When you think you have NBA figured out improbable sure to occur

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How crazy is the NBA? Just when you think you have the league figured out the improbable is sure to occur. Consider the events over a 48 hour span this past weekend involving the New York Knicks.

Back on December 18 the Knicks, smarting from a 22 point home loss the night before to Miami, lost in overtime in Cleveland which enabled the Cavaliers to snap a 10 game losing streak. But that win over New York was followed by an NBA record 26 game losing streak which the Cavs finally snapped a week prior to the All Star break with a win over the LA Clippers, also in overtime.

Seeking to avenge what turns out to have been an embarrassing loss (Cleveland’s lone win in a 37 game stretch) the Knicks strutted into Cleveland last Friday as solid 8-point favorites. But this time the Cavs did not need overtime as they again shocked the Knicks, winning 115-109.

Two nights later, on Sunday evening, the Knicks and Miami staged an epic battle to rival the drama and excitement of the Oscars ceremony taking place at the same time 3,000 miles away in Hollywood. First New York scored the final 16 points of the first half to turn a Miami rout into a one point Knicks halftime lead.

But as the Knicks continued to assimilate the newly acquired Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups into their lineup Miami took back control of the game in the second half, leading 84-78 with three minutes left in the game. The Knicks then staged a 13-2 run to end the contest, earning a surprising 91-86 win, writing yet another chapter in the book entitled “From the Ridiculous to the Sublime.”

If you want another example of the highs and lows of the NBA consider the aforementioned Cavaliers. On January 11, right in the middle of that 26 game losing streak, Cleveland lost at the Lakers by 55 points, one of the most lopsided losses in the history of the league.

After finally ending their losing streak with that win over the Clippers, the Cavs promptly started a new losing streak two days later with a loss at home to Washington that ended the Wizards’ 0-25 road mark to start the season. But that new streak did not reach even two games as they close out play before the break with a 5 point home win over the Lakers!

The above anecdotes, though extreme, do serve to illustrate an important concept that is often overlooked or improperly considered when handicapping and wagering on sporting contests. As sound as the reasoning may be in evaluating the “intangible factors” surrounding a game, such games often unfold and play out in ways that are counter intuitive.

In fact, in the vast majority of NBA games there are points during the contest at which EACH team will appear to be the “right” side from a wagering standpoint. In only a small handful of games will there be a “right” side wire to wire.

Last Monday’s trade with Denver that brought Anthony and Billups to New York was just the first of several significant trades that may impact how the race to the playoffs plays out over the next six weeks. A number of contending teams made moves, including a huge trade between Boston and Oklahoma City that send Kendrick Perkins from the Celtics to the Thunder in exchange for Jeff Green.

At the same time Chicago, Dallas, the Lakers, Miami and San Antonio stayed on the sidelines. Four of these teams have won over 70 percent of their games this season and qualify as elite teams. The Lakers are also an elite team even with their slightly lower 69.

With roughly two dozen games remaining until the playoffs we will start to see the intensity level pick up, especially in games between teams likely to make the playoffs. The best part of the regular season is at hand.

Here’s a look at three interesting matchups this weekend.

Chicago at Orlando (Fri): Chicago has finally started to receive recognition as a true contender as they start the week just 2 games behind Boston for the top spot in the East, a game and a half behind Miami. Orlando, which was in similar contention for much of the season’s first half, has faded to fourth and is 2½ behind the Bulls.

This is a favorable spot for Chicago and the Bulls could perhaps be the slightest of favorites in this game despite playing on the road (where they are just 14-13). These teams split two earlier meetings this season, both in Chicago, with the Bulls avenging a 29 point loss in early December with a 9 point win at the end of January.

Chicago does play in Miami on Sunday but the bigger negative may belong to the after-effects displayed by the Magic from their game 24 hours earlier. And, at this juncture of the season, the Bulls are quite simply the better team. CHICAGO

Toronto vs. NJ (Sat): What makes this game interesting is its location. This is the second of back to back games played across the pond in London, England. Be sure to pay attention to the unusual start time for these non-Sunday games as the games both on Friday and Saturday are slated to start just past noon Pacific time.

New Jersey sports a new look following their trade with Utah that brought Deron Williams east. After going just 12-70 last season the Nets have already surpassed that total, standing 17-42 prior to hosting Phoenix on Monday in their last stateside contest before heading out on their European vacation. Toronto is just 16-44 as they rebuild following the departure last off season of Chris Bosh after going 40-42.

 The play in this contest will be based on what happens on Friday. Neither team will want to come away 0-2 in this NBA overseas showcase. The play is FRIDAY’S LOSER.

LA Lakers at S. Antonio (Sun): These teams meet for the third time this season. After losing by 15 points on this court in late December their next game resulted in another San Antonio win, but by just a point in Los Angeles a month ago. The Lakers have had troubles against the league’s top teams all season.

The Spurs continue to have the NBA’s best record (49-10) and the Lakers may have to realistically make up the two game gap they face versus Dallas for the second Western seed rather than being able to make up the 8 games by which they trail the Spurs.

The Spurs are likely to be short favorites here but are in a more unfavorable spot after hosting Miami on Friday while the Lakers were hosting Charlotte. Add in the double revenge motive and the opportunity to make a “here we come” statement and most of the favorable factors are on the visiting sideline. LA LAKERS.

 

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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