There’s roughly 20 games remaining until the NBA playoffs begin and the picture is coming into focus.
Within the past week both Boston and Cleveland officially qualified for the postseason. Cleveland has a one game lead for the top seed in the Eastern Conference by virtue of beginning the week with a two game lead in the all important loss column. But neither team has been able to shake pesky Orlando, just three games behind the Cavs.
What’s truly remarkable about Cleveland’s success is that it has carried over from the court to the betting windows. The Cavs are a league best 40-22 against the spread – not normally a mark achieved by a team that has been favored in all but nine of its 62 games to date!
The Los Angeles Lakers have the best overall record in the league, but have yet to "officially" make the playoffs because of the strength in the Western Conference. Nine teams in the West have winning records with Phoenix, currently in the ninth slot five games above .500.
Contrast that to the East where Milwaukee is currently seeded ninth with a record that is six games below break even.
It would be nice to see a sports book put up a futures prop on winning the NBA Championship with just five betting options – Boston, Cleveland, the Lakers, Orlando and everyone else as the "field."
The four named teams are a combined 194-56 for a win percentage of 77.6. But the field contains some very solid entries including San Antonio, New Orleans, Utah and Portland which might make for some very interesting wagering action.
Streaks are a part of all sports and the NBA is no exception. Successful handicapping often involves recognizing and taking advantage of streaks in the early stages, before they have become well publicized in the media.
The best type to take advantage of is a winning streak by an otherwise poor team deep into the season. One such streak is currently taking place and it involves the vagabond coach and his latest team.
Larry Brown began his coaching career with the Carolina Cougars of the ABA back in 1972-73. After just two seasons, Brown gave an indication of what would lie ahead by taking over the Denver Nuggets and was there when four ABA teams were absorbed into the NBA following the 1975-76 season.
Brown is now at his ninth different franchise in the NBA, enjoying his first season as coach of the Charlotte Bobcats. "Enjoying" might seem inappropriate considering the team’s 28-35 record, but the description is apt. Brown, always considered one of the best teachers of the game at the pro level, has Charlotte playing its best basketball of the season.
The Bobcats begin the week riding a 6-game winning streak (in which they’ve covered each game) that has propelled them into playoff contention in the overall weaker East. Currently tied with New Jersey for the tenth seed, Charlotte is just a game out of eighth place and just four games out of sixth.
How good of a coach is Brown? Consider that he was coach of the Los Angeles Clippers for two seasons in the early 1990’s and led the hapless Clippers to the playoffs in both seasons. Those playoff appearances ended a 15-year postseason drought. In the 15 seasons since Brown left, the Clippers have made the playoffs just twice.
Charlotte also has one of the league’s best point spread records, going 38-24-1 at the betting windows. Also, Minnesota had a streak of 10 wins in 12 games that roughly coincided with a point spread streak of 13 covers in 15 games. A season ending injury to emerging star Al Jefferson broke that momentum but keep the Timberwolves in mind early next season.
Even transplanted Seattle, now the Oklahoma City Thunder, start this week having won 4 of its last 5, with covers in 5 of 6. The Thunder is now a solid 36-24-3 ATS.
Here’s a look at three games to be played this weekend:
Bulls at Sixers: (Fri): The road team has won both prior meetings. Chicago has been playing the better basketball over the past two weeks, but has won just 10 of 23 road games. Philly does have a winning record at home with 6 of its last 7 at home staying below the total. Look for Philly to dictate tempo and for that pattern to continue. UNDER.
Jazz at Heat (Sat): Utah is the hottest team in the league as the week starts, winners of 11 straight. Carlos Boozer, who just came back from an injury, suffered an ankle sprain but should play here. Miami is a solid 21-11 home record. Utah is winding up a long road trip but still has a game in Orlando on Sunday. JAZZ.
Mavericks at Lakers (Sun): The Lakers won both earlier meetings, each by 7. LA has been winning by an average of more than 10 per game at home all season and should be favored by slightly less than that number here. But the Lakers cover only 60 percent of the games they win straight up while the league average is nearly 80. That gives Dallas some wiggle room to cash. MAVS.