Rockets, Grizzlies surprising the experts with fast starts

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With more than a quarter of the NBA season complete let’s take a look at the teams that have exceeded or fallen short of expectations using an objective measure rather than opinions or that phrase that has come into vogue over the past few years, “the eye test.”

Perhaps the best objective measure for this exercise is to look at how each NBA team has fared compared to their season wins projections by looking at the full season pace based upon games played to date.

Two teams are currently on pace to exceed their projected total wins as posted by the Westgate Race and Sports book prior to the start of the current season.

At 17-7 the Houston Rockets are on pace to win 58 games, 14.5 more than their projected total of 43.5 which had them projected as the eighth seed in the Western Conference.

Only one other team is on pace to exceed its projection by double digits and that team is also in the West and may come as a surprise given the number of early season injuries they have sustained. Projected to win 44 games and finish seventh in the West, the Memphis Grizzlies are on a pace to win 56 games with their 17-8 start.

Only two other teams are on pace to exceed their projected win totals by more than 7 games – the New York Knicks (on a pace to win 48 games) and the San Antonio Spurs (on a pace to win 65 games).

At the other end of the projected wins spectrum are four teams on pace to fall short of their totals by double digits and fifth very close to doing so.

At 5-18 the Dallas Mavericks, projected to win 39 games, are on a current pace to win just 18 games – a shortfall of a whopping 21 games below expectations.

Pardon the pun but on the same pace as Dallas is Minnesota. Projected to just miss the Playoffs with 41.5 wins the Timberwolves’ disappointing 6-18 start has them on pace to win just 21 games, also a shortfall of 21 games.

Miami and New Orleans are also on pace to fall just over 10 wins below their projected totals and Washington is on pace to fall 9.5 games short.

Of course the dynamics of the schedule insofar as when you play strong or weak teams is a major factor influencing teams’ current pace but so is the play on the court regardless of the foes faced over a stretch of roughly 25 of the 82 games teams will play.

There are two ways to interpret and use this data. One would be to expect the direction of the teams to continue, looking for spots to back the over achieving teams and to go against the under achieving teams.

The opposite point of view would hold that for the most part teams will trend towards their projections and that the teams currently on a pace to greatly exceed their projections will tend to lose more than average over the balance of the season while teams currently under achieving will play better basketball over the rest of the season.

It will be interesting to follow these teams at the extreme of the projections spectrum over the next couple of months, looking for signs of a potential reversal on which we can capitalize at the betting windows.

Here’s a look at three games this weekend.

Atlanta at Toronto (Friday): Atlanta is playing .500 basketball whereas the Raptors have the second best record in the East, 16-7. Earlier this month Toronto routed the Hawks 128-84 on this court, setting up this quick revenge spot for Atlanta. The Hawks are well rested for this rematch, having last played on Tuesday, their only game since last Friday. Toronto is off a pair of games against Milwaukee and Philadelphia and figure to have not been taxed too much in either game.

Favored by 8.5 points in their first meeting, Toronto likely comes close to double digits in this spot and could be bet up due to that 44 point win. The Raptors probably get the win but expect a much better effort from the Hawks who are a good, but not yet a great, team. ATLANTA

Portland at Golden State (Saturday): At 12-13 entering this week Portland is falling somewhat short of preseason expectations. Earlier this season Golden State blew out Portland 127-104, easily covering as 5.5 point road favorites. The Warriors enter this week having lost to the spread in 3 straight games but are still 12-12-1 ATS while winning 21 of 25 games.

That’s not bad for a team that has laid double digits in all but 7 games this season. Golden State’s multiple options wears down opponents earlier in games than usual and that often leads to extending leads in the fourth quarter when their reserves are fresher than the opponents. GOLDEN STATE

Utah at Memphis (Sunday): Memphis has been an early season surprise, especially when considering the injuries they’ve suffered. Playing in the tough Southwest Division the 17-8 Grizzlies sit third behind San Antonio and Houston. Utah is off to a solid 15-10 start.

Their 102-96 home loss to Memphis on November 14 was the start of Memphis’ first 6 game winning streak of the season. Their second such streak was intact through last Sunday. Both teams are rested after having last played on Friday with Memphis in the third game of a four game homestand. MEMPHIS

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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