Quietly Pelicans rising among elites

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Every so often in the mid to late season of most sports a team comes out of virtually nowhere (think “under the radar”) and vaults into contention with an impressive run.

In sports such as football and baseball these teams often attract great attention but that is not as often the case in the current NBA where a handful of teams dominate play from start to finish. Over the past few seasons Golden State and Cleveland have been those teams. This season Houston and, to a lesser extent, Boston and Toronto have joined that duo.

Gone unnoticed has been the recent play of the New Orleans Pelicans. Led by arguably one of the top 5 players in the game, New Orleans has quietly won eight games in a row through Sunday, going 7-1 ATS in the process.

Although none of the wins in this streak have been over those five elite teams, the Pelicans did win their two most recent games against that top tier of teams, defeating Boston on the road and Houston at home in January after dropping their first six games played this season against that group.

Davis has been on fire. In the eight-game streak that began with a win at Brooklyn on Feb. 10, Davis is averaging 37.3 points per game and 14.8 rebounds per game. In four of the games he topped 40 points, highlighted by his 53 points in a win over Phoenix. And to complete his statistical profile in those eight games, Davis has averaged 1.8 assists, 2.9 steals and 2.8 blocks per game. It’s not often we get to see such an outstanding well rounded performance, so let’s acknowledge and enjoy it for as long as it lasts.

As a result, New Orleans has ascended to the fourth seed in the West, percentage points ahead of Minnesota and just a half game behind currently third seeded Portland.

The regular season ends in just over one month, on Wednesday, April 11, and as such all teams have 20 or fewer games remaining. Minnesota has the fewest games still to play, 16, with Oklahoma City and Phoenix each having 17 left. Nine teams have 20, ten have 19 and eight have 18 remaining.

Much will be decided over the next five weeks as teams begin their final surges to make the Playoffs or, if already in Playoffs position, maintain or improve their seeding.

Over the course of the 82-game regular season teams will have peaks and valleys as well as streaks and slumps along the way. Some teams are able to get off to strong starts and give the appearance of being contenders over the first half of the season only to fade after the All Star break. Others are able to overcome sluggish starts and play their best basketball as the Playoffs approach, which is the goal of all teams.

Injuries, trades and the signing of Developmental League players or other free agents also factor into the mix of how teams change both in terms of personnel and consistency of play.

A few weeks ago the concept of current form was discussed. For this week let’s take a slightly longer view of how this season has unfolded by looking at which teams have shown significant differences in their results by looking at how teams have performed over their most recent 30 games as compared to the 30 or so games that preceded them.

The teams with the best records (we’re talking Straight Up) over their most recent 30 games are Houston at 24-6, Golden State (23-7), Toronto (22-8) and the LA Clippers (21-9). Three other teams have gone 20-10 during this stretch (New Orleans, Philadelphia and Portland).

The Rockets and Warriors, first and second in the West, have played at the same pace over their last 30 games as they did earlier. Prior to their last three games Houston was 25-7 and Golden State 26-7. Toronto, the leader in the East, has also played at roughly the same pace, having gone 23-9 previously.

The Clippers have made a huge move in the standings over the past couple of months. Prior to their current 21-9 run the Clips were just 13-19 and well out of the Playoffs. Starting this week the Clippers, at 34-28, were still out of the Playoffs but seeded ninth and just a half game behind eighth seeded Denver.

Not only that but the Clippers are just 2.5 games behind third seeded Portland. The Blazers, now 37-26, had played basically .500 basketball prior to their last 30 games, going 17-16.

As a result of their strong starts to the season the Rockets, Warriors and Raptors are within two games of .500 in terms of their pointspread results over their last 30 games. Meanwhile the Clippers are 19-11 ATS over their last 30 games.

Other teams that have been nicely profitable over their last 30 games are the LA Lakers (19-11 ATS), Miami (18-10-2) and Philadelphia (18-11-1)

The teams that have struggled the most over their last 30 games are New York and Phoenix. Each has gone just 7-23. Four other teams have won less than 10 of their last 30 – Brooklyn and Sacramento are 8-22 while Memphis and Orlando are 9-21.

Previously the Knicks had started 17-17 whereas the Suns were a woeful 12-23. Because the Knicks’ play has dropped so dramatically they’ve gone just 10-20 ATS over their last 30 games. Because Phoenix had started their season so poorly and has played only modestly better the Suns, while still costing backers money, are 13-15-2 ATS over their last 30 games.

The two costliest teams at the betting windows over their past 30 games have been Cleveland and Detroit. Both are just 8-22 ATS over this period.

Since Jan. 13 the Pistons are 4-19 ATS while going 7-16 SU. During this run the Pistons actually had a five-game SU winning streak. Yet in those five wins Detroit was just 2-3 ATS. The Pistons entered this week on a 1-10 ATS run.

Cleveland’s pointspread woes have been documented many times in this column, almost becoming a weekly feature. For the season the Cavs are just 19-42-1 ATS, cashing at just a 31.2 percent rate. Cleveland backers are down 27.2 net units.

Heading into the All Star break Cleveland covered four straight games, winning all four SU. But since play resumed the Cavs, favored in each game, have gone 2-4 SU and just 1-5 ATS.

The oft quoted statistical axiom of “regression to the mean” is being severely tested this season and it will be worth watching how the Cavs perform ATS over their remaining 20 regular season games. The regression axiom suggests the Cavs should be profitable down the stretch. But it is just a theory, not a law, so be cautious when, or if, considering them for play.

Here are thoughts on three games this weekend.

Houston Rockets at Toronto Raptors (Friday): Both teams started this week seeded tops in their Conference with Toronto two games up on Boston in the East and Houston a half game ahead of Golden State in the West. Both teams are rested after last having played on Wednesday and each plays next on Sunday. Their prior meeting this season, in Houston, was way back in mid-November and the Rockets, favored by 6.5, were soundly beaten by the Raptors as Toronto won 129-113.

Houston has been absolutely red hot dating back to early January. After enduring a 2-7 SU slump, since Jan. 8 the Rockets are 22-2 SU and entered this week on a 15-game winning streak. Toronto has been almost as hot, going 11-1 SU since Feb. 2 and has the best home record in the league this season, 26-5. As impressive as that is, equally impressive, if not more so, is Houston’s 24-7 SU record on the road. The Rockets started this week having won eight straight road games dating back to Feb. 1, going 7-1 ATS in the process. HOUSTON

Washington Wizards at Miami Heat (Saturday): Both teams are battling for Playoff positioning in the East with Washington starting the week seeded fifth, 2.5 games ahead of eighth seeded Miami. These teams met earlier in the week, in Washington on Tuesday, the second time this season they’ve played twice within a few days. In back-to-back games with an off night in between the Heat and Wizards each won on the other’s court in mid-November in games decided by 9 and 3 points.

Having split their two previous meetings in November the play here will be to back the loser of Tuesday night’s game to gain quick revenge but, more importantly, even the season series with a win here. TUESDAY LOSER

Golden State Warriors at Minnesota Timberwolves (Sunday): Golden State continues to play well, starting the week having won five straight and 8 of 9, although on a 2-4 ATS run. On the road, the Warriors are just 2-7 ATS since Jan. 20. And although they’ve won their last three road games SU, they failed to cover at both Washington and Atlanta. Jimmy Butler is sidelined indefinitely with a knee injury and Minnesota has gone 2-2 both SU and ATS thus far.

The absence of Butler should provide a few extra points in the line (Golden State was favored by 8.5 and 12.5 points in the two November home games). MINNESOTA

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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