Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Scott Skiles, Bookie Killer

Another trip to the Milwaukee-well, another winner! That'll teach us to ever go against the Bucks. I do find it interesting, though, that we've made 3 plays on or against Milwaukee of all teams, and we're 2-1, winning both times we backed the Bucks, and losing by a nose when we faded them. As a man originally from Los Angeles who spent 6 years in the Bay Area, 2 in California's San Joaquin Valley, and now a year in Michigan, there is very little explanation for my affection for Bucks games, but the bottom line is that they're a consistent performer right now, and a team that the world generally ignores, so we're cashing in! My only regret from yesterday is cutting the Knicks as the potential Free Premium play. They won easily, and we missed it. No worries, a 1-0 day is always fine with me!

That Paid Play winner with the Bucks moves our current run on Paid Plays to 6-2 over the last 8. Over that same stretch, Free Premium selections are 5-3, for a total run of 11-5, good for a nice little chunk of change. Let's keep the good times going after that early-2010 hiccup.

Sports Wagering

Heat @ Raptors - Toronto by 3 with a total of 204.5. Letdown spot for Miami, anyone? My only concern going into this handicapping procedure is that I have an initial lean to Toronto, and I haven't even looked at the stats yet! The important notes on this game are obviously the emotional spot, mentioned above, with the Heat coming off a disappointing loss to the Cavs in a game that they truly should have won if not for a few key flubs at the free throw line. It's just impossible for me to come to terms with the idea of the Heat failing to hang on to that late lead over Lebron, then getting excited to travel quite a distance north to Toronto, dealing with customs, and playing a non-divisional opponent for the 3rd time this season. These teams have split the first 2 meetings, with the home team covering relatively easily in each game so far. Interestingly, Toronto was favored by 3 the last time these clubs met north of the border, and they won by 7. Also interestingly, that total was set at 200, and the teams scored 233 combined. The second game saw a total of 206 and that game went over as well, to 210, and now here in this one the total is posted 1.5-point lower! I'm inclined to believe we see a strong defensive effort from the Raptors - yes, you heard correctly. I really like how Toronto is playing at home, and I think Miami scoring in the 90's is quite probable. The Raptors have won 4 of the last 5 meetings with the Heat in Canada, and this spread is the oddsmakers' way of telling us these teams are evenly matched. Noting that fact, the Raptors are damn tough at home at 15-6 SU, 12-9 ATS. The Heat have been a strong road proposition, but they're very streaky, and that loss to Cleveland is a pretty obvious catalyst for a potential exothermic reaction (yeah, I know, I stretched Physics 101 here). Still, my point is that I think Miami is going to give off energy, and I think Toronto is going to collect it; I lean Raptors and Under.

Lakers @ Pacers - Lakeshow by 6 with a total of 208. This number is dangerously close to that dubious 5.5, but let's see if it's a trap or if this line truly is accurate. Based on the line we just saw for the Wizards game last night, I'm actually inclined to believe this line is fair. There are a ton of times where lines in this neighborhood are trap situations from road teams, but I just don't know for sure on this one. Perhaps if the Lakers were playing a big game tomorrow or the next day I might be more inclined to think we're getting suckered here, but as it stands, the Lakers play the Sixers next, on Friday, so it isn't really a look-ahead. I suppose the initial concern is whether the Lakers can continue to play solid basketball on the road. The Lakers put together a nice road game, finally, in Washington, with contributions from a number of players, and a nice bounce-back game for Pau Gasol after a couple of less-than-stellar performances. We predicted in yesterday's write-up that the Wizards would have absolutely no answer for Pau, because of the size issue when you get past Brendan Haywood. The Pacers are a bit longer than the Wizards, so I don't know if Pau is going to dominate quite as much, and Indiana can try to annoy Kobe Bryant with Dahntay Jones, but it's hard to know exactly what to expect from this Pacers club. They're so frightfully inconsistent, and a lot of that is due to the fact that they're a jump-shooting club. Troy Murphy and Danny Granger make this team go, and when they're hitting outside shots, the Pacers are very competitive; when they're not, it gets ugly fast. The Lakers are better this year at defending the 3 than in years past, but the Pacers are so hit-or-miss, that it almost doesn't matter. I'm inclined, despite the line, to once again lean slightly to the Lakers, since they seem to find the gusto to cover multiple games in a row when they do actually bother to cover. This is a Lakers team that got irritated by a loss in Toronto, so against all previous indicators, I lean slightly to LA, since I think the losses to Cleveland and Toronto actually make the Lakers accurately valued for one of the very few times all year. The total is a complete crapshoot.

Wolves @ Cavaliers - Cleveland by 14 with a total of 200. This is the kind of game where someone wouldn't pick a side with someone else's money. You want to talk about a mis-match, how about this bad boy? The Wolves got clobbered by the Knicks last night, and now they have to go to Cleveland? This is bad, bad, bad. The Cavs come home after an emotional win over the Heat in Miami, and the Mo Williams-less Cavs continue to get it done. Here's the issue, though. The Cavs have won 5 straight, but they've covered just 2 of those 5 wins. Thanks to Lebron and their colossal record last year, the Cavs have entered the marquee stratosphere with Boston and LA, and the bottom line is that betting on Cleveland long term (as in, over the course of a season), is going to be a 50/50 proposition, at best. Oddsmakers are going to inflate these lines because they know everyone is going to bet on Lebron. So when we see a line like this one, which leaves a back door wide open, there is just zero chance I would advocate a play on the home team. Sure, there are the odd situations where a home team can be favored by double-digits and it's a smart play (see: 2nd half of back-to-back in altitude), but this is a Cleveland Cavaliers team in a bit of a letdown spot after the Dwyane Wade showdown game in Miami "dropping in" for a home game, then heading back on the road to play the Pacers. Really, when you break it down, Cleveland's next 7 games, minus a rematch with the Heat, are with teams that they really don't care about, and my guess is that the Cavs try to win these games with their collective transmission stuck in 2nd gear. I would offer a lean to Minnesota, but the Wolves stink, so my lean is to a no-play. I also think Minnesota will score maybe 85 points in this one, so my total lean is to the Under. I know the Wolves gave up an outrageous 132 to the Knicks, but that should only drive this total up, and we can probably get some value with the Under.

Clippers @ Nets - This line is OFF. As we've noted before, no point total seems to be enough for the Nets, and this game is, in the grand scheme of things, a BAD spot for Jersey! They're coming home off a 4-game road trip that saw the team lose to these Clippers by 11, to the Suns by 24, to the Warriors by 32, and the Jazz by 33. It just doesn't look like it could be any worse for Jersey, this team that has a few decent pieces, but is floundering. The Lebron sweepstakes is going poorly, since you have to believe James isn't terribly attracted to a team that can only win 6 games a season without him. On the flip side, the Clippers in a bit of a bad spot, as well. They're coming off a strong performance against the Celtics that netted them a cover but a straight up loss. The Clippers remain a much stronger team at home than on the road, and I'm actually quite interested to see where this line opens up. If the 8-point home favorite line is any indication, the Clippers should be just a 2-3 point road favorite, but somehow, with the way Jersey has been playing (see ridiculous losses noted above), I wouldn't be surprised to see this thing a little higher. I usually like to make guesses at where a line is going to open, but this is a game where I legitimately do not know what the oddsmakers' power rankings are going to show. The Clippers may be without Eric Gordon again, and if that is indeed the case, this game is a trademark no-play. However, if Gordon returns and this line opens up with a clear bias, we might be able to squeeze something out of it. The last matchup went over the posted total of 195 by 6 points, so watching where the total opens is also going to be somewhat telling. I lean Under, given both teams in letdown/sluggish spots, and I think we'll see a total close to where we saw the last one, even though it went over in LA.

Grizzlies @ Pistons - This line is OFF. Ben Gordon remains questionable, so we get to break down this life-changing matchup without a line. You guys know how I feel about these injury situations, so again, tread lightly. In terms of how these teams are playing, I think the keys to note here are that the Grizzlies have won 6 of 7 games, covering 5 of 6, and the Pistons have lost back-to-back home games to the Pacers and Blazers, and the oddsmakers are definitely going to tell us something with this line when it comes out. Detroit got things together for a few games, mostly at home, a week ago, but they've slowed again, and really, if this team can't get healthy and STAY healthy, they're just flat-out too thin to compete. If they can get their scorers in there, and get Tayshaun back for a little wing presence, they might be able to play with the mid-tier teams, but as it stands, they're too inconsistent to deserve a backing. Still, Detroit gets a lot of credit at home, and I wouldn't be surprised to see this game open near a Pick. We may then see sharps start toying with the line, since I don't believe there is a clear winner in this contest. I would lean to Detroit if indeed the line is that close to a Pick, but I think the best option might be to let sleeping dogs lie in this one. The Grizzlies have actually lost their last 3 road games, amazingly, but they've played so many home games this month that it almost seems like they haven't lost in weeks! It's very important to remember that this team overvalued right now, so it's not a good time to back them. We're looking for long-term value in this blog, and betting Memphis in this spot repeatedly would probably be a sub-.500 deal. Still, amazingly, this is a revenge game from when Detroit beat the piss out of the Grizz way back in the first week of the season. Which angle outweighs which? I don't like the side, and we'll see about the total when it comes out. I think there may be some value in an Under, but only time will tell.

Bulls @ Thunder - Oklahoma City by 5.5 with a total of 196. Here come the Bulls. Chicago started their monster road trip (7 games) with losses in both Golden State and LA (to the Clips), but have since rattled off 3 straight underdog outright wins against Phoenix, Houston and San Antonio. Where the hell did that come from? Well here, Chicago is actually in a favorable spot. Oklahoma City comes home to start a homestand of 4 games off a 2-2 road trip that ended with a heartbreaking loss in Cleveland. So, we have the Thunder on a letdown spot AND a sluggish spot, and we have the Bulls playing outstanding team basketball, scoring on the offensive end, and defending just as well. This is also a revenge game from just 3 weeks ago when the Thunder came to Chicago and slapped the Bulls with a 13-point home loss. We're getting huge value on Chicago here with the public falling in love with Kevin Durant, especially with the way the Thunder have covered 5 of 6. This is that moment where we can stay ahead of the curve, and watch for the Thunder failing to cover a few. I wouldn't call this game a trap, but I would call it a clear line value for dog backers. I'm also interested in the high total of 196. The previous meeting featured just 183 combined points, 9 under the posted total, and yet this one is opening 4 points higher. I like the Bulls and I like the Over, since I think we see Chicago score the ball and the Thunder try to force the tempo after falling behind early. Oh, and Chicago has covered in Oklahoma the last 2 times they've been there, but the Thunder weren't as good, so take this with a grain of salt.

Sixers @ Bucks - Milwaukee by 2.5 with a total of 199. I know many of you are wondering how I feel about this game, given that the Bucks are one of just a couple squads that played last night and are forced to go at it again. The Sixers are rested, and one of the best road ATS wagers in the NBA. The Bucks are RED hot, not necessarily winning every day, but playing each and every game close, and as a large underdog in most of their road games, that bodes very well for those of us that back the Bucks on a consistent basis. This one is a confusing one, though. It is a revenge game for Milwaukee, if you can really call it that. The Sixers beat the Bucks back in October, winning by 13 in Philadelphia as a 6-point favorite. Now, a few months later, the Bucks are slight favorites (it would have been more, remember, if the Bucks weren't on a back-to-back), at home, where Milwaukee can be quite tough. A few key records: Milwaukee is 10-6 ATS as a favorite, 12-8 ATS at home, and has covered 5 straight. I think there is something of the perception that this game might be a trap, but I think that if we remember that the Bucks would be 4.5-point favorites without the back-to-back situation, the line looks pretty fair. Another interesting stat: the Bucks are 7-2 ATS on the second day of a b2b, so let's not rush to putting a ton of stock into the fatigue factor. This game is literally yelling at me to avoid it, with a very good road team playing a very good home team, and no clear value. The revenge angle might be somewhat nullified by the emotional nature of the Bucks loss to Dallas, and really, when everything is summed up, it's basically break even. "Pass" on the side. I like the Over on the total, as the Bucks are really shooting the ball well, and I expect their team defense to suffer on the back-to-back. They're a deceptively good-shooting team at home in particular, and with Philly's tendency to play close games on the road, I think we'll get a nice boost of points down the stretch, and certainly OT is a possibility.

Hawks @ Spurs - San Antonio by 3.5 with a total of 195. Something foul is going on in San Antonio. Admittedly, I missed seeing firsthand what's been going on with this club, but they're struggling mightily right now, and I was extremely surprised at how poorly they finished that game with Chicago even after finally getting 2 days of rest between games. My original thought was that the Spurs were tired, but now I'm wondering if they just played above themselves for a couple weeks, and this is the rubber band-like regression. They've lost all 3 home games thus far on their current 6-game homestand, which concludes with contests against Memphis and Denver, so it doesn't get any easier. The Spurs are just not playing defense, and we all know that as San Antonio's defense goes, so goes the team. This is not a club built to outscore opponents on a nightly basis. They have a quality big man, a solid point guard, and a superb 6th man, but beyond that, Richard Jefferson is either hurt or underachieving, Dajuan Blair has been a breath of fresh air as a rebounder, but they're just not a team with a ton of weapons. The Spurs are at their best when they can use Duncan in the half-court set, but can get a few easy buckets, courtesy of Tony Parker's speed and Manu Ginobili's aggressive nature. When they're not getting stops and defensive rebounds, they have to rely too heavily on the half-court offense, and eventually Duncan will tire, or his teammates will miss jumpers. Based on the way we've seen things going, this looks like a rough spot for them. Atlanta is coming off a nice road win over the Rockets (another slumping Texas team), and now they come to San Antonio as a small favorite. I must say, the line almost looks too good to be true for Hawks backers - this team has been one of the better ATS wagers this season, but they had leveled off a bit on December and most of January. That is, until a week ago -- Atlanta has covered 3 straight (all straight-up wins), and they're 7-2 ATS this season as an underdog. Dare we take the bait? I'm concerned that the Spurs are still favored by this many points, but I get the feeling oddsmakers feel San Antonio is just one of those teams that won't stay down forever, and that they'll bring a top quality performance against the Hawks, but let's not sell Atlanta short. They can score, and they're learning how to defend. I think Atlanta can get San Antonio into a faster game, and I think they can win. I hate to do this, but I lean to the Hawks, and to the Over. Just draw a box around me lately, there's some square creeping in! One number to fear, San Antonio is 10-2 ATS against the Hawks in San Antonio over the last decade...

Nuggets @ Rockets - This line is OFF. The Nuggets on the road, eh? Not where they tend to excel. We don't have a line to work with, yet, and that would be the result of our buddy Carmelo's injury, but honestly, I would almost prefer that he plays. Fading the Nuggets on the road has become rather profitable endeavor. The Nuggets have won 7 straight games, but 6 of those have come at home, and the only road win was an OT victory against the undermanned Warriors. All those wins have more or less destroyed any value the Nuggets might have had, so this game is a play on the Rockets or nothing at all. Unfortunately, given the Rockets distinct lack of January success, "nothing at all" is looking better and better. Yes, the Nuggets are a terrible 9-11 SU on the road, 7-12-1 ATS, but the Rockets are 2-9 ATS in January, so they're not exactly a strong play right now, either. Their team FG% is down, the team defense is just as bad as usual, and things are getting ugly, but the question is whether they're bottoming out. Lines should start to get a little more tasty for Houston if they keep up this style of play, and as usual, it is our goal to be right there waiting when the value peaks. For what it's worth, the Rockets are indeed 12-9 ATS as an underdog, a perfect 4-0 as a home underdog, and this game might very well fit that category. In fact, I'd be surprised if it didn't. On that note, I lean slightly to the Rockets, and slightly to the Over, courtesy of the Rockets devolving defense.

Jazz @ Blazers - Utah by 2.5 with a total of 195.5. This is an odd one, but I think the line is pretty fair, given the Blazers injury issues. The Jazz are playing their best basketball of the season, maybe their best in the last few seasons, having won 8 of 10, and actually going 8-0-2 ATS over that same stretch. They are consistently outperforming expectations, as you can see from the strong ATS mark, and while 6 of those 10 games have come at home, this typically-strong home team has actually played well on the road, as well. The Rose Garden is not a place to take lightly, but the Blazers appear to be a buck short without Brandon Roy. This is a revenge spot for Portland, as they dropped a contest in Utah by 16 back in late November, but again, they're a different animal without their leader. I'm just not sure that the team will "get up" for the revenge angle with the same severity, and you guys know how I love to try to think about the psychology of motivation. Bottom line is that I think this line is accurate. Utah should take this game by a very small margin, and both teams have a decent shot to get up to the high 90's in points. In fact, Utah has scored over 100 in 5 straight games, just a microcosm of how dangerous this team has been on the offensive end. Neither team is really in a letdown or look-ahead spot, so I have to take a fat "pass" on the side, as I believe this line is within a point of where it should be. Perhaps we'll get some line movement that gives us an indicator of what books are expecting, but given that this game has the potential to be quite close, and given how the Jazz have been shooting and Blazers defending, I lean Over.

Hornets @ Warriors - This line is OFF. I'm really looking forward to the All-Star break, so some of these injured players can take a few days to get healthy, and we can start working with lines on most games again. This game looks like an awful spot for the Warriors. They return home off a loss in Sacramento (but a cover), without their star Monta Ellis, without a viable bench, starting mostly NBDL guys, and playing a back-to-back. The Hornets, meanwhile, come to town off a strong comeback win in Portland, and looking to build on a pair of ATS wins, and a 10-4 SU month of January. The Hornets are definitely improving on the road, the spot where they were nearly an automatic fade earlier this year. They've managed to push their ATS mark on the road to 11-13, not nearly as bad as that number at the beginning of the season. At the same time, though, this is one of those games where it looks like everything should fall to pieces for the Warriors, and I, once again, think playing the side is a recipe for disaster. Yes, I realize we don't have a line yet, and we might see one that looks like a colossal trap, in which case we might push for a play, but if this line comes out where I believe it should (with the Hornets favored by a small margin), that's a perfect "avoid." I know, we're seeing a ton of games today that have competing angles or bad situational spots, but it's always important to play only the games with value and not force it. I'm also intrigued by the total - the Warriors shot a season-low 31% from the floor in Sacramento last night, and I'm very, very curious to see if oddsmakers adjust in a big way overnight, in which case we might get value back on the Over, or if they keep the Warriors as a wild, up-tempo team, and the Under comes into play again. Time will tell.

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