It's suddenly in style to take Philadelphia 76ers with points

Mar 25, 2014 3:10 AM

While the betting markets focus on post-season college basketball tournaments and the upcoming baseball season, the long and winding NBA campaign still offers plenty of wagering opportunities down the homestretch.

There are still 3½ weeks left in the regular season. Most squads have between 12 and 14 games remaining. And very quietly, underneath the radar, we’ve seen a handful of late season ‘morphers’; teams playing well above or well below their full season power rating numbers. Those are the teams I’m looking to focus on in this week’s Vegas Wiseguy Report, particularly in the Eastern Conference.

The Philadelphia 76ers have lost 24 games in a row to start the week. This is no surprise – the Sixers have been openly tanking since last summer, playing for ping-pong balls, not victories. And for the better part of the first four months of the campaign, the sports books couldn’t hang a line high enough to get bettors to support this completely anonymous, sorry squad.

Philly hasn’t gotten any better in recent weeks. But their opponents aren’t giving maximum effort when they face the Sixers either, knowing that Brett Brown’s squad isn’t capable of giving them a legitimate challenge. The likes of Utah (-7), Milwaukee (-3), Orlando (-4) and Sacramento (-9½) have all been favored on Philly’s home floor since the All Star Break.

The 76ers are catching big points against other bad teams. When they face decent or good teams, their poin tspreads have finally reached a level where Philly has been covering – 6-2 ATS in their last eight. It’s their single best ATS stretch of the entire season.

• +16 at Chicago, Philly lost by only 10 despite a 1-20 shooting effort from three point range.

• +15½ against New York, they lost by only 13.

• Indiana was -16 and -19 against the 76ers during this span, winning by seven and nine.

I don’t often try to make the case for betting on miserable, lottery bound NBA teams down the stretch, but these dismal Sixers have finally gotten to a point where they’re worth a look in their typical big underdog role against opponents that are likely to look right past them. Philly hasn’t gotten any better, but their point spreads have gotten higher and their tired opponents aren’t putting the pedal to the medal to beat them by huge margins at this late stage of the campaign.

Chicago guard DJ Augustine’s quote about the 76ers following a recent Bulls win against them stands out: “It’s tough (to play them. The 76ers) come out and they have nothing to lose. Basically, they just come out shooting whenever they feel and some of those shots go in. It’s hard for anybody to play against a team that’s losing, but they’re still a good team at the same time.”

I mentioned the Indiana Pacers in my analysis of the 76ers, talking about how Frank Vogel’s squad failed to cover the spread in a pair of recent meetings against Philadelphia. The Pacers ATS struggles against Philly are just the tip of the iceberg. Indiana was a true point spread machine through the All Star break; right there with Phoenix, Toronto, Charlotte and the LA Clippers among the very best pointspread teams in the NBA. But like we saw with Philly, eventually the betting markets catch up.

If that occurs when still playing at the same level they were, you can expect a short term ATS record near the .500 mark. But when the markets up their respect for a squad at the same time that team is in the midst of a downtick in their fortunes, you can find teams in ATS free-fall. Frankly, that’s been the Pacers in recent weeks.

Indiana is 3-14-1 ATS in 18 games since the All Star break. They were 4-8 ATS in their dozen games prior to the All Star break The NBA’s top point spread juggernaut over the first three months of the season has turned into the NBA’s No. 1 money loser since! The Pacers made some headlines during a four game skid earlier in March that included three ugly double digit defeats. They’ve gone 5-2 SU since, but just 2-5 ATS; still struggling to win by inflated margins.

The Brooklyn Nets’ season trajectory has been the exact opposite of the Pacers. In November and December, the Nets were an injury riddled mess. Jason Kidd was roundly criticized as being unfit for his first head coaching job, particularly after the messy departure of his lead assistant, Lawrence Frank. Much of their aging veteran core struggled with injuries – Alan Anderson is the only guy on the team to play in every game this year, while 13 different players have started at least one game for the Nets.

No surprise, then, that the Nets were an ATS disaster area for the first two months of the season. But Brooklyn backers started making money supporting the Nets once the calendar turned to 2014. The Nets reeled off a 9-2 ATS hot streak to open January, and they haven’t stopped covering point spreads since; 14-6 ATS in their last 20 ballgames.

Here’s one last Eastern Conference morpher to think about over the last few weeks of the regular season. The betting markets have been down on the Cleveland Cavaliers all year, for good reason. The Cavs had well publicized locker room squabbles. They made bizarre personnel decisions, choosing to compete for the final playoff spot in the East instead of entering full-on tank mode. Head coach Mike Brown came under intense criticism, just as he did in his short previous stint coaching the Lakers.

When leading scorer and assist man Kyrie Irving got hurt last weekend, the markets expected disaster – Irving is the face of the franchise. The ‘dead’ Cavs had just pulled off outright upset road wins as big underdogs at Golden State and Phoenix before the injury, but they lost by 22 on the night that Irving went down.

One player’s injury is another player’s opportunity. While the markets downgraded the Cavs after Irving got hurt, backup point guard Jarrett Jack stepped into the starters roll. And much as he did two years ago in New Orleans, or last year in Golden State, Jack has delivered! His 31 point, 10 assist effort carried Cleveland to a SU road win as 10 point dogs against the Knicks.

The markets knee-jerk reaction has offered savvy bettors some good opportunities to cash supporting this lottery bound squad.

Ted Sevransky is one of the nation’s premier sports handicappers and analysts. Follow Teddy on Twitter @teddy_covers or visit his page at experts.covers.com. Contact Ted Sevransky at [email protected]

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