The NBA returns after All Star weekend

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The NBA returns to regular season play on Tuesday following a very entertaining All Star weekend in Los Angeles, highlighted by the performances of a couple of home town All Stars.

On Saturday night the Clippers’ Blake Griffin won the Slam Dunk Contest and barely 24 hours later the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant was named MVP of the All Star game.

Bryant led the Western Conference to a win in a typically high scoring contest that was short on defense but heavy on displaying the tremendous athleticism of pro basketball’s best players.

In winning his fourth NBA All Star MVP award Bryant had 37 points and 14 boards in just under 30 minutes of action. His performance overshadowed that of LeBron James who fashioned just the second triple double in All Star game history. James’ totals of 29 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists puts him alongside the great Michael Jordan as the only two players to accomplish that feat.

What had been a great trivia question has lost some of its uniqueness as a result. Kobe Bryant joins Bob Pettit as the only four-time winner of the NBA All Star game MVP Award. Prior to Sunday’s notoriety it’s doubtful if any of the NBA’s most ardent fans would have guessed the former St Louis Hawks forward as the player whose mark Bryant tied.

As we go to press on Monday the “melodrama’ surrounding Carmelo Anthony remains unresolved. With the trading deadline barely 72 hours away he remains a Nugget even with reports swirling that a deal with New Jersey has been worked out subject to the New York Knicks improving what had been labeled their “final” offer.

With the NBA’s high and mighty in Los Angeles over the weekend no other trades were made, or at least announced. Aside from Anthony there have not been many rumors involving potential impact players changing teams.

With teams having between 25 and 30 games remaining to play, here’s a look at some key statistics two thirds of the way through the season.

Road teams have a point spread edge over home teams of 425-386 (52.4 percent, exactly break even) with 24 pushes. Road underdogs are 298-264-19 (53 percent) but home underdogs are just one game over .500 for the season (117-116-5) which translates to more than a 10 unit loss at the betting windows.

Thus far 53 percent of totals decisions have resulted in OVERs (430) with 399 games staying UNDER in addition to 6 pushes.

This week five teams begin post All Star play covering more than 60 percent of their games, led by Philadelphia’s outstanding ATS record of 35-20-1 (64 percent). Also cashing better than three of every five tickets are Chicago, Memphis, New York and San Antonio.

Only the Washington Wizards are covering less than 40 percent of the time. At 38 percent, the Wiz have slightly underperformed Cleveland’s 41 percent “success” rate.

The Cavaliers, however, are tied with Oklahoma City for having the highest percentage of their games going OVER (61%), the only team exceeding at least 60 percent of their games.

A pair of teams have had more than 60% UNDER, led by Milwaukee (65 percent). New Orleans is close behind with 64% UNDER. The Lakers (60 percent) and Chicago (59) have also had strong UNDER tendencies this season.

The best part of the NBA season is about to unfold as the stretch run to the playoffs over the next month should give us a much clearer picture of the teams most likely to be playing for the title come June.

Here’s a look at three games this weekend.

Okla City at Orlando (Fri): Each team is seeded fourth in its respective conference with a better chance to advance their standing than fall back. In their prior meeting, Oklahoma City won 125-124 in mid January, covering as 1 point home underdogs. Based on current records each is considered a class “B” team – one likely to make the playoffs but not quite in the class of the elite considered to be the true contenders to win the championship.

Oklahoma City has performed somewhat better than Orlando when facing winning teams this season, despite playing an overall more difficult schedule than the Magic. The Thunder also have a solid winning road record, 16-11. Orlando, at 21-8, has one of the better home records in the league. The Magic are the fresher team, having played just once since the All Star break, hosting Sacramento on Wednesday.

Meanwhile the Thunder are playing their third game in four nights and last played at tough San Antonio on Wednesday. The revenge factor combines with scheduling dynamics to favor the Magic in this game, especially with the visitors returning home to host the Lakers on Sunday. MAGIC.

Utah at Detroit (Sat): Detroit is 21-36 yet just 4½ games out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with two teams between them and eighth seeded Indiana. Utah is clinging to the eighth playoff spot in the West, tied with Memphis but just 5½ games ahead of 12-seed Houston and just 1½ games behind the two teams tied for the fifth and sixth seeds.

Considering the fact that the two Eastern teams currently seeded seventh and eighth both have losing records, it is quite possible that a strong late season run could get the Pistons into the playoffs. Utah has yet to win since Tyrone Corbin replaced Jerry Sloan as coach, dropping all three contests prior to the All Star break.

Despite the 10 games difference in their season records these teams have gone an identical 14-19 over their last 33. Utah won the earlier meeting at home in early January, 102-97, failing to cover as 9-point favorites. This line should be considerably shorter, perhaps even close to a pick’em. Both teams played on the road Friday night. Based on Utah’s current form and overall 14-15 road mark it’s hard to make a case in support. PISTONS.

Memphis at S.Antonio (Sun): San Antonio begins post-All Star play with the league’s best record, 46-10, and a six-game lead for the top seed in the West. Memphis starts play tied with Houston for the eighth and final seed but in outstanding current form, winning eight of 10 prior to the All Star break. But the Grizzlies will have to play without star Rudy Gay for perhaps the next month after an injury just prior to the break.

Gay’s nearly 20 points and just over six boards per game will be missed and will be difficult to replace. Memphis is not a deep team and it will take time to make compensating adjustments. The Grizzlies are also off of a Saturday night game hosting Sacramento while the Spurs last played on Friday, hosting New Jersey.

This is San Antonio’s third straight home game following nine road contests in succession prior to the break. This concluded a stretch of 12 of 13 games on the road. The Spurs lead the league with an average home margin of plus 10.8 points per game, resulting from the league’s best home mark of 25-2. SPURS.

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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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