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NBA’s “Second Season”

0 hours, 32 minutes ago
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The Spurs entered the NBA for the 1976-77 season (along with fellow ABA teams the Nets, Nuggets and Pacers) and are not only the only former ABA team to have won a title (the Spurs have won four) but only the Lakers have been in more postseasons than the Spurs these last 38 years. The Lakers have missed the postseason for just the second time over the last 20 seasons in 2014 (also missed in 2004-05 season) but have participated in 35 of the 38 postseasons since the merger. The Spurs are playing in their 17th straight postseason, 24 of the last 25 (missed in 1996-97) and 34 of the 38 since the merger (one shy of LA’s mark).
 
Considering the Spurs lost in last year’s NBA Finals to the Heat (in a terrific seven-game series) and the fact that San Antonio just completed the regular season with the league’s best record, it’s fair to say the Spurs are the favorite. However, there should be some concern for San Antonio and its fans (and betting backers). San Antonio’s likely second-round opponent is the 4th-seeded Houston Rockets and the team’s likely opponent in the West Conference final is the OKC Thunder. So what’s the big deal? How about the fact that while San Antonio went an NBA-best 62-20, the Spurs were 0-4 vs both the Rockets and Thunder this year (as opposed to going 62-12, or .838 vs the rest of the league)!
 
The NBA consists of 30 teams and just 12 have won championships since the 1976-77 merger, with only seven winning multiple titles. The Lakers lead the way with 10, followed by the Bulls (six), Celtics (four), Spurs (four), Pistons (three), Heat (three) and Rockets (two). Of the five teams to win single titles since the merger, all but the Mavs win in 2011 came more than 20 years ago. The Blazers won the first NBA title post-merger in 1977, followed by the Bullets (now Wizards) winning in 1978 over the Sonics (now Thunder) and then the Sonics “returning the favor” the following season by beating the Bullets. The fifth team to win a single NBA title since the merger was the 76ers, who won with Moses and Doctor J in that famous Fo’, Fo’ Fo’ season of 1982-83.
 
The Heat are the two-time defending champs but with an 11-14 record over their last 25 games, finished tied for the NBA’s fifth-best record at 54-28 (along with the Rockets and Blazers). The Heat had the best regular season record of any team last year (66-16) and went on to win the title. That ended a four-year drought of NBA champs which didn’t own the best regular season record (the 2007-08 Celtics won the title after topping the NBA that season with a 66-16 record). However, as I point out every year at this time, it’s not as if the NBA playoffs typically serve up “unlikely” champs. Bird and Magic entered the NBA for the start of the 1979-80 season, rejuvenating what was a 'dying' league. Here's what a check of the history books tell us. Of the 34 championship teams since that 1979-80 season, 16 have been teams which finished the regular season with the best regular season record (or tied for the best record). Nine champs have been teams which finished with its second-best mark and four others with its third-best record.
 
That leaves just FIVE champions from outside the top-three regular season records over the last 34 seasons (or just 14.7 percent). However, while just five champions have come from a group outside of the top-three regular season records these last 34 years, it would be foolish to not realize that FOUR of those five have come in the last 10 years (a pattern?).
 
The 2012 Heat and 2011 Mavericks both finished with the fourth-best record that year. The other two recent teams to do so are the 2003-04 Pistons, who finished at 54-28 (sixth-best mark) and the 2005-06 Heat, who owned a 52-30 mark that year, which represented the league's fifth-best record that season. The 2004 Pistons deserve an asterisk, because after acquiring Rasheed Wallace, the Pistons owned the NBA’s best record after the All Star break and by year’s end, were HARDLY considered the league’s sixth-best team. As for the 2006 Heat, they owe the Mavs as big favor, as Dallas coughed up a 2-0 Finals lead, losing FOUR straight games (Mavs made up for that ‘choke’ in 2011). That leaves the 1994-95 Houston Rockets as the fifth team to win an an NBA title these last 34 years, without finishing the regular season with at least, the league’s third-best regular season record. That squad deserves a “special mention.”
 
You may remember that following a third straight NBA title in 1992-93 with the Bulls and the tragic death of his father, MJ decided to pursue a career in MLB. With MJ in the minors and not on an NBA court, the 1993-94 Rockets (coached by Rudy T and led by Hakeem) won the title in a seven-game series over the Knicks, who were coached by Pat Riley and led by Patrick Ewing. The following season, the Rockets finished with a record of 47-35, tied for the 10th-best mark during the regular season. However, they beat in order, the 60-22 Jazz, the 59-23 Suns and the 62-20 Spurs (owners of the league's best record that year in David Robinson's MVP year) in the Western Conference playoffs, to reach the NBA Finals. Waiting for them were the 57-25 Magic, led by Shaq and Penny (remember him?), who had eliminated the Bulls and MJ (who returned late in the that season from his MLB 'sabbatical'). The Rockets swept the Magic in four games, giving Rudy T and Hakeem back-to-back titles and giving Clyde Drexler (who was acquired from Portland during the season in a trade), the lone NBA title of his Hall-of-Fame career. Houston 'victims' that postseason had a combined record of 238-90 (.726) during the regular season. No championship team, before or since, has beaten a more impressive group of challengers on its way to an NBA title.
 
On the eve of the 2014 playoffs, should we expect any surprises? The Pacers and Heat are the top-two seeds in the East and dominated that much weaker conference all season. However, neither looked likely championship contenders down the stretch. I previously noted Miami’s 11-14 record over its final 25 games and here I’ll add that while the Pacers have won back-to-back division championships for the first time since 1998-99 and 1999-2000 (as well as hanging on to claim the East’s No. 1 seed), they went 10-12 over their last 22 games. Even of more concern to sports bettors is the following set of facts.
 
Indiana opened February with four straight wins, the last of which was a 118-113 OT victory over the Blazers on Feb 7, a non-cover which began a money-burning ATS slide in which the Pacers went 7-26-1 ATS over their final 34 regular season games, including 3-15 ATS on the road. No one expects the 38-44 Hawks to be able to win a seven-game series against Indiana but maybe the winner of the Chicago/Washington series could pull an upset? If the Bulls beat the Wizards, note that Chicago has gone 42-20 since acquiring point guard D.J. Augustin (he played in all but ONE of those games, averaging 14.9 PPG and 5.0 APG with Chicago).
 
As for the Heat, getting past the Bobcats (making the franchise’s 2nd postseason appearance in its 10-year history) should not be a problem. However, maybe the Toronto/Brooklyn winner could be? The Raptors dumped Rudy Gay in early December and went 41-22 (.651) the rest of the way. As for Brooklyn, the Nets were just 10-21 when the calendar turned to 2014 but finished 34-17 (.667) over their final 51 games. Of even greater note is the fact that the Nets won all FOUR meetings with the Heat this regular season!
 
I noted at the top that the West’s No. 1 seed (SA), is a combined 0-8 SU this regular season against its expected opponents in each of the second two rounds of this year’s playoffs. That alone should be enough to make the West a “wide open” draw in 2014. OKC is the No. 2 seed and has this year’s likely MVP in Kevin Durant but will Westbrook stay healthy all postseason? If so, is a “two-man” team capable of winning the title? The Clippers are the No. 3 seed and many I know think they just could be the NBA’s best team. However, can one really put that much faith in a franchise making only its SEVENTH postseason appearance since the team came to California (from Buffalo) to begin the 1978-79 season? By the way, the Clippers have lost in the first round in FOUR of their previous six playoff appearances and in their second series in the other two. That sound like an NBA champion to you?
 
As for me, I make it a practice to never formulate strong opinions prior to the start of any series. I take each series as it comes and in fact, take each series game-by-game. My Playoff Journal begins Monday, April 21 and will be available right here every Monday-Friday by 2:00 ET, previewing and recapping the playoffs to-date.
 
Good luck...Larry Ness

NHL Playoff Profits!

Apr 17, 2014
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The 2013/2014 NHL season has been extremely profitable for the Covers Experts, and they are ready to keep the wins rolling as the playoffs get underway!

Have a look at the impressive records of this season's top 3 NHL handicappers:

Ben Burns: 149-75 (67%), $37,292

Art Aronson: 156-108-12 (59%), $22,170

Matt Fargo: 90-83 (52%), +$6,236

In addition to individual guaranteed picks, check out our NHL Playoffs Package, available for just $199.00 - ride the wins with your favorite Covers Expert from now until the Stanley Cup final!

TAKE IT TO THE BOOKS!

Ask the Experts: Ben Burns

Apr 14, 2014
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As we enter the 2014 NHL Playoffs, we figured it would be a perfect time to catch up with Ben Burns and shop!  There is no one who you should want to hear from more than Ben at the moment if you are looking to cash in on the ice this spring.  Ben’s regular season numbers can be described as nothing less than outstanding, posting a 148-75 (66%) record and finished up an astonishing +$36,592. Let’s see what the Sydney Crosby of hockey betting has to say…

Covers-Team: Your current hot streak is truly awe-inspiring (congrats!). When you're on a huge roll like this, do you do anything differently? Do you have good luck charms or habits/routines, or do you just continue on as usual?
Ben: Thanks. I try not to do anything differently, it’s pretty much business as usual. No good luck charms/habits really - although I've been known to go without shaving or getting a haircut for a while when things are really rolling.

Covers-Team: Conversely, when you are in a 'valley', how do you keep yourself motivated and positive that you will come out of the cold?
Ben: Same as when on a winning streak; it’s pretty much business as usual when I'm going through a tough stretch. After years of weathering the peaks and valleys, I'm confident that the streaks will even out and that I've got a strong chance of being ahead when they do.

Covers-Team: How do you stay calm and centered in what is arguably a very stressful and fast-paced industry? When I'm feeling pressure, I like to listen to music, cook, do yoga, or run - do you have any hobbies or strategies that keep you grounded?
Ben: Taking my dog for walks is a nice break. Playing speed chess is one way I can block everything out for a few minutes. While I also enjoy "regular" chess, it can be hard to find the time to play. Also, with the larger duration in between moves, my mind tends to wander back to handicapping. With mere seconds in between moves in speed chess, one has no time to think about anything else.

Covers Team: Many Covers.com users have been following your current hot streak, and they want to get on board to make big money fast. What is your advice - based on your personal experience - to bettors who are just getting started?
Ben: Don't bet more than you can afford to lose and don't expect to make "big money fast." Don't get too excited about winning streaks and think that they'll never end. Keep a disciplined long-term approach.

Covers-Team: How has the advent of social media (Twitter, Facebook) influenced or changed the way you approach sports handicapping?
Ben: Actually, social media hasn't changed anything for me. I don't use Facebook and I rarely have time to check out Twitter. I guess I'm a little different than most though, as I've probably only used my cell phone about three times this entire year.

 

If you are planning to bet on the NHL playoffs, bet with Ben and get his Playoff Subscription.  If you do not bet on hockey or were planning on taking a break during the playoffs, please do us a favor and return to the top of this article and see where Ben banked +$36,592 this season alone!!!!

 

Take it to the books!

Playoff Payoffs!

Apr 14, 2014
Blog Image

The 2013/2014 NHL season has been extremely profitable for the Covers Experts, and they are ready to keep the wins rolling as the playoffs get underway!

Have a look at the impressive records of this season's top 3 NHL handicappers:

Ben Burns: 148-75 (66%), +$36,592

Art Aronson: 154-108-12 (59%), +$20,870

Matt Fargo: 89-83 (52%), +$5,436

In addition to individual guaranteed picks, check out our NHL Playoffs Package, available for just $199.00 - ride the wins with your favorite Covers Expert from now until the Stanley Cup final!

TAKE IT TO THE BOOKS!

Vegas Wiseguy Report: Curious Case of the Pacers

Apr 10, 2014
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The Indiana Pacers have been a remarkable pointspread story this year, worthy of a ‘Wiseguy Report’ to examine in detail what has happened and why.  To be thorough, this story starts last year when the Pacers flexed their collective muscles, developing into a title contender for the first time in a decade.  

Indiana was good, not great, in the 2012-13 regular season.  They won 49 games, tied for the third best record in the (much) weaker of the two conferences.  Here’s an excerpt of what I wrote about the Pacers heading into the playoffs last year:

“A month ago, I would have listed the Pacers as Miami’s toughest Eastern Conference potential test.  Indiana’s defensive numbers rank among the best in the NBA, and low post behemoth Roy Hibbert is a very tough matchup for the Heat in the paint.  Indiana beat Miami twice during the regular season, and the Pacers were the last team to give the Heat real trouble in the playoffs last year, taking a 2-1 series lead in the Eastern Conference semi’s before the Heat closed out the series with three straight wins.

But the Pacers have not played well down the stretch; struggling to find offensive production during crunch time of close games.  Can the George Hill/Lance Stephenson/Paul George trio really hang with LeBron and Dwayne Wade for seven games?  And with aging power forward David West wearing down since the All Star break, even Indiana’s defensive mindset isn’t enough for me to expect them to hang tough with Miami.”

The Pacers didn’t look like juggernauts when they opened the playoffs last year, tied 2-2 with Atlanta through the first four games of their series, each team winning and covering both games at home.  But Indiana solved Atlanta, holding the Hawks to 83 and 73 points as they closed out the series in six games.

Then the Pacers knocked off the Knicks in six.  They notched only one win and cover at Madison Square Garden, but controlled all three home games.  And then Indiana took the defending champion Heat to the wire in an absolute war for seven games, earning a significant measure of respect from the betting markets in the process.

After that type of a confidence inspiring playoff run, with their entire core back for 2014 and head coach Frank Vogel earning a strong ‘bet-on’ reputation, the Pacers were expected to be very good this year.  They were lined in the range of 55 wins; an elite team. And for the first three months of the season, the Pacers played like it.  In fact, they actually played better than expectations – much better. 

The Pacers opened this season with a 15-5 ATS mark in their first 20 games.  They went 13-7 ATS in their next 20.   Everybody knew that the Pacers were going to be very good, yet Indiana still managed to hit 70 percent against the spread over the first half of the season!  This isn’t a similar case to other ATS juggernauts this year like the Suns, Bobcats or Raptors (the top three ATS teams in the NBA as I write this), all of whom were lottery teams last year whom have ‘come out of nowhere’ to play playoff caliber basektball.  This was the case of an elite team playing even better, ‘ultra-elite’ if you will.

How did the Pacers put together that remarkable ATS run?  Here’s what I wrote back in January: “My answer is two-fold: focus and defense.  Frank Vogel had the Pacers thinking about home court advantage in the playoffs from Day 1 of training camp, and the Pacers have used all kinds of perceived ‘slights’  as a smaller market team (like not being scheduled on Christmas Day) as additional motivators.  That has led to extraordinary focus, a ballclub that just hasn’t had many weak efforts this year. 

And the Pacers championship level defensive effort has covered more than a few pointspreads.  Indiana has the best defensive efficiency numbers in the NBA; barely allowing 93 points per 100 possessions.  Opposing teams have struggled to hit ‘spread covering’ shots against them again and again in the latter stages of the fourth quarter.”

So when Indiana limped into the All Star break with a 4-8 spread mark in their previous 12 games, it certainly didn’t raise any red flags.  Nor did the fact that the team with the best home record in the NBA suddenly lost a couple of games as home favorites against the Suns and Mavs.  This team was a dynamo, bet-on all the way.

Which makes what has happened since the All Star break all the more remarkable.  As I write this, the Pacers are seven games under .500 ATS for the year, tied with Milwaukee in the ATS standings.  They’ve gone 13-13 SU, but just 3-22-1 ATS since the break, a 26 game streak of abject pointspread futility.  One of those three spread covers was fraudulent, coming as a 5.5 point favorite in overtime.  And it’s surely worth noting that ten of those 13 SU wins came against the Bucks, Celtics, Jazz, Lakers, Pistons and 76ers – absolute bottom feeders.

This is a classic case of the betting markets finally ‘catching up’ with an elite team at the exact same time that they are rapidly morphing from ‘elite’ into ‘mediocre’.  And ‘mediocre’ might be giving them too much credit if you’ve watched them play in recent weeks, just 2-7 SU in their last nine ballgames.  Sunday’s home loss to the Hawks – a game where the Pacers trailed 55-23 at home at halftime - -was a new low for a team that has suffered through many of them in recent weeks.

So what’s wrong with the Pacers?  Can they fix it and challenge for the Eastern Conference title again?  My answers are short: “Everything” and ‘No”.

Let’s start with their offensive woes, a huge issue for a squad that has produced 91 points or less nine times in their last eleven ballgames.  The Pacers ‘superstar’, Paul George, hasn’t been playing like a superstar, hitting less than 40 percent from the floor since the break.  Their point guard, Lance Stephenson, is averaging only 3.4 assists per game since the break, nearly two assists per game less than he dished over the first half of the campaign.  Their big men in the middle, Roy Hibbert and David West, have struggled mightily on both ends of the floor, disappearing for extended stretches.  There’s very little offensive ‘flow’ for Indiana these days, a team struggling to create good shots.

The Pacers defense has also declined by leaps and bounds during this dismal run.  When you look at the season long stats, the Pacers have the best defensive efficiency numbers in the league, ahead of Chicago and San Antonio.  But two months ago, Indiana had lapped the field in this key statistical category, while now they’re barely hanging on to that top spot. They’ve forced fewer turnovers, given up more points in the paint and in transition, blocked fewer shots – the works.  Again, this is no short term hiccup -- it’s two months of bad basketball.

Team chemistry issues are surely a piece of the equation as well.  GM Larry Bird’s decision to trade away locker room leader Danny Granger for Evan Turner at the trading deadline has proven to be a disastrous move.   And the more the Pacers struggle, the more they don’t seem to like one another, in sharp contrast to what we saw over the first half of the campaign.

Hibbert’s quote speaks volumes about the frustrations for a team that has lost their confidence: “We've had plenty of players-only meetings. We've had plenty of sit-downs with the team and coaches, some with upper management listening in. Maybe we should all go to group therapy and have an airing of grievances.'' David West: “We're at the bottom in terms of how far you can fall.”  I’m not convinced that’s the case….

So what does this mean moving forward?  It means that the Eastern Conference is suddenly loaded with live longshots.  Miami is certainly vulnerable; an aging team filled with expiring contracts that was somewhat lucky to escape with their second straight title last June.  Looking for longshot value, the likes of Brooklyn, Chicago and Toronto are suddenly ‘live’ in the East.  Frankly, Indiana’s first round opponent (probably Washington, Charlotte or Atlanta) could be a very ‘live’ underdog as well.  The Pacers have fallen and they can’t get up!

 

Written by: Teddy Covers