NBA: What To Look For In The 2nd Half

Power Sports | Feb 25, 2019 | ARCHIVE

What to Look For in the NBA's 2nd Half

Being that this is the first time in many years that I am NOT handling Covers Experts' NBA Power Rankings, I thought I'd take some time to update you with my broad thoughts on the league and what to expect in the second half. Coming out of the All-Star Break, now is an opportune time to focus on the journey ahead.

The Eastern Conference can be broken down into three tiers: (1) teams that can actually make noise in the playoffs, (2) teams just trying to get into the playoffs and (3) some of the absolute dregs in the league. Let's look at each of these groups, one by one.

The first group is comprised of Milwaukee, Toronto, Indiana, Philadelphia and Boston. One of these teams (Indiana) has already suffered a devastating injury (Victor Oladipo) that will probably cost them come playoff time. There's been a lot of handwringing on those terrible ESPN shows about "what's wrong with Boston." Allow me to chime in with my answer - "nothing!" The Celtics have the NBA's third best point differential (+6.0 PPG) and should at least pass the Pacers and Sixers by the time the playoffs start. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if the Eastern Conference Finals ends up with the Celtics playing the Bucks, who are definitely the East's best team.

Boston has fared much better at home (19-12 ATS) and against Eastern Conference opponents (22-16-1 ATS) than they have on the road (11-17-1 ATS) and vs. the West (8-13). Really, they are the East's 2nd best team. They join Milwaukee as the only two teams in the league to be top six in both offensive and defensive efficiency.

The next group of teams just trying to get into the playoffs is comprised of: Brooklyn, Detroit, Charlotte, Orlando, Miami and maybe Washington. All of these teams have been outscored over the course of the season, which is something you usually don't see from a playoff contender. But such is life in the Eastern Conference. With John Wall absent, I expect the Wizards to drop off. They are money-burning 8-22-1 ATS in road games, by the way.

Charlotte and Orlando have combined to go 0-7 SU in overtime games, which could cost them dearly. If the Hornets could ever pull out some close wins, they'd be a lock for the postseason. But over the last three years, they are an unfathomable 4-24 SU in games decided by three points or less. The Hornets' have lost 10 games by three or fewer this season, which is the most such defeats in the league.

A big key for the Nets is that they win when they are expected to win. Their SU record as a favorite is 15-2 including a perfect 4-0 on the road (also 4-0 ATS). Miami and Detroit are both top 10 teams in defensive efficiency, which bodes well for them. But at the same time, both are bottom 10 in offensive efficiency.

The bottom of the East - Atlanta, Chicago, Cleveland and New York - is as bad as its ever been. Bet these teams only with extreme caution as they are already "playing for next year," which means draft lottery position is a higher priority than actually winning games.

Moving to the Western Conference, the number of quality teams obviously runs a lot deeper. Barring something unforseen, Golden State will finish #1. However, reputation has finally caught up to the Warriors, who are a league-worst 24-34-2 at the pay window. Right behind the Dubs is a likely battle between Denver and Oklahoma City for the #2 seed. Taking the longview, I feel that the Thunder have the better upside. The Nuggets have been pretty fortunate to go 10-2 SU in games decided by three points or less.

I expect the following four teams to all make the playoffs in the West: Portland, Houston, Utah and San Antonio. Of the quartet, I have the Jazz rated as the best team. But they are 0-5 SU in games decided by three points or less. Something interesting about the Spurs this season is that they are #3 in the league in offensive efficiency as they shoot the best percentage from three-point range despite taking the second fewest attempts. Can that continue?

Hurting those four teams is the fact they all have losing records on the road. The Spurs' 11-21 SU mark away from home is particularly unsightly. They just lost in New York Sunday.

Phoenix is really the only team that's been "out of contention" in the West this year. Despite being favored only four times all season, the Suns still have produced the league's third worst ATS record. Memphis is likely to join as the second team out of contention, even though they have the second best scoring defense in the league. The Anthony Davis situation in New Orleans figures to take the Pelicans out of contention, even though they have a better YTD point differential than most of the teams they are competing against.

Dallas has the league's second-best ATS record (35-24). But despite this, they're unlikely to make the playoffs either. They've dropped four in a row and have a striking difference between home (20-10) and road (6-23 SU) record. The same holds true for Minnesota, who has won just 4 of the 20 times it has been a road dog this season.

This likely leaves the following three teams competing for the final playoff spot: the Clippers, Lakers and Kings. Expectations were predictably too high for the Lakers in LeBron James' first season here. They were too low for the Clippers. The Kings are the biggest surprise as they have the league's best ATS record and have especially cleaned up as a favorite. They are 14-1 SU and 13-2 ATS in games they are expected to win. The Clippers and Kings rank third and fourth in the league in three-point shooting. The Clips lead the league in fourth quarter and bench scoring, which makes up for the fact they don't have the kind of star that the other team playing in Staples Center does.

So there you have a little something to "sink your teeth into." The next four months are the most critical in NBA betting!

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