While much of the basketball nation will be focused on the NCAA Tournament, the NBA rolls on towards the conclusion of its regular season.
And whereas there has been great parity at the top of the college game all season the NBA has been top heavy with a pair of outstanding teams that appear on a collision course to meet in the Western Conference finals.
In last week’s column it was noted that top seeded Golden State’s loss last Sunday to the Lakers gave San Antonio control of determining which of the two would end up with the top NBA Playoff seed. The Warriors’ loss narrowed their lead over San Antonio to just 3 games in the loss column with the teams still to meet three more times. A sweep of those games, all else being equal, would tie the teams with identical records but give the Spurs the edge by virtue of having won 3 of 4 meetings.
But San Antonio’s prosperity lasted less than 24 hours. Before the ink was dry on last week’s Gaming Today that arrived at Sports Books Tuesday morning the Spurs lost at Indiana Monday night in a game in which they were 6.5 point road favorites. San Antonio’s loss gave control of the top seed right back to Golden State.
Within the past few days Golden State officially clinched the Pacific Division title and San Antonio clinched the Northwest Division title. That’s a pair of very impressive feats considering that there is still just over a month remaining in the season and the second place teams in both of those divisions are teams with winning records.
Considering how well both teams have played all season it would be a shame if either team got upset before reaching the Conference Finals as such a series has the potential for being one of the best-of-seven series in NBA history. Let’s hope we both get that matchup and that it then lives up to its great potential.
Teams have between 15 and 20 games left in the regular season which gives each game added importance for teams in playoff contention. Quite often such need is priced into the line so it becomes important when considering investing in such games to properly evaluate. And as with other sports “must win” does not mean “will win.”
All that makes this a good time to review some general sports handicapping principles as we approach the final weeks of the NBA season.
In addition to the usual factors of injuries and giving players nights off one factor that applies over the final month of the season will be in isolating teams that continue to play hard despite being out of the Playoffs picture. Such teams will often be attractively priced because they are considered to be just “playing out the string” yet will be playing well.
Often these teams may still lose games straight up but will be covering pointspreads. In other words, while still losing on the court these teams are exceeding market expectations and showing a profit at the betting windows.
While most newspapers and websites that publish NBA standings on a daily basis will show teams’ SU records over the past 10 games you might do well to also track teams’ ATS records over their past 10 or 20 games as well.
There are some websites that do provide such ATS information but it is not all that difficult to track that information yourself as it takes only minutes per day to record whether a team wins, loses or pushes ATS. You only need a spreadsheet or even a sheet of notebook paper to create and maintain such a chart.
Part of successful handicapping relates to being organized and tracking information that may not be easily available to much of the wagering public.
Teams with losing SU records but winning ATS records often offer the best value in terms of being “contrarian” plays in going against the perception of teams in the minds of the general public. This is true in all sports as it is in many fields of financial endeavors.
It’s been discussed before but bears repeating. Current form is considered a better measure of upcoming performance than is full season performance once we get deep into a season. Using college basketball as an example what teams did in November and December, while still part of a team’s overall resume, carries much less weight in forecasting what a team will do in March than it did in forecasting what a team might do in January.
That’s because dynamics change over time. Injuries, suspensions, other changes in personnel, overall improvement (or decline) are just a few of the many factors that change the intrinsic “quality” of a team even though early season performances often create impressions and perceptions that are slow to change.
The NBA is not immune from this phenomenon and that’s why while we still want to consider a team’s overall performance we should want to place a greater emphasis on how a team is performing currently.
Handicapping advice has long advocated that we should not overreact to what we saw last. This is especially true when evaluating results in the NFL in which each game is a significant part of its schedule (one-sixteenth).
Yet at the same time we should not fail to react either. Every result has some meaning and potential impact on upcoming performance.
The key is in finding the proper balance. Sometimes that means making a slight adjustment. At other times it may require no adjustment at all.
It applies to the NBA as well as to other sports in that when two good teams meet, one good team must lose. And when two bad teams meet one bad team must win. In most instances it may not be prudent to downgrade a good team when it loses to another good team nor is it usually warranted to upgrade a bad team that defeats another bad team.
Here’s a look at three games to be played this weekend.
Boston Celtics at Toronto Raptors (Friday) – Toronto leads Boston for the second seed in the East but Boston’s hold on the number three seed is tenuous at best with three teams within a game and a half of the Celtics. Boston last played on Wednesday while Toronto was at Indiana on Thursday. Toronto has won both prior meetings versus the Celtics, by 10 points at home and by 6 in Boston with both games going OVER the Total by more than 15 points each time.
Both teams have played well since the All Star break with Toronto’s excellent play dating back to early January. Since January 6 the Raptors are 23-5 SU and within 2.5 games of Cleveland for the top Eastern seed. Both teams have also played more OVERS than UNDERS since the All Star break and that is in line with their two prior meetings. OVER.
Golden State Warriors at San Antonio Spurs (Saturday) – This is the first of three meetings over the final month of the regular season between the top two teams in the NBA. In their only prior meeting this season the Warriors blasted the Spurs 120-90, easily covering as 5 point home favorites on January 25. It will be interesting to see how the linesmakers price this game considering that the Spurs, like the Warriors, are unbeaten at home this season.
The spot favors the Spurs who last played on Thursday when they hosted Portland whereas the Warriors played in Dallas Friday night. There is always a concern that Spurs coach Greg Popovich will rest players, a tactic that will be priced into any line movement should the announcement come after the opening line is posted. The Spurs have been favored in every home game this season and by not less than 6 points in any contest. SAN ANTONIO
Portland Trail Blazers at Dallas Mavericks (Sunday) – Portland is in the final game of a 4 game road trip and playing its third game in four nights. These teams will meet again in Portland on Wednesday. Dallas is off of Friday night’s game hosting Golden State. These teams have met once previously this season with Dallas winning in Portland 115-112 way back on Dec. 1, covering as short 1.5 point underdogs.
Dallas has been slumping lately, losing 5 in a row through Sunday including 4 of the losses as home favorites. Portland has not fared much better with 4 losses in its last 6 games through Sunday, all on the road. Still, the Blazers have gelled much quicker than anticipated given their huge roster turnover from last season. Dallas is more of an aging team and the grind of the season appears to have affected their play. PORTLAND.
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]Today.com