Cleveland firms control of East in NBA

Mar 17, 2009 4:07 PM
Bettin’ on B’ball by Andy Iskoe |
last week

While most of the sporting world will be focused on the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament over the next few weeks, the NBA playoffs are but a month away.

Over the past week things have taken an interesting turn in the Eastern Conference where Cleveland has extended to a 3½ game lead over Boston. And the Celtics are just a half-game up on Orlando for the No. 2 seed with the teams tied in the loss column.

Kevin Garnett may still be about a week or so away from returning. But with Boston having one of the league’s best road records they may not need to be the top seed in order to return to the NBA Finals.

Cleveland starts the week tied with the Los Angeles Lakers for the league’s best overall record at 53-13. Both teams are led by MVP candidates and it will be very interesting to see how the MVP vote is split between the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant and the Cavs’ LeBron James.

It’s been stated before about the importance of winning on the road if a team is to be a legitimate contender for the NBA Title. Almost every team will have a better home than road record.

To absolutely nobody’s surprise the top four teams in the league all have winning road records, from the Lakers’ league best 23-9 to Cleveland’s 24-12. The Lakers, Cavs, Celtics and Magic are a combined 93-42 straight up on the road. They are also a very commendable 75-58-2 against the spread away from home.

Only San Antonio, New Orleans and Detroit have winning records on the road aside from the Big Four. And only San Antonio’s 21-12 mark would put them in the elite class. New Orleans is 18-15 on the road and Detroit is 16-15. Interestingly the Pistons are just 17-17 at home and could be one of those rare teams that finish the season with a better road record than home mark.

Roughly 65 games into the season only five teams have covered at least 10 games more than they’ve lost to the point spread. The Orlando Magic have the league’s best ATS mark at 42-23-1, followed by Cleveland, Oklahoma City, Charlotte and New York.

Of this quintet the Thunder, Bobcats and Knicks may continue to present solid point spread value over the season’s final month. Each has a losing record and therefore does not draw as much attention from the betting public as winning teams.

Both New York and Charlotte, despite their losing records, remain in contention for a playoff berth. Each begins the week just 1½ games out of the eighth spot in the East. Both teams have played well over the past month.

The largest money burners this season have been Washington, Toronto, Phoenix, the LA Clippers and Detroit. The worst of the group is Washington with a 24-43 point spread mark.

Handicapping the NBA over the final month of the season can be tricky as some teams begin to throw in the towel and often give more playing time to bench players. Additionally, teams that "need" to win games are often forced to lay more points than they normally would in midseason.

For that reason it may be best to concentrate on playing games between two teams in contention for the playoffs or seeking to improve seeding. In other words, teams with something to play for.

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

Celtics at Spurs (Fri): Boston has been laboring of late, splitting its last 10 games and losing 3 of 4 entering this week. The absence of Kevin Garnett has clearly been a factor. San Antonio continues to play well despite being without Manu Ginobili. The Spurs have won 11 of their last 14 home games but the three losses have come against the Lakers, Cleveland and Orlando. Boston is in that class. CELTICS.

Hawks at Cavs (on Sat): Don’t get shut out as this game is slated for 10 a.m. Pacific time start. Thus this could be a preview of a second round playoff matchup. Cleveland has won all three meetings with each game being closer than the one before. Earlier this month Cleveland won at Atlanta by a single point. The Cavs have lost just once at home and are winning by an average of nearly 15 per game. CAVALIERS.

Heat at Pistons (Sun): The teams have split two prior meetings this season with the home team winning each time, but Miami did cover in both contests. Miami’s Dwyane Wade has been on fire of late. Detroit is experienced but aging and the trade for Allen Iverson has not yet produced the desired results. Although the Pistons are just 17-17 at home, Miami has failed to cover its last four as road underdogs. PISTONS.