Break helps
sets bet plan

Feb 13, 2007 6:19 AM

Yo, NBA. Welcome to Vegas!

Over the next few days many NBA luminaries and Hollywood celebrities shall descend upon our town for the gala All Star Weekend and related festivities, parties and the like. NBA stars past and present will grace our fine city for several days.

The truly American sport will showcase the greatest players from around the world that play this most physically demanding of games night in and night out.

The mathematical midpoint of the season has come and gone with most teams having now played close to 50 of their 82-game schedule. The several day layoff allows handicappers and bettors to take more time in assessing the results to date and uncover some betting strategies to employ for the final two months.

It is often insightful to break down each team’s play in terms of the full season record versus the past month or so. Often teams that get off to an unusually strong or poor start for a month will reverse direction. Those reversals often get lost as the early season hype lingers with the public long after results start to change direction. Those early season prognostications seem way too premature.

It’s human nature to want to be among the first to proclaim they’ve uncovered this season’s true dark horse or overrated team. For example, the Utah Jazz started 12-1 before going .500 for the next month and a half. The Jazz have been somewhat better over the past week and own a very comfortable lead in the Northwest Division over Denver. Still, Utah has dropped since last November.

The standings in newspapers and on the Internet often show a team’s record over their past 10 games. Usually that encompasses a 2½ to three week period. That’s a pretty good way to analyze current form and performance, but often 10-game results can be influenced by an abundance of home or road games.

Another useful measure is to extend back to look at a team’s last 20 games. Clearly, injuries can impact a team’s play over several stretches during a season. It takes a team several games to adjust to the absence or return of a player due to injury. This longer term look at current form can provide some clues as to potential value over the following few weeks.

For example, Atlanta and Portland have both played well over the last month. Atlanta has gone 11-9 straight up, while Portland went 9-11. Although their pointspread results pretty closely follow the straight up results, both teams should continue to be solid underdogs based on public perception.

A case can be made that San Antonio is a bit overrated as its average 10-10 SU record would suggest. The Spurs are just 7-13 ATS over those 20 games and are in great danger of falling to third place behind Houston in the Southwest Division. Dallas is running away with the division, leading the Spurs by 9 and Houston by 9½.

Houston continues to play well despite the absence to injury of star C Yao Ming for over a month. A look at the teams that have performed the best or worst, straight up, over their past 20 games reveals the following. Dallas has won 18 of their last 20 games, followed by Phoenix (16), both Houston and Toronto (14) and Detroit (13).

Keep an eye on Toronto, current leaders in the Atlantic Division. The return of Chris Bosh to the lineup has given the Raptors a boost and they are now the only team in their division with a winning record. At the other end of the spectrum is Boston (1-19). Milwaukee (3-17) and Memphis (6-14).

These teams are best avoided in the near term, although all three either have just gotten back or about return key injured players. Wait for these teams to show some sort of positive turnaround before backing them. Their recent woes ensure that they’ll carry poor records the rest of the way, but will be in attractive betting situations once they’ve bottomed out.

With no games scheduled this weekend in the NBA and no wagering available in Las Vegas for the All Star game, here’s a look at one league game to be played this Thursday and a couple of attractive college tilts over the weekend.

THURSDAY

Mavs at Rockets: The home team in the series has won rather easily in the first three, covering each time. Houston has played better than expected with Yao Ming sidelined, but Tracy McGrady has emerged as a solid leader with good veteran support. Dallas has gone 42-5 following its 0-4 start and currently holds the league’s best record with a three game lead over Phoenix for the top seed in the Western Conference.

This will be Dallas third straight road game since hosting (and defeating) Houston a week ago. It will be Houston’s third straight home game over the same period. Given the wide margin of home team wins in the season series (31, 13 and 21 points) the Rockets are in a favorable situation. Given the gap in the standings, the Rockets might even be a home underdog. HOUSTON.

NCAA

Washington at Pitt (Sat): This is Bracket Buster Saturday on which there are numerous late season interconference matchups involving teams from so called mid majors. The purpose is designed to improve or worsen the chances for good teams from such conferences to earn an at large bid to the NCAA Tourney. This is not such a matchup as both teams hail from major conferences and each is in position to make the field of 65.

Especially Pitt. The Panthers have been one of the top teams in the nation all season. They begin this week at 22-3 and hail from the Big East, a conference that many suggest is down this season. Washington is from the Pac 10, considered by many observers to be one of the top three conferences this season, especially at the top of the league. Pitt will be a solid favorite in this game with their only home loss by three points to conference rival Marquette. Washington has won just once on the road all season, barely covering as a 4 point favorite at Arizona State. Otherwise they are 1-7 straight up and 2-6 ATS on the road.

The Huskies are off of a Wednesday night home game vs. rival Washington State in which UW was seeking to avenge a 28 point loss last month. Win or lose, the Huskies are in a very tough spot, flying across country to play an outstanding defensive team in a game that starts at 2 PM Eastern time, the equivalent of 11 AM Pacific time. It’s a great chance for Pitt to make a case for at least a No. 2 seed and should win rather easily, forcing many Washington turnovers and poor shots. PITTSBURGH.

Maryland at Clemson (Sat): Both teams begin the week with average conference records but each feasted in pre-ACC play this season. Clemson was 14-0 in non-conference play with three wins over SEC teams, all currently with winning records. Maryland was 14-1 in non-conference play with wins over Michigan State and Illinois. Maryland dealt Clemson its first loss of the season when the teams met at College Park mid-January. The Terps barely covering as a 4-point favorite, 92-87 win, nearly giving up a huge lead. Clemson’s collective psyche was affected as the Tigers have gone just 2-4 since. Maryland has fared little better, going 3-4, but did hand Duke a fourth straight loss last Sunday.

Maryland has been more of a disappointment this season than has Clemson for whom preseason expectations were not too lofty. The Tigers will relish an opportunity to avenge their first loss of the season and get back some momentum for a late season run and increase their chances for their first NCAA Tournament bid since 1998. CLEMSON