser has cashed the ATS ticket. The games have all been close, decided by 2, 6 and 5 points.

Since losing their first 2 games of 2017 the Wizards have gone 16-3 SU and 13-6. Included in this stretch was a run of 10 covers in a row, a streak that ended in a 116-108 win over the Lakers on February 2 when Washington was favored by 10.5 points. After winning and covering their next game against New Orleans the Wizards had gone 0-3 ATS through Sunday. Their 7 game winning streak ended in a home overtime loss to Cleveland and although they won their next two games they lost ATS in both.

The second of those wins was a non-covering home win against these Pacers. Washington has extra rest, playing its first game since hosting OKC on Monday. Indiana is playing its third game in four nights including Wednesday at Cleveland. Those dynamics could make the Pacers a small dog. INDIANA.

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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