Although the NBA All Star game is often thought of as being played at roughly the midpoint of the regular season, the reality is two thirds has been played. Every team has played at least 51 of their 82 games with a half dozen teams already having played 55.
The playoffs are starting to come into focus. The last major event prior to the playoffs occurs this Thursday when the trading deadline comes up.
The lengthy All Star break also concludes Thursday with a pair of attractive games marking the resumption of action. One night later on Friday, 28 of the 30 teams will take the court.
Rumors are always rampant as the trade deadline approaches and there likely will be a handful of trades as teams tweak their roster to add depth or improve an area of major weakness. Blockbuster deals are less likely to be made, especially involving the leading contenders who generally have been playing with a high degree of chemistry and resultant success.
Injuries might affect any reluctance to tamper with what has been successful thus far but in the case of players expected to be unavailable for long stretches of games, or perhaps out for the season, their teams may be less reluctant to maintain the status quo.
The current seedings in the Western Conference show the top four teams each starting post-All Star plays with leads of between 3 and 5 games with Golden State, San Antonio, Oklahoma City and the LA Clippers occupying those top four spots. The second tier in the West has Memphis seeded fifth, three games ahead of Dallas, which in turn has a two-game lead over both Portland and Utah who are tied for the final two seeds.
The Trailblazers and Jazz have .500 records as play resumes with Houston at 27-28, one half game out of the playoffs. There is a four-game gap between the Rockets and No. 10 Sacramento so the West playoffs field appears to involve five teams battling for the final four spots.
The situation is much different in the Eastern Conference where Cleveland leads Toronto by threegames for the top seed. There is a 4.5 game gap between the Cavaliers and third seeded Boston, but the current ninth seed, Detroit, is just 4.5 games behind the Celtics.
What the situation in the East means going forward is there will be more games with significant playoff implications for a pair of key reasons. The more obvious reason is the need to just make the eight-team field. Given the closeness of the teams seeded 3 through 9 is the strong desire to gain a top 4 seed, which carries with it home court advantage in the opening round of the playoffs.
This could mean tighter games played between teams battling for those seeds, which could result in nice plays on the underdog and also the UNDER as teams start to play more defensive in the sense of avoiding mistakes in the form of turnovers, bad shots and committing fouls. These games will become of great importance over the final month of the season that begins in the middle of March.
Scoring has picked up in recent weeks. There were 801 games played prior to the All Star break with 402 played prior to Dec. 20 and 399 played since that date. In those first 402 there were 183 OVER, 210 UNDER and 9 pushes with an average of 201.8 total points scored. The results from Dec. 20 forward are almost the exact reverse with 210 OVER, 184 UNDER and 5 pushes with an average of 205.3 total points scored.
For much of the season road teams held a solid edge over home teams ATS but that margin has virtually been eliminated. Again, looking at the above splits pre and post Dec. 20, road teams had been 204-191-7 ATS prior to Dec. 20 but just 188-206-5 ATS since.
As play resumes on Thursday and Friday teams will be rested and fresh with at least a week off since playing their last game. As such we should see full starting lineups with the exception of injured players.
While it is always important to emphasize current form we must also be aware of how a team has performed over the entirety of the season and include in that awareness the quality of opposition faced during various segments of the schedule along the way.
Here’s a look at three games to be played this weekend.
Miami at Atlanta: Miami ended pre-All Star play with a pair of home losses to the Clippers and San Antonio. None of Atlanta’s last 25 games have had a closing total of 197 or lower. Miami’s totals have largely been in the 190s but 22 of their last 28 Totals have been priced at 193 or higher.
Considering the results of their first three meetings, the most recent of which was Jan. 31, we could see similar value in expecting a lower than expected scoring game here. UNDER.
Golden State at LA Clippers: The Warriors are 13-7-1 when laying single digits, including 10-6-1 on the road. That is in addition to winning outright both games in which they were underdogs. The Clippers are playing well but the Warriors should be focused for a team they may well have to face in the Playoffs and when the Warriors put forth max effort they are tough to beat, even for quality underdogs. With the Clippers playing Thursday and off on Friday and the Warriors playing in Portland on Friday there might also be some slight value built into the line. GOLDEN STATE
Cleveland at Oklahoma City: OKC has coverer 7 of its last 9 home games and was favored by more than 8 points in each game.
The line will be more competitive here but the combination of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook is better than whichever player you choose to add to LeBron James for the Cavaliers. Were it not for the outstanding play of the Warriors and Clippers the Thunder would be getting much more consideration as an NBA Title contender. OKLAHOMA CITY.
Andy Iskoe, and his Logical Approach, provides his popular and unique handicapping statistics to GamingToday readers and online visitors. He has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football. Email: [email protected]