The NBA resumed regular season play last Thursday, and although through this past Sunday just 30 games had been played since the All Star break, there are a few observations worth noting.
After gaining a quick boost from their trades at the deadline, Cleveland has dropped two of three games since returning from the break, including a 16-point home loss to San Antonio on Sunday. The Cavs are currently seeded third in the East, six games behind second seeded Boston. Of greater concern are the teams ganging up on the Cavs. Though not in danger of missing the Playoffs, the Cavs are just 2.5 games ahead of seventh seeded Philadelphia and 4.5 games up on eighth seeded Miami.
Houston picked right up where they left off. The Rockets had won 10 in a row prior to the break. After being idle for nine days Houston returned with an 18-point home win over Minnesota and a 5-point road win at Denver, and start this week having covered in seven of their last 10 games.
Utah had won 11 in a row entering the break but lost their first game out of the break. The defeat was an ugly 100-81 home loss to Portland in which the Jazz were favored by 4.5 points. The Jazz did win the next night, defeating lowly Dallas at home, but failed to cover as 10-point chalk, extending to four their streak of ATS losses. Keep an eye on Utah, which could make a good “play against” team over the next couple of weeks.
More than a few teams continue to struggle as the season is about to enter the stretch run. Starting this week Memphis has lost 11 of its last 12 games, going 4-8 ATS in this stretch. Brooklyn has lost eight straight and 12 of 13 dating back to Jan. 12 (4-9 ATS).
Despite a win at Orlando in their first game after the break, the New York Knicks have lost 23 of 30 games dating all the way back to Dec. 22, going 11-19 ATS over this span including 1-7 ATS since Feb. 4.
After getting a brief spark following their trade for Blake Griffin Detroit has lost five of six and enter this week riding an 0-7 ATS streak. Going back a bit further, the Pistons are just 3-16 ATS since Jan. 13.
In the NBA “stretches” can be as profitable as “streaks” since stretches run for a greater number of games even though they can be interrupted by an occasional cover or loss or two for an extended period. They can be SU and/or ATS stretches, making for both money-line and pointspread opportunities.
Ignoring pushes, the SU winner has covered the pointspread in 81.7 percent of NBA games this season, which is slightly more than four games in every five.
Through Sunday home teams have won 58 percent of all games this season but have covered just 47.5 percent of their games, ignoring pushes.
Home favorites have covered at a 46.4 percent rate and home underdogs at a less-than-break-even 50.5 percent. And, using the closing lines from the Westgate, home teams are just 2-8 in Pick ‘em games.
There have been slightly more UNDERs (450) than OVERs (433) in addition to 12 pushes, indicative of the linesmakers having done a good job of balancing Totals lines.
To illustrate this, there are no teams that have seen more than 59 percent of their games stay UNDER. The most pronounced UNDER teams have been Brooklyn and Portland with each at just below 59 percent of their games.
The lack of OVER teams is even more pronounced with New Orleans having played 35 with 23 UNDERs and one push for 60.3 percent. The second strongest OVER teams are Sacramento and Minnesota, each at 55 percent.
As with SU and ATS results, Totals are also subject to streaks and stretches so you will do well to track those results as well and look for opportunities to cash in.
Here are thoughts on three games to be played this weekend.
Toronto Raptors at Washington Wizards (Friday): Toronto started this week at 41-17, holding the top seed in the East with a half-game lead over Boston. Yet of their 17 losses, two have been to the Wizards, one here and one at home. The Raptors did win once, at home, in mid-November. Washington remains shorthanded with John Wall out with a knee injury.
Toronto’s seven-game winning streak ended with a home overtime loss to Milwaukee on Sunday but the Raptors have been playing excellent basketball all season. DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry are as solid a backcourt as any in the league and give the Raptors a solid edge in this matchup. TORONTO
Boston Celtics at Houston Rockets (Saturday): This is a potential preview of the NBA Finals should Golden State falter in the West and Cleveland or Toronto fall short in the West. These teams met in Boston in late December with Boston winning a tight 99-98 contest as part of a Celtics seven-game winning streak. Since that streak ended in mid-January, Boston is just 8-9 SU and 9-8 ATS.
Houston started this week on a 12-game winning streak and is 19-2 SU, 13-8 ATS since Jan. 8. This is a favorable spot for the Rockets who last played Wednesday at the Clippers and don’t play again until Tuesday at Oklahoma City. This is the first of a three-game road trip for the Celtics. HOUSTON
Philadelphia 76ers at Milwaukee Bucks (Sunday): Since the Eagles won the Super Bowl the Philadelphia 76ers had won seven in a row before losing at Washington this past Sunday. That run of success had the Sixers starting this week seeded seventh in the East with a 32-26 record and almost certain to exceed their Season Wins Total of 39. They are just a half game behind Milwaukee, and 2.5 behind third seeded Cleveland.
Milwaukee has not fared all that well at home recently, however. Although they’ve gone 6-5 SU at home since Jan. 5 the Bucks are a dismal 2-9 ATS in those games. Philly continues to impress and play with greater confidence as the season extends. PHILADELPHIA