You’ll be reading more than enough about the Final Four in the week to come. My initial take on the two games can be found in my ESPN.com piece, midweek.
This week’s Wiseguy Report continues my breakdown of a handful of Eastern Conference “morphers.” It’s worth noting that since I wrote that article, blindly supporting the three “bet-on” teams that I mentioned (Cleveland, Philadelphia and Brooklyn) while fading my one “bet-against” squad (Indiana) has produced a 10-5 ATS result.
Hopefully this edition, focusing on Western Conference “morphers,” will produce similar short term dividends.
San Antonio: The Spurs success can’t be a surprise to any breathing human. No team in the league has been more consistent over the past decade and a half and San Antonio came one brutal overtime loss short of winning the NBA Championship last June. But the Spurs have been routinely disrespected in the markets this year.
They were priced appropriately to start the season, going 16-4 SU in their first 20 games, yet finishing .500 ATS. But the markets did not like the fact that San Antonio struggled against other top teams over the first half of the season. The Spurs were positively dominated by the quintet of Houston, the LA Clippers, Indiana, Miami and Oklahoma City: 1-9 SU against those five foes before the All Star break.
And the markets never like key injuries. San Antonio has had a bunch of them, with Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard all missing time, as have Danny Green and Tiago Splitter.
So what’s happened since the All Star break? Simple – San Antonio is crushing everybody, 15-5 ATS in their last 20. The key is the single deepest bench in the NBA. The Spurs remarkable execution when they get to the ninth, tenth and eleventh guy in Gregg Popovich’s rotation has been the difference.
During their current 9-1 ATS run, the Spurs have won and covered at -13, -14, -15, -17.5 and even -20 thanks to their ability to maintain and pad leads without a single starter on the floor in the fourth quarter.
New Orleans: I’ve been a Monty Williams fan since he got the head coaching job with the Pelicans back in 2010. New Orleans has never been a true Western Conference contender; a largely anonymous franchise since Chris Paul left town and especially since they changed their team nickname from Hornets to Pelicans.
The No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis brought some hope, but his rookie year was injury plagued. The Pelicans finished No. 14 out of 15 teams in the West, one year after having the worst record in the West. Yet despite all of that losing, this squad was no ATS disaster area, finishing above .500 against the spread during that two year span – the only bottom feeder in the West to do so!
The Pelicans haven’t been a good team this year either. But while most lottery bound squads are rather dicey to support consistently at this late stage of the season, New Orleans has been a different story. Davis has looked like a future MVP; an absolute force on both ends of the court in recent weeks.
And the lowly Pelicans have gone 9-2 SU, 9-2 ATS in the last 11 games that he’s played, including a trio of outright home wins against the Heat, Nets and Clippers last week – a morphing squad down the stretch.
Davis turned his ankle and missed their game against the Spurs over the weekend. Without him, the Pelicans are 3-7 SU and ATS this year. All three of those wins and covers came before Christmas. If Davis can return to health (early indications are that he should), there’s still money to be made supporting New Orleans down the stretch. If he doesn’t, the Pelicans are likely to make one final morph, from “competitive” to “nearly unbackable.”
Golden State continues to cost supporters money, particularly in the “home favorite against sub-.500 foe” role. Sunday’s outright home loss to the Knicks was just the tip of the iceberg. They needed OT to beat the Bucks as home chalk last week, not what you’d expect from a -13 favorite.
The week before Golden State lost outright at -9 against the Cavs. Other home losses in 2014 include Charlotte, Washington, Minnesota and Denver, along with a two point, non-covering win against the Celtics.
The Warriors are also struggling to step up in class on the highway. They’ve beaten up on the bad teams as road chalk, but they’ve managed only one spread cover in their last eight tries against foes with a winning record at home. The Warriors have faced a relatively easy slate of road opponents over the past three months.
Golden State still has tough road tests looming at Dallas, San Antonio and Portland over the next two weeks, and all four of the Warriors remaining home games come against lottery bound foes – their two ATS trouble spots. With Mark Jackson’s starting frontcourt of Andrew Bogut and David Lee both ailing, the Warriors have “bet against” written all over them down the stretch.
Denver has gone 7-3 ATS in the last 10 ballgames, not what you’d expect out of a lottery bound squad. And all three ATS losses came against quality foes: the Spurs, Mavs and Thunder. Denver has been particularly impressive SU and ATS at home, 6-1 SU and 5-2 ATS in their last seven tries, beating the likes of the Clippers, Mavs and Wizards.
Last year, the Pepsi Center in Denver was arguably the single strongest home court in basketball. Denver went 38-3 at home in the regular season and dominated ATS as well. This year, that home court edge has dissipated dramatically – they’ve already suffered 17 SU losses on this floor. That season long track record of home mediocrity (at best) helps to camouflage their recent ATS success at the Pepsi Center.
Minnesota fought the good fight, but suffered a pair of backbreaking losses last weekend. First, the T’wolves blew a 22 point lead at home against the Suns, losing outright against a team they “had” to beat in order to make the playoffs. Minnesota followed that up with a no-show in Memphis the following night, another team ahead of them in the West playoff chase.
Forward Chase Budinger’s quote speaks volumes: “We just have to be competitive. That’s the biggest key right now – get through the end of the season and play each game competitively. That’s how you have to look at it.”
Head coach Rick Adelman has been talking about evaluating his young talent, not winning games: “That has been the most frustrating thing, trying to get some consistency night in and night out, especially off the bench, guys who are going to give it to you every night.”
Those are most assuredly not “bet-on” quotes from this perennially 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]