Trades make East more competitive

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Although the NBA All-Star Game is generally considered to be played in mid-season, the reality is that two thirds of the regular season has been completed with teams having played between 55 and 58 games entering Tuesday’s play. 

The trade deadline passed last week with a flurry of transactions, the most significant of which involved teams vying for the top seeds in the Eastern Conference. 

Toronto acquired Marc Gasol from Memphis and his veteran presence teaming with Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry might be what the Raptors need to finally make it to the NBA Finals. They still trail Milwaukee by one game at the top of the standings.  

The Bucks were strengthened by the addition of Nikola Mirotic in a trade with New Orleans. Once he returns from a calf injury and teams with Eric Bledsoe and Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Bucks might be the team that frustrates Toronto in its quest for Eastern supremacy. 

Philadelphia added Tobias Harris in a trade with the L.A. Clippers. Having a breakout season, the well- traveled 26-year-old veteran joins Joel Embiid, Jimmy Butler and Ben Simmons to improve the 76ers’ chances of being the top beast in the East. 

Boston was surprisingly quiet at the deadline despite rumors that the Celtics were expressing interest in Anthony Davis notwithstanding comments from Davis’ father that suggest he would not advise him to don the green uniform when he becomes a free agent. Kyrie Irving is dealing with a knee injury that further complicates Boston’s challenges. 

Over their last 10 games the top five teams in the East have played winning basketball. And that includes Indiana which has, at least for the moment, has adjusted to the season-ending injury to Victor Oladipo. After losing four in a row following the injury, the Pacers have won six straight. 

The top five teams in the East are pretty well set with a seven-game gap existing between the currently fifth- seeded Celtics and sixth-seeded Brooklyn. Second-seeded Toronto has a 3.5-game lead over third-seeded Indiana with the Pacers, 76ers and Celtics separated by just 2.5 games. 

With the top four teams earning the home-court advantage for the first round of the playoffs, that challenge of seeking to avoid finishing in fifth will present some significant wagering opportunities over the final two months of the regular season. 

The Western Conference has unfolded differently. Both Golden State and Oklahoma City are playing outstanding basketball as the All-Star break approaches with each winning nine of its last 10 games. 

The Warriors have started to create a bit of a gap over second-seeded Denver, leading the Nuggets by 2.5 games through Monday’s action even as Denver has won seven of its last 10. Third-seeded OKC has opened a four-game lead over both Portland and Houston which are tied for the fourth and fifth seeds.  

This is where things are interesting as there is only a five-game gap between that duo and the Lakers, who are 10th in the West. Not only are seven teams battling for five playoff spots but that five-game gap also separates a team from that important fourth seed and being the second team out of the playoffs entirely. 

In handicapping the NBA over the final third of the season, there are different challenges than those faced in November and December. With the trade deadline having passed, we pretty much know the roster composition teams will have for the balance of the chase to make the playoffs. 

Less reliance is placed upon season-to-date results than in more recent form and often there are significant differences between how teams have played over the entirety of the season vs. how they have performed recently. 

I like to look at how teams have performed over their past 15 to 20 games to get a better sense of current and recent form. Fifteen games is generally the number of games a team will play over the course of a month. Twenty games represents a quarter of a season. 

As we go to press on Tuesday there are 19 games to be played until the All Star break begins. Teams will have at least a week of rest. Once the games end on Thursday there will be no games until the following Thursday, (Feb. 21). Thus over the next month when looking at current/recent form that 15-to-20-game guideline will include a longer stretch of time due to the week of inactivity. 

As of Tuesday, nine teams had won at least 10 of their prior 15 games, headed by the two conference leaders, Golden State (14-1) and Milwaukee (13-2). 

Seven teams had lost at least 10 of their last 15 games with New York having lost all 15 games and Phoenix going 1-14. The Knicks have taken ‘tanking’ to a new low with their current franchise-record 17-game losing streak, a streak that can be extended by two more losses heading into the break. 

From a pointspread perspective, a half dozen teams have covered at least 10 of their prior 15 games.  Oklahoma City is 11-4 ATS over that stretch with Dallas at 10-4-1. Milwaukee, Orlando, Portland and Sacramento are each 10-5 ATS. 

In contrast, only two teams have double-digit ATS losses over their last 15 games with Houston and San Antonio each 5-10 ATS. That falls in line with the linesmakers doing a good job in making adjustments, even for teams that are tanking. 

Over the next few weeks, let’s look for matchups between teams that have trended under during the past month when facing one another. Often the combination of slow pace and below-average shooting result in games that are even more lower scoring than for which the linesmakers can adjust. 

Pistons at Celtics (Wednesday): With no weekend games to preview this week due to the All Star break, let’s consider Wednesday’s game in which Boston hosts Detroit.

In their last home game on Sunday the Celtics blew a 28-point lead in a 123-112 loss to the Clippers. The Boston fans filled the arena with boos that were heard by the players. Even though the Celtics are off a Tuesday night game in Philadelphia while the Pistons were idle, expect a focused effort from the hosts who could use some positive momentum heading into the week long break.

This will also be a revenge spot for Boston, which lost at Detroit in mid-December after taking both earlier meetings this season. CELTICS 

Last week: 2-1

Season: 28-22

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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