The NBA regular season enters its second half with most teams having a pretty good idea of its identity and prospects for making the Playoffs. Over the next few weeks leading up to the trading deadline teams expecting to make the Playoffs will be looking at how to tweak their rosters as they try to make a successful run.
In looking at how the Playoff brackets are set up, Boston, Toronto and Cleveland hold the top three seeds in the East with Miami just a half game ahead of Washington for that critical fourth seed that carries with it the home court edge in an opening round series against the fifth seed.
Rounding out the rest of the current Eastern Conference field are Detroit, Indiana and Milwaukee. Philadelphia is the first team out, a game and a half behind the tied Bucks and Pistons. All eight of the Eastern Conference teams that would currently make the Playoffs have winning records. The 76ers continue to hover right around .500 with a 19-20 record through Sunday.
In the Western Conference Golden State, Houston, San Antonio and Minnesota hold the top four seeds with the Timberwolves a solid five games ahead over Oklahoma City, currently the fifth seed. The rest of Western field is filled out by New Orleans, Portland and Denver with the LA Clippers first team out but just a half game behind the eighth seeded Nuggets. There is a gap of four games between the Clippers and Utah, currently seeded tenth.
As the season extends through the second half of play it becomes important to keep in mind these seedings in looking for spots in which teams may give max efforts or rest players. Max efforts are often reserved for games that likely have some impact on making the Playoffs or improving one’s position while games against inferior foes might lend themselves more to teams resting players, seeking to do just enough to get the win without regard to the margin of victory. This is especially true when such games precede or follow games that have Playoffs impact.
One thing that has become abundantly clear to linesmakers, handicappers and bettors in recent seasons, going back a half decade or more, is betting the NBA and cashing tickets has become much more of a situational endeavor than mere reliance on Power Ratings and making adjustments for injuries and the like.
While no methodology is foolproof and all are subject to the fluctuations that occur over time the identification and anticipation of such flat spots or high energy spots is of benefit when it comes to preparation.
A good rule of thumb is to, at least once a week, plot out a team’s schedule for the next 10 games and identify each of those games as to what type of situation – or situations – are involved. The aforementioned issues of player rest and high intensity are just a couple of the variables at play as are travel, the beginning or ending of extended road trips, revenge spots (both for and against), Playoff considerations and the like.
For all sports, handicapping is both an art and a science and the degree of weight assigned to each has changed over the past couple of decades. When information was scarce and harder to come by the science usually took precedence over the art. More recently the art – the interpretation and application of the various factors that cannot be easily measured in the traditional mathematical sense – has become the greater challenge.
We, as individuals, can think outside the box, being a bit more creative in how we evaluate games and situations in an effort to gain an edge, however small, over the linesmakers due to our ability to be flexible while still being structured.
Here are previews of three games this weekend.
San Antonio at Toronto (Friday): Toronto has not been at its peak over the past week, losing two of three at home after going 21-5 dating back to Nov. 14. Toronto will look at this as more of a challenge, going up against one of the NBA’s elite franchises. With solid balance and steady inside play the Raptors are in good position to win and cover what should be a competitively priced contest. TORONTO
Golden State at Houston (Saturday): In Golden State’s win here earlier this month the Warriors were 4.5-point road favorites and figure to come similarly priced in this game. The Rockets appear to have overcome that slump virtually all teams encounter at some stage of the season and should be expected to give a full effort here, especially after having lost to this team on this court just two weeks earlier in what was a revenge game for the Warriors. HOUSTON
New York at LA Lakers (Sunday): The Lakers had won and covered four in a row entering this week, including a home win over San Antonio last Thursday. They seem to be playing with more energy and direction as their youth continues to develop. They lost at the Knicks a month ago, 113-109, and recent form suggests they are playing much better than are the Knicks with momentum heading in opposite directions. LA LAKERS