With All Star break over, focus is now on Playoffs

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The NBA All Star break is behind us and teams can now focus on the final 30 or so games of the regular season and the push to the Playoffs.

It was an entertaining All Star game Sunday night that was not decided until the final minute of the game with records being set in the East’s 163-155 win that featured overcoming an 18 point deficit. Cleveland point guard Kyrie Irving was named the game’s MVP.

The reviews of Saturday’s All Star festivities might not be as favorable as the team format in the 3-point and slam dunk contests seemed to lack the intensity of the events when they were more individual oriented.

It’s often a bad practice to give less rather than more. The team concept has taken away from fans the players themselves and the “individual” aspect of the competition the NBA has used so well in marketing its product on both a national and international basis.

Hopefully the NBA will reconsider its decision to modify the format of these contests and will return to the tried, true and popular “old” format.

As play resumes on Tuesday this is an appropriate time to review the teams that have performed the best and those that have been biggest losers at the betting windows.

Jeff Hornacek deserves to be a double winner. Not only should the first year coach of the Phoenix Suns be voted Coach of the Year by the NBA writers but he is also on course to be the coach of the league’s best point spread team. At the All Star break the Suns were covering nearly two of every three games they’ve played with an ATS mark of 33-17-1. That’s good for a profit of 14.3 net units.

The Suns are also headed to a phenomenal feat. Based on the projected Total Wins at the LVH prior to the start of the season, the Suns were expected to finish last in the Western Conference with their OVER/UNDER at 21½, a full 3.5 wins less than Utah – the team projected to finish just above them.

At 30-21 overall, the Suns have already exceeded the 21½ and are on a pace to win 48 games – more than double the projection. In fact, to finish with 43, which would be exactly double their projection, Phoenix merely needs to go just 13-18 over the remainder of the season!

Yet, as well as Phoenix has played thus far, the Suns are tied with Golden State for the seventh and eighth seeds in the West, a testament as to how deep the conference is. Phoenix starts post-All Star play 1½ games behind sixth seeded Dallas but also just 1½ ahead of No. 9 New Orleans.

To illustrate the depth of the West versus the lack of such in the East consider that Phoenix’s 30-21 record would be better than 13 of the 15 teams in the conference. Only Indiana and Miami are better. Put another way, if Phoenix were in the East with the same record, the Suns would be safely in the Playoffs a full nine games better than current eighth seeded Charlotte. Yet the Suns are just a two-game losing streak out of dropping to ninth in the West.

Back to the betting boards: Only two other teams are cashing at a 60% clip or better. Indiana is up 10 net units with its 32-20 ATS mark and Toronto’s ATS record of 31-20-1 has Raptors backers ahead 9 net units for the season. The costliest team to back thus far has been Milwaukee, whose 20 point spread wins are more than double its on court victories (9).

The Bucks’ 20-32 ATS record (38 percent) has their backers out 15.2 net units. With a slightly better record but down an extra 0.1 unit is Philadelphia. At 21-33 ATS (39 percent but down 15.3 net units) the 76ers’ strong 3-0 start is a distant memory and perhaps the most misleading indicator of what was to come in recent history! Losers of 8 straight and just 3-18 since a 4 game winning streak ended on January 4, the Sixers still need two wins in their remaining 28 games to equal their projected win total of 17 – the lowest such win total in the league.

New York is barely above 40 percent ATS at 21-31. The Knicks’ failures at the betting windows almost exactly mirror their on-court performance. After going 54-28 last season, the Knicks are just 20-32 SU. Yet in the East that record is “good enough” (term used very loosely) to be just two and a half games out of the eighth Playoff seed, with one team, Detroit, two games ahead of the tenth seeded Knicks.

Going forward a couple of teams in the East could represent solid point spread plays. Both are under the radar, have a long recent history of failure, and are likely to be underdogs in the majority of their remaining games. One of them has a chance to make the Playoffs.

At 25-27 Washington has been making some noise over the past month with seven wins since January 1 over teams currently with winning records, including back-to-back wins over Oklahoma City and Portland in addition to a win over Miami.

Although unlikely to make a run at that final Playoff spot with their current 20-33 record, Cleveland has also played well of late with four straight wins prior to the All Star break. Only one of the victories was against a winning team (Memphis) but the Cavs have shown promise by playing decent basketball against the lesser teams they have faced, going 17-17 versus teams at or below .500. Turning things around after bottoming out starts by beating fellow outsiders.

Memphis is a team that bears watching in the West. The Grizzlies struggled for much of the first two months of the season but are 15-5 SU over their last 20 games, a surge that has them currently seeded ninth in the West and the only team with a winning record (29-23) to currently not be in Playoff position. The gap between Memphis and the eighth seed is just a game and a half.

Memphis is also an oddity in that their road record (15-9) is better than at home (14-14). Only a handful of teams each season end with winning road records and those that do generally have better home records.

One other team shows a similar characteristic although the difference in home and road performance is not as stark as Memphis. San Antonio is a solid 18-8 at home but also 20-7 on the road, but the Spurs’ overall record suggests calling them an elite team might be greatly deceiving. The Spurs are just 1-11 facing the NBA’s elite teams yet are 37-4 against the rest of the league!

Here’s a look at three games to be played this weekend.

Spurs at Suns (Fri.): This is the third game in four nights for both teams but is the final game of San Antonio’s 9 game rodeo-related road trip that began on February 3. The Suns and Spurs are meeting for the third time this season and whereas the Spurs have struggled against the NBA elite they have had success against most other teams, including Phoenix. San Antonio defeated Phoenix in both prior meetings although the final margins were just 3 points (at home) and 7 points (in Phoenix).

Were it not for the All Star break that allowed the Spurs’ players to return home this would be a very bad spot for the visitors. Still, the Suns are playing with double revenge and are likely to approach this game as an opportunity for further validation of their progress and a win over the defending conference champs would certainly qualify as such. PHOENIX.

Nets at Warriors (Sat.): Brooklyn won the prior meeting this season, 102-98, at home in early January. The win came amid signs the Nets were turning things around, in the midst of a stretch that saw Brooklyn win 10 of its first 11 games to start 2014. The Nets have cooled a bit, going 4-5 in the 9 games since that stretch ended. Golden State has also been in only fair form recently, going just 7-9 beginning with that January 8 loss after starting the season 24-13.

Brooklyn has an extra day of rest but will be at the Lakers on Sunday, a much more winnable game. Both teams are battling to maintain current playoff seedings in the lower half of their conference brackets. The Warriors are playing with revenge and have faced a tougher overall schedule that ranks in the top 5 whereas the Nets’ schedule has been middle of the pack. And the Warriors have more reliable options and the best player on the court, Stephen Curry (24.6 points and 9.0 assists per game). GOLDEN ST.

Clippers at Thunder (Sun.): This will be just the second game for OKC following the resumption of play. The first was Thursday night when the Thunder hosted Miami in a huge revenge game for a road loss in late January. The Clippers and Thunder have traded home wins in their two prior meetings but have not faced each other since back in November. Russell Westbrook, out since late December, may be back on the court for this game.

When healthy, these are two of the most talented teams in the NBA and it would not be a surprise to see the Clippers and Thunder in the Western Conference Finals in late May. Oklahoma City has the best record in the league and is 23-3 at home (15-11 ATS). The Clippers are just 14-14 SU on the road but 17-11 ATS. Both teams have plenty of firepower and each entered the All Star break having gone OVER the Total in 4 of their prior 5 games. The Total is likely to be priced around 201 as these are two of the NBA’s top 5 scoring teams. OVER.

Andy Iskoe, and his Logical Approach, provides his popular and unique handicapping statistics to Gaming Today readers and online visitors. He has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football. Contact Andy at [email protected]

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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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