With the New York Giants’ dramatic come from behind 21-17 victory in Super Bowl XLVI over the New England Patriots the focus of the sporting world is now concentrated on the basketball hardwoods.
And whereas the culmination of the college basketball season, marked by the annual 68-team NCAA Tournament, is barely more than a month a way, arguably the best athletes on the planet play in the NBA.
The key word to describe the current NBA season, shortened from 82 to 66 games due to the owners’ lockout, might best be “pace.” The compacted schedule, which has teams playing more games in a shortened time frame, calls for teams to pace themselves throughout the duration of the regular season.
Because of the scheduling dynamics it will not be as important this season as to how high a seed the better teams are able to achieve in making the playoffs but rather being as fresh and ready as possible for the postseason when they begin in late April.
Veteran laden teams such as Boston in the East and San Antonio in the West should be content to just make the playoff field of eight teams per conference and less concerned about getting as high a seed as possible to secure the possibility of hosting as many games as possible in the postseason.
More than a third of the compacted season has been played and, while there are a number of very good teams, there does not appear to be an outstanding team to date. Oklahoma City does have the league’s best record, 16-5, and there are a total of just four teams winning at least 70 percent of its games.
Chicago, Miami, Philadelphia and Indiana currently hold the top four seeds in the Eastern Conference with Atlanta and Orlando also in pursuit of a top four seed. Despite some ugly efforts over the past few weeks Orlando has won three straight games through Sunday to stand 15-9 on the season.
Boston is currently sitting seventh after winning four straight and eight of nine, making their 13-9 record potentially deceiving. At the same time many of those wins have been against weak teams so there remains uncertainty as to whether or not the Celtics will be legitimate contenders come playoff time.
A number of long time observers contend their window has closed while others insist coach Doc Rivers’ ability to pace his personnel over the season will have Boston in position to contend when the playoffs start, assuming they are healthy. Given the past few seasons that may be a huge assumption.
Oklahoma City, the Los Angeles Clippers, San Antonio and Denver hold the top four seeds in the West with no fewer than a half dozen teams within two games of the fifth seed. Eleven of the 15 Western Conference teams are playing .500 basketball or better, including a trio of surprise teams. Not much was expected of Houston, Minnesota or Utah prior to the start of the season.
At the other end of the spectrum three teams have had miserable starts to their season and stand a combined 11-61. Charlotte, New Orleans and Washington already trail their division leaders by double digit games (as does Detroit) as each is winning under 20 percent of its games. As the week starts Charlotte has lost 11 straight games.
Our weekly check of the stats shows home teams continue to enjoy a fairly narrow edge in point spread performance versus road teams. Home teams are 188-167-1 ATS for 53 percent winning wagers. Home Underdogs finally have a winning ATS record of 60-55-1 although that mark has resulted in the slightest of losses at the betting windows due to old man 11 to 10.
UNDERS continue to outpace OVERS 196 to 156 (55.7 percent) with four pushes, a gap that has been pretty steady since the first two weeks of the season.
Scoring has been remarkably consistent since the start of the season. For the first three weeks of the season teams combined to average 189 total points per game. That’s the same average total points teams have averaged over the past three weeks as well.
More than half of all games (52 percent) have been decided by double digits. Last season only 45 percent of all games were decided by double digits. This may suggest the better teams do enjoy a significant edge when it comes to handling the dynamics of the shortened and compressed season that also began with a very limited training camp.
It will be interesting to see if this percentage of high margin games continues or starts to regress to past season’s levels. More on this topic next week.
Here’s a look at three games to be played this weekend.
Clippers at Sixers: Both teams are off to surprisingly strong starts although expectations were higher for the Clippers than for the 76ers at the start of the season. That makes this a nice test for both teams who are on paths to high playoff seeds.
Much of Philly’s early success came as the result of a favorable schedule although in the past week they had double digit wins over Chicago and Atlanta sandwiched around a 20 point home loss to Miami.
The Clippers are in the middle of a six game road trip and after struggling away from home earlier this season they’ve followed a four game road losing streak with three straight wins prior to Monday’s game in Orlando.
According to some metrics the Clippers have actually played the toughest schedule in the NBA through the first third of the season. This will be Philly’s seventh straight game against a winning team and that level of competition may well have taken it’s toll. CLIPPERS.
Blazers at Mavs: Both teams are off to similar starts, a few games above .500 with Dallas having been more streaky and Portland more choppy through the first month or so. Both teams played at different sites on Friday night and each is playing a third game in four nights although Dallas had several extra days of rest before this stretch began.
Portland has been a far better team at home (11-1) than on the road (3-9) whereas Dallas’ results have been more balanced. The Mavs have lost three in a row entering the week, two of which were at home, scoring under 90 points in each game. They’ve had significant roster turnover and thus it’s taken longer for the defending NBA champs to gel.
This is their first meeting since Dallas defeated Portland in the playoffs last season in six. The home team won nine of ten meetings last season with Dallas getting the lone win in the playoff clincher. And the Mavs covered each game in that series. MAVERICKS.
Bulls at Celtics: Last season saw a changing of the guard in the East with Chicago ascending and Boston in decline. The home team won all four games last season, with Chicago covering in three of them. But in their lone meeting thus far this season Chicago won here in mid January 88-79, covering as a one point road favorite.
Boston has been very streaky this season, with losing streaks of three and five games but also three separate winning streaks of four games, including one entering this week. But the Celtics are just 1-5 straight up against the top teams they’ve faced while they are 7-1 against the very weak teams.
Chicago has played a schedule that has been road heavy, winning 11 of 16 away from home where they are 9-1. Both teams are rested and neither plays on Monday so we should get a clean effort from both in this game. BULLS.