Rockets have been first half star of the season wins market

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The NBA All Star game is still several weeks away but the regular season has passed the midpoint with many teams showing the effects of what has already been a three-month grind. 

Teams have pretty much established their identities for this season and thus far the number of disappointing teams exceeds the list of teams performing better than expected.

As we did about a month or so ago, let’s look at how teams at the top and bottom of the list are performing versus preseason expectations as measured by Season Win Totals.

One team is blowing away the field in terms over being on a pace to exceed its projected wins total. Shame on you if you did not identify that team as Houston. Through Sunday the Rockets were 34-13 and in control of the fourth seed in the Western Conference. 

Projected to win 43.5 games, the Rockets are on pace toward 60 wins, nearly 16 more than projected. To put this in perspective, the team on pace to exceed its projection by the second greatest amount is San Antonio. The elite Spurs are on pace to win 65 games, barely seven games above their projected 57.5. Utah is the only other team currently on pace to exceed its projection by at least five wins.

The bad news is really bad as three teams are on a current pace to fall short of their projected wins by double digits. At 16-28 Minnesota is on pace to fall nearly 12 wins short of their projected 41.5. Falling short by slightly more than 11 games is Portland. Projected to make the Playoffs with 45.5 wins the Trailblazers started this week just 19-27. 

With the great disparity between the top teams in the West and the bottom teams, Portland is in contention with several other teams for the eighth seed. Dallas was thought to be a contender for a seven or eight seed with 39 projected wins but at 15-29 the Mavericks are on pace to win just 28 games.

New York, Detroit and Miami are also on pace to fall short by more than five games of their projected wins totals with Detroit the most disappointing of the trio considering their projection was for 44.5 wins.

In using this information going forward on a handicapping basis, we may want to avoid laying points with the disappointing teams and look to take points with the teams exceeding expectations.

Handicapping and betting the NBA remains an exercise in identifying favorable and unfavorable situations more than a strict reliance on Power Ratings. Injuries remain a major variable on a game-to-game basis with the vast majority of injuries that cause players to miss games being of the short term variety rather than injuries that sideline players for weeks or months.

It is commonplace for a player to miss just a game or two and then return from a minor injury. And more and more coaches are resting players on a more frequent basis to compensate for the grind of the schedule with the goal of being fresh and healthy when the postseason begins. 

 The Playoffs scheduling is much less demanding than the scheduling and travel demands of the regular season. Many professional bettors bypass the NBA regular season for those very reasons, waiting to get involved when virtually every game is crucial.

The casual bettor, the recreational bettor or perhaps simply the NBA fan who likes to have some action while watching his or her favorite team can have a slight edge by visiting the various sites on the Internet that provide daily injury updates or capsule pre-game previews. 

The marketplace is changing and as a general rule the betting public is much smarter today than a decade ago. The long held conventional wisdom of the “value” being on the underdog and the UNDER, as the public generally overbets the favorite and the OVER, is not nearly as applicable as it was for many years.

As with virtually every endeavor in all walks of life, the harder you work and the deeper you dig for information the better the chance for success – even in something as challenging as betting and beating the NBA.

Here’s a look at three games this weekend.

Washington at Atlanta (Fri.): Both teams are rested and next play on Sunday. The Division rivals have met twice this season and both were in the first two weeks of the season. The home team won and covered both games. Atlanta has won 4 of 6 since their seven-game winning streak ended and after a stretch in which the Hawks lost 6 of 7 home games that has reversed and Atlanta started this week having won 6 of 7 at home. Washington has performed dramatically different at home than on the road. 

Through Sunday the Wizards had won 13 straight home games but have won just five road games all season, losing 14. Both teams had won 14 of their previous 20 games through Sunday. Considering Washington’s contrast in home vs. away performance the preference is to back the Hawks at what should be a reasonable price considering they were favored by just 3.5 points in their first meeting on this court. ATLANTA

Memphis at Utah (Sat.): Memphis played at Portland on Friday night whereas Utah’s last game was on Thursday when they hosted the lowly L.A. Lakers. These teams have already met three times this season with the road team winning, and covering, all three games. Their first meeting, in mid-November, went OVER the Total but their next two meetings, in mid-December and early January, each stayed UNDER the Total by margins of 30.5 and 20 points, producing total points of just 155 and 167. 

Playing in Utah in the second of back-to-back nights can be draining and that makes a positive case for Utah. But considering how low scoring the last two meetings were, the better play might be on the Total. UNDER

Oklahoma City at Cleveland (Sun.): These teams meet for the first time this season. Cleveland swept the series last season and won the final meeting of the previous season. The Cavs have struggled against good teams lately with losses at Utah and Golden State and a home loss to San Antonio just within the past two and a half weeks. But Oklahoma City has fared poorly on the road with its 2-7 SU and 3-6 ATS records dating back to December 29. Cleveland matches up well against the Thunder.

Expect OKC’s Russell Westbrook to continue to pile up stats but his supporting cast does not provide the same depth and balance LeBron James has with the Cavs. Cleveland should be fresh following home games against Sacramento and Brooklyn in which the starters should not have been taxed. 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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