Some NBA teams pack it in as season winds down

Mar 25, 2003 6:14 AM

There are four more weeks to go in the NBA regular season. That means there are professional athletes in the NBA heading for vacation in a month and others who will be working hard, huffing and puffing 40 minutes per game until June.

Now let me ask you ”” Will the majority of the players on the Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Clippers be working as hard the next few weeks as those teams on the playoff bubble, like Phoenix, Houston, Golden State, Orlando, Washington and Seattle?

This is the time of year when some disappointed teams play out the schedule and think less about preparing for their next opponent and think more about golf and early spring/summer family vacations.

This is understandable, as losing is no fun. Teams hit the 70-game mark this week, and many players on losing teams realize they have no shot at the postseason, which means the year was a failure. Some fans and local newspapers are focused more on where their team will end up in the draft, rather than show an interest in the last few weeks of the season.

Teams like the Clippers, Hawks, Raptors and Heat were hoping to have better campaigns. Before the season started, the Hawks made a big splash trading for Glenn Robinson and seemed to have the nucleus of a decent team with Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Theo Ratliff, along with several promising high draft picks (DerMarr Johnson, Jason Terry).

Atlanta’s front office guaranteed a playoff appearance to its fans after a three-year run in the draft lottery. Oops. The Hawks are mathematically alive, but have been a huge disappointment and their hopes are fading fast. Notice that when the Hawks play on the road they are simply awful, giving up over 99 ppg, beginning the season 7-29 straight up and 12-24 against the spread away from home. Atlanta has been so good at home (20-13) that perhaps the front office should have guaranteed the Hawks would have a winning home record.

Injuries have decimated Miami and Toronto’s seasons. Miami is still playing hard, especially on defense, for coach Pat Riley. Bad teams with good coaches are less likely to tank it and Miami has been close to a .500 team ATS all season. In March, Miami has gone 5-5 both SU and ATS, including a straight up win at Cleveland as a dog and a 91-89 loss as a 9½-point home dog at to Dallas.

Not all teams have strong coaches who can motivate athletes as the ship sinks. Over the last few months the Clippers fired their head coach and have played lethargic basketball, particularly on defense. At the end of January, Los Angeles went on a miserable 7-17 ATS run, and during one stretch gave up over 108 points in five consecutive games. Cleveland has seemed more interested in setting itself up for the LeBron James sweepstakes than playing quality basketball this season, going 24-42-1 ATS Since mid-February, the Cavs have gone 2-13-1 ATS.

This is not uncommon. Last season, several teams that missed the postseason ended the year on poor runs. Two that finished 21-61 overall had late-season spread runs of 9-17 ATS (the Bulls) and 8-14 ATS (the Warriors), while the Clippers (6-10 ATS), Knicks (1-6 ATS) and Wizards (5-9 ATS) all ended the year a combined 12-24 ATS.

Three seasons ago the Hawks completely packed it in, going 6-24 SU and ATS to end the season. You don’t always have to back the good teams to win and cover, as there are plenty of go-against spots this time of year!