Thursday, March 11, 2010

Seasons Ending Early

Sports Wagering

Clippers @ Bobcats - This line is OFF. Sorry guys, Clippers have decided it's time to make a run at a top draft pick. They've lost 5 straight games, and all 5 have been miserable losses, dropping the games by 26, 17, 22, 26, and 11. I mean, come on, five straight double-digit losses? That is just sad. Does this team have any pride left at all? Mike Dunleavy is no longer a part of this mess, probably the only good decision the Clippers have made all year, so maybe there's hope for the future, but you can see in the body language that half this team just doesn't want to be playing any more, and the offseason plans are starting to creep up strong. The Bobcats, on the other side, have won 4 straight games, including, in my humble opinion, an impressive follow-up to their emotional victory over the Heat with a 15-point road win over the spiraling Sixers. This is a team on the bubble in the Eastern Conference, and we're at that time of year where the teams with motivation are the teams to back. I realize that lightning can strike, but we do need to start to apply a few new "filters" to our handicapping. Looking at the big road dog is no longer an automatic like it was 2 months ago, and instead, if you have a road team like the Clippers where 50% of the players wish they were with their kids playing video games, I would suggest starting with a look at the motivated home club that knows a "free win" is one of the most important games of the week. Charlotte knows they need to beat teams like the Clippers, and do so soundly, since their game with Orlando on Sunday won't be so easy. I lean to the Bobcats, and I lean to the Under, as I just don't see LA cracking 90 points.

Cavaliers @ Sixers - This line is OFF. Once again, one of the few unlined games that I don't mind, though word on the street is that Lebron is most likely going to give it a go in this one. Problem is, Mo Williams is probable and Antawn Jamison is doubtful, so this Cavs team is in all kinds of injury-plagued disarray. Make no mistake, they are still tough as nails, but these young guys are always going to play WAY better at home than on the road, and you can be damn sure the reason the Cavs are so good on the road is NOT because of guys like Booby Gibson. In any case, this game is extremely tough to handicap without knowing who's going to play. It's also impossible to really get a feel for where this line is going to open. I mean, you want to talk about weird - the Cavs were a 2-point home dog to the Spurs, though that line showed signs of opening with the Cavs as a 5-point home favorite. That is a positively nutty swing just from injury issues. I happen to think that if indeed Lebron returns, he's going to want to make a statement that nothing stops the Manchild. Plus, the Sixers are one of the worst home ATS wagers in the NBA, posting an 8-22 ATS mark in their own building. Cleveland has covered the last 4 games in Philadelphia in a row, and the Sixers have lost 7 of their last 8 games as they get closer and closer to being officially eliminated from postseason contention. This is another spot where you have a strong, marquee team with greater motivation, and with some backups that are looking to make an impact. I lean square to Cleveland. I lean to the Under, too, as the Cavs, without their true scorers, are going to try to out-execute opponents, and Lebron is going to keep the game at a nice pace until late, when he can take over.

Pacers @ Celtics - Boston by 9.5 with a total of 201. Alright, Boston, it's time for a little test. Are you truly as bad as you've looked? After winning 4 games in a row (against Detroit, Charlotte, Philly and Washington), the Celtics have lost back-to-back games to Milwaukee and Memphis, and looked worse with every passing moment in those games. They started strong against the Bucks, and continued to slow through that game, losing late, then came back the next night and stunk it up right from the get-go. So, the question here is, how will the public respond, and what sort of value is available? I believe many folks will have the initial thought that a proud team like the Celts is going to bounce back with a triple-digit winner. I'm not sure it's quite so cut-and-dry. The Pacers are coming off a rare VICTORY (yeah, I know, weird) at home against the Sixers, one of the few teams in the NBA playing worse than Indiana, and quietly the Pacers have rattled off 3 straight covers. They have also had 2 days to rest since that win, Danny Granger is returning from a 1-game suspension, and they've actually played fairly well against Boston this year. The Pacers actually beat Boston in Indiana, and are 2-0 ATS against the Celtics this season, despite really playing a poor game when they last met out East. The Pacers have nothing to play for, but there's an air of enjoyment with this team. I'm not really sure why they're still playing like it matters, but for whatever reason, this Pacers team seems to enjoy basketball, unless they fall way behind. With Granger back, and the match-up problems Indiana seems to pose, I think they keep this thing closer than most. Also, Boston has a date with the Cavaliers on Sunday, on the road, and this game has the makings of a potential look-ahead. I lean Indy. That total of 201 looks pretty reachable, but the Pacers don't run as well on the road as they do at home, and I lean Under.

Bulls @ Heat - This line is OFF. And it's going to stay that way with Derrick Rose now nursing a sprained wrist. He knows, and the Bulls know, that without a serious run, they're cooked, and with Luol Deng and Joakim Noah both hurt as well, this is going to be a very, very tough spot for Chicago. Miami has been playing better basketball of late, as Dwyane Wade can smell the playoffs, and realizes that without a good run down the stretch, the Heat's spot isn't secure. They've won 4 straight home games, though that loss in Charlotte was mixed in there, as well. Now, off an easy win over the Clippers, Miami is set to host the half-speed Bulls in the second game of a 6-game homestand. Miami knows this is a huge opportunity to get 4 or 5 wins at home and really put the pressure on other teams to climb over them to get into the playoffs, so you can bet that a "cake" game like this one isn't going to be overlooked. Unfortunately, courtesy of Chicago getting 100% embarrassed by Orlando, this line is going to open up higher than it would have yesterday (or two days ago), and no one in their right mind is going to want to bet Chicago unless they're getting a ton of points. Obviously, I'd love to find a way to back the Heat, but can Miami put the defensive clamps on an undermanned Bulls club? Miami lost in Chicago, so I suppose revenge might be in the air, but the motivation for playoffs is way bigger than all of that. Teeny, tiny lean to Miami, though this spread is going to be chalky. I like the Under, though - there's no way Miami lets the Chicago scrap-heapers get out and run and have a chance. Slow it down, force the Bulls to try to score in the half-court, and Miami could potentially hold Chicago to 75.

Knicks @ Grizzlies - Memphis by 8 with a total of 210.5. This game is a weird balance of revenge versus motivation. The Grizzlies rolled into New York and stomped the Knicks in a high-scoring affair, 120-109, and that game was just about 2 weeks ago, when Memphis was starting their current torrid road run. The Grizzlies snapped a rather extended home losing skid (8 games, I believe) with a win (and failed cover) against the Nets back on the 8th. Their most recent game was a dominant road performance in Boston, as Memphis clobbered the Celtics by 20, and we were able to cash with that one. Alright, so here's the pickle. New York is in their 2nd game of a 5-game road trip through the South, then back up through the Northeast, but the Knicks haven't looked competent for more than 1-2 games since the very early parts of 2010. They're coming off a 10-point road loss in San Antonio, and there's very little to indicate that they'll keep this game within 10. Memphis has so, so much more to play for right now, and as we talked about at great length on Wednesday, they're a great motivational play. However, New York is on revenge from that home loss, AND Memphis plays host to the Denver Nuggets tomorrow. Will the Grizzlies be able to truly focus on this lower-tier opponent, when they likely believe they can dispatch of the Knicks just like they did in New York, then redouble their efforts tomorrow against a tougher team? I wish I could say I believe they will, but I happen to think the Knicks slip just within this spread and lose by 6-7. I lean New York, but barely! On the total, New York is having all kinds of offensive issues, and 210.5 looks wildly inflated - I lean Under strongly, as this is also an "oddsmaker hint" lean.

Nets @ Thunder - Oklahoma by 11.5 with a total of 195. Still mind-boggling that we're seeing the Thunder laying almost a dozen points; what strides they've taken! I should apologize to our good buddy Denmarkok when I say that while I know the Thunder are rolling, I just feel like this game is sandwiched between two opponents that the Thunder would take much more seriously. Two days ago, Oklahoma played host to their brief lover, the Hornets, a team in a free-fall at the moment, and the Thunder beat them mercilessly. Then, on Sunday, the Thunder host the Utah Jazz, a Northwest Division rival, and a late-season proving ground type game. This game, to me, has all the makings of a 10-point Thunder win. Jersey is just finally starting to play with a little purpose, most likely trying to avoid that dubious single-digit win season that would truly immortalize these players as one of the worst collections of talent and effort, well, ever. Jersey has actually gone 3-9 in their last 12 games, which, amazingly, is far, far better than their season record, percentage-wise, and they're rolling on a 4-game ATS win streak. Only one of those 4 games was "pretty," the 20-point road win over the Knicks, but the value is still there with this team, since the other 3 covers came by a combined 4 points. Yep, 3 winners by 4 points, the ultimate sign that oddsmakers' lines on Nets games are sharp as a tack, and that by playing the value side, you're putting yourself in the driver's seat. I lean Jersey, situationally, and I lean Over, since I think the Thunder go 85% on defense in this one.

Wizards @ Pistons - Detroit by 5 with a total of 191.5. When I see this line, I think of two things. One, this line is telling me that books believe the Pistons and Wizards are equals, and two, oddsmakers think the public is going to give enough love to the Wizards to warrant a line with no clear-at-first-glance line value. Detroit has shown this season that they have what it takes to beat the Wizards, and when they're rested, as we've seen, they can actually compete. Obviously, the Rodney Stuckey situation limits Detroit's ability to get into the paint, and he was really playing well before the passing out incident. Still, the veterans left on this team are playing like they care, and though Utah came into Detroit and beat them by 11, the Jazz are a team on a mission, and I don't think we can really learn much about Detroit's level of commitment from that loss. On the other side, I happen to believe the Wizards are running out of gas. They lost to the Hawks last night by 8, at home, and that makes 5 straight losses, and 1-4 ATS mark in that same stretch. It seems like they muster the strength to really compete once every few games now, the bigger ones, then go at 90% in the others. The offseason is near, and guys like Andray Blatche have more or less locked up a starting spot going forward, so what's left? It's tanking time. The Wizards are just 5-8 ATS in back-to-back games, so they have not been strong when fatigued, though they've only played 1 back-to-back game since the All Star Break, and they covered, barely. I think Detroit's veterans show the young guys how it's done, and I lean Pistons. I've also been surprised at how Detroit's tempo has picked up lately, and that makes this total tough to read - I think we see Detroit try to win against a young team with defense, and I lean just slightly to the Under.

Nuggets @ Hornets - Denver by 4.5 with a total of 210.5. Sorry guys, it's time for the Hornets to pack it in. There are very few teams in a bigger free-fall than the Hornets right now, though certainly an argument could be made for the Clippers here, too. The question is, are we still getting any value by going against New Orleans, or have the books and public caught up with the collapse? The key, as I noted on the podcast, is that this team has realized that their season goal, of getting into the playoffs and competing in the postseason, is dead. The losses are mounting, Chris Paul didn't return to lead the way, and the guys that stepped up for a month have nothing left in the tank. Other teams are gameplanning for the up-tempo style of offense, and the Hornets aren't getting the kinds of easy shots they were when Chris Paul first went down and they decided to alter their style of play. And the worst part is that the defense has been bad, too. I happen to think this line is pretty fair, given how these teams have been handicapped against common opponents, so I don't know that a bettor would be giving up all that much by playing the Nuggets. Denver isn't really in a look-ahead spot, and they're certainly not in a letdown spot, and they've been consistently winning by 8-10 points of late. I suppose the concern is that Kenyon Martin, the player that really makes Denver "nasty", might be the key cog in making sure they stomp on lesser teams on the road late in the season. These teams have played surprisingly close games this year, but I have to believe Chris Paul was a big reason in those. And this is that time of year where making a square play might not actually be so square - I lean Nuggets. On the total, 210.5 seems very, very high, especially with the Hornets slowing offensive rhythm and the Nuggets lower scoring on the road. I lean Under.

Spurs @ Wolves - San Antonio by 5 with a total of 203. If there was a list of five teams that I just haven't had a great read on this season, the Spurs would definitely be among those 5. They were fairly predictable for the first month or two, winning at home and scoring a ton of points, then losing on the road and looking awful, but then the inconsistency set in. There is just no way to know what the heck this Spurs club is going to do from one game to the next. I'll give credit where credit's due, though - they've been playing better over the last two weeks. They've won 5 of 6 games, losing just their match with the Lebron-less Cavs, and to a bunch of backups that played way over their heads. But, to the Spurs credit, they bounced back with a home win over the Knicks. They take on the Wolves tonight and the Clippers tomorrow, so they have a couple winnable games, and two contests they desperately need to help lock up one of the lower Western Conference playoff seeds. I suppose the question isn't truly whether they win, but whether they cover, and when I don't feel that the underdog has a good chance to win the game, I have a tough time backing them. The Wolves look like they've about given up on the season, as well, and I'm not sure they deserve the 6-point swing for home court edge. San Antonio killed the Wolves when they played in Texas, which makes me think the Spurs match up pretty well with Minny, and once again guys, I lean to the square side - the Spurs just need this one more. I think San Antonio comes to play defense here, too; I like the Under.

Jazz @ Bucks - A Pick with a total of 195.5. How about this one? This actually has the makings to be one of the most interesting games on the card. The red hot Jazz and red hot Bucks going head to head to see which is hotter. Of course, it makes for an awful game to bet, but a great game to watch. This is why living rooms should have multiple TV's. Situationally, neither of these teams is in a particularly bad spot, and neither particularly good. The Bucks are coming off a wildly emotional win over the Celtics, so this is a trademark letdown spot for Milwaukee. The Jazz have a Divisional showdown coming with the Thunder in their next game, so this is something of a potential look-ahead, though with the way the Bucks have been playing, you know Utah is going to come out ready. Utah also crushed the Bucks in Salt Lake City back in late January, so I suppose there's a little revenge on the side of the Bucks. But here we go, bouncing back and forth between these two blindingly hot teams, and basically, when this situation presents itself, the best bet on this one is no bet. I happen to think the Jazz are a little too strong for Milwaukee, but the Bucks have impressed me before. I am making this game an official PASS on the side. On the total, we know Utah wants to get into an offensive game, and Milwaukee likely wants to play some strong defense, but I'm just not sure who ends up dictating how this one gets played. I'm inclined to think Utah gets this thing up around 100 apiece, and I lean Over.

Lakers @ Suns - Lakers by 1.5 with a total of 213.5. This is a series dominated by the home team, with the Lakers creaming the Suns twice in LA before the Suns came back with a strong showing in Phoenix. But wait, all of those games occurred in 2009. Could these two teams really be facing off for the first time in 2010? Yep. This is roughly the same spread we saw the last time the Lakers came to Phoenix, so you have to wonder if we'll see the same result. The Lakers are scuffling a bit, and needed a last-second jumper from Kobe just to clear the Raptors at home, and the problem has clearly been at the defensive end. The Lakers have given up at least 96 points in all 4 of these rather ugly games, including over 100 in regulation to the offensively challenged Heat, and 107 to the Raptors, who, for what it's worth, do push the pace a tad. Now, if you thought Toronto wanted to score, how about the Suns. Phoenix knows they're not going to win a battle of the bigs, since Robin Lopez and Channing Frye just simply can't compete with Bynum and Gasol. However, if the Lakers don't start defending, Phoenix is going to get whatever they want. Am I confident enough to say that the Suns win this game outright, and the Lakers lose another on the road? Boy, that is really putting the pressure on Phoenix, but I happen to think they play a solid game. The monster concern is that Phoenix hasn't played in almost a week! Are they rusty or smooth? Very tough game to handicap, though on long rest, the Suns have been pretty good, and 6 days to prepare for the Lakers is a long, long time. Lean to Phoenix, and lean to the Over, courtesy of the Lakers matador defense.

Blazers @ Kings - Portland by 2 with a total of 194. I don't like fading the Blazers on back-to-backs, since those 2 points they get in the line is basically 2 free points. They are a ridiculous 12-3 ATS in back-to-back games this year, far and away their strongest record of any "rest" situation. It's almost like they not only get 2 points in line value, but also double their team-wide focus, wreaking havoc on unsuspecting teams that expect them to come out sluggish. And it hasn't really mattered the situation, either. Coming off an overtime loss in Chicago, they crushed the Wolves; coming off a big home loss to the Thunder right before the All Star Break, they rolled into Phoenix and shot 70% for a half. It's borderline incredible, at times. For Sacramento, they're clearly playing better basketball as Jason Thompson gets healthy, and Carl Landry gets worked into the offense. He is a much, much better fit for this team than Kevin Martin, who didn't seem to be confident in the offense, and ultimately needs to take 15-20 shots a game to feel useful. Now, the Kings can play Donte Greene, Omri Casspi and Cisco Garcia at the 2 and 3 spots, and get nice defense and some offense from all three. Bottom line, Sacramento is building around Tyreke Evans, so to have complementary pieces, and some skilled big men who can do a few different things (Thompson rebounding, Hawes shooting from perimeter and blocking shots, Landry the undersized scorer) is a nice little bonus. Still, Portland is surging from that 4th quarter - they're feeling good, and I think the Blazers get it done on the back-to-back again, and they'll do it with defense, so I like the Under.

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