Pelicans, Sixers two of the feel good stories of NBA

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As football winds down over the next month the NBA will begin to attract more attention with the annual coming out party taking place on Christmas Day. There are five games to attract the nation’s attention on an otherwise quiet day in sports.

The season is almost a month and a half old and we are starting to get a picture of how teams are developing, which early season surprises are likely to last or fizzle and those teams off to slow starts beginning to get into expected form.

At 11-7 the Philadelphia 76ers are one of the early season surprises. After several seasons of accumulating top draft choices and enduring crucial injuries in the process things are looking bright with Joel Embiid, among others, becoming a force. The key to sustaining that success will be in staying healthy (an issue in recent seasons) and not running out of gas after the All Star break.

The 76ers are on a pace to nicely exceed its Season Wins Total of roughly 39 which would have them in the Playoffs. Whether that will occur this season is subject to debate but the Sixers are positioning themselves to be players in the East for seasons to come, especially as a number of the established teams enter what is often an inevitable down cycle after multiple seasons of success.

Overall this season, scoring is up an average of 3.5 total points per game over the same point in the season last season. Ignoring points scored in overtime the first 289 games of this season have produced an average of 209.8 total points per game. Through the same number of games last season the average total points per game in regulation play was 206.2

Yet the linesmaker has been quick to realize this and adjustments have been made quicker than in past seasons as the betting markets have become sharper and more sophisticated.

With analytics plus an ever increasing data base of past results both bettor and bookmaker have to be prepared to react quicker than in the past.

It’s an old adage that we should never overreact to what we’ve seen last that generally applies more to football where games are played once per week and the NFL schedule consists of just 16 games per team.

In the NBA there are 82 games in a season which translates to often 3 or 4 games per week. Injuries are also more critical to handicapping the NBA because only 5 players per team are on the court at one time, thus magnifying the presence of any one player, starter or reserve.

Hence despite the increased scoring this season there have been more UNDERS (154) than OVERS (131) in addition to 4 pushes. A small part of the explanation can also be attributed to few games going into overtime this season versus last with 8 going more than 48 minutes this season compared to 22 though the same point last season.

Here are previews of three games this weekend.

New Orleans at Utah (Friday): New Orleans has started 11-9 and is showing signs of improvement suggestive of perhaps being a lower tier Playoff team in the tough Western Conference. In Anthony Davis the Pelicans have one of the top players in the NBA but their lack of recent success and playing in a minor market have not gotten Davis the attention he might otherwise receive.

Utah has not started the season well and stood 9-11 through Sunday. They miss the contributions of Gordon Hayward who left for Boston in the offseason. This is also a tough spot for the Jazz who played at the Clippers Thursday night. New Orleans is fairly fresh, having played Wednesday at home against Minnesota after being off since this past Saturday when they lost at Golden State. NEW ORLEANS

Memphis at Cleveland (Saturday): Memphis has gotten off to a slow start thus far with a 7-12 record through Sunday. Entering this week the Grizzlies had not just lost 8 in a row but had lost ATS in each of those games. The Cavs were 5-7 in early November amid reports of internal friction. But since that low point Cleveland has won 7 straight although going just 3-4 ATS.

The Cavs catch Memphis after the Griz played back to back games against San Antonio, including hosting the Spurs Friday night. Cleveland is off a road game at lowly Atlanta on Thursday. These teams split their two games last season, played on back to back nights in mid December, with the Cavs winning easily at home by 17. CLEVELAND

Orlando at New York (Sunday): There is optimism in New York with the early season play of the Knicks, off to a 10-9 start that includes a 9-3 mark at home including 7 of their last 8 through Sunday and covering in all 8. Their problems have been on the road including a 112-99 loss at Orlando in early November. The Magic are just 8-12 overall and had lost 6 straight road games through Sunday.

The Knicks are expected to be full healthy by the time this game is played as Kristaps Porzingis has been battling some nagging injuries. The Knicks are playing with an energy not seen from them in several seasons and the decision to trade Carmelo Anthony just prior to the start of the season seems to have been justified. NEW YORK

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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