NBA Margin Averages Suggest An Exciting Playoffs Ahead

JIM HURLEY'S HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK

NBA MARGIN AVERAGES SUGGEST AN EXCITING PLAYOFFS AHEAD

We wanted to get you caught up in the NBA today. We've been devoting a lot of space to college basketball through March Madness. We'll be picking up with coverage of that sport again...

  • Thursday: previewing the NIT Championship game
  • Saturday: previewing the NCAA Final Four
  • Monday: previewing the NCAA Championship game

Today provided a great opportunity to discuss pro basketball. We'll do that again on Friday. Sunday will be devoted to Major League Baseball, which starts its season that evening with the Yankees and the Red Sox on ESPN. Beginning next week, we'll be involved very heavily in the NBA and MLB for the foreseeable future.

That means it's time to put the NBA back on your radar!

Our two favorite stats in the NBA are per-game margin averages (because they give you an immediate sense in terms of POINTS of how the teams stack up against each other) and Wins Minus Home Games Played (because it adjusts for schedule quirks). Late in the season, the schedules are pretty much quirked out. Everyone's fairly close in home/road splits, and it will remain that way trough the last couple of weeks for everyone. That leaves us with margin averages.

We'll start in the West, where the playoffs could turn out to be a ZOO if the Lakers don't get healthy.

NBA WEST MARGIN AVERAGES (thru Monday Night)
Utah: +5.8
LA Lakers: +5.6
San Antonio: +4.7
Phoenix: +4.5
Denver: +4.3
Oklahoma City: +3.5
Portland: +3.3
Dallas: +2.1

Those are going to be the eight playoff teams barring an unforeseen collapse by a contender, or an amazing run Memphis. In fact, it would take BOTH of those for Memphis to crash the playoffs. Assume that top hunk is going to represent the Western brackets.

(We're not going to run through the non-entities today in either conference. Once teams are out of the playoff mix, their margin averages can be misleading. Some teams play MUCH WORSE than their numbers because they're in the tank, or because coaches are experimenting with new lineups for next year. Others play better than their numbers because they're still trying and they keep running into opponents who aren't. So, today in the NOTEBOOK, we'll focus on the playoff teams only.)

Some quick notes:

  • The margin averages DON'T represent the seedings. Things are so jumbled in the West that anyone could play anyone in the first round. San Antonio ranks 3rd in margin, but actually dropped to the 8th seed after their courtesy no-show Monday Night at New Jersey.
  • Injuries are looming large over the proceedings. The Lakers would be the best at full strength. When are they at full strength? San Antonio is missing Tony Parker for the season, and now Manu Ginobili's back is acting up. Run down the list...and EVERYONE is one injury away from being irrelevant...and EVERYONE is capable of going deep if they stay healthy and run into injured opponents.
  • Utah has surged dramatically in recent weeks, passing Denver for their division lead and making a run at the #2 seed. Thanks to the Lakers recent slump, they now have the best margin average in the West. For now, they're playing the best ball in the West. Time will tell if they can keep that going.
  • The difference between top to bottom is only three points, and bottom team Dallas might have home court in the first two rounds depending on how the standings finish. Home court is worth 3-4 points, which cancels out any deficit right here.
  • Spots 3-7 are within 1.5 points of each other. That's as tightly packed as humanly possible. With QUALITY! We can't remember a scenario like this in quite some time. The Western playoffs are going to be amazing!

Let's look at the East...

NBA EAST MARGIN AVERAGES (thru Monday Night)
Cleveland +7.4
Orlando +6.9
Atlanta: +4.6
Boston: +4.3
Miami: +1.7
Milwaukee: +1.4
Charlotte: +1.4

Fighting for the 8th spot:
Toronto: -2.2
Chicago: -2.2

Then nature of the standings are such that Charlotte could fall back and miss the playoffs, with both Toronto and Chicago making it. For now, let's assume Charlotte is in while Toronto and Chicago keep limping along.

Here we have a much clearer ladder:

  • Cleveland and Orlando are still the class of the conference, and are the favorites to meet in the Eastern Finals.
  • Atlanta and Boston are a clear 3-4, with their season finish determining whether they land in Cleveland's half of the draw, or Orlando's.
  • Spots 5-8 will be clearly inferior to spots 1-4, giving away at least a trey per game plus home court advantage in the series. That will make it tough for their to be any series upsets.
  • Boston is a volatile team...capable of playing with the best when healthy and at full force...but also capable of running out of gas and falling to a lesser foe. Any series surprises are likely to involve Boston because of that volatility.
  • The margin averages for Cleveland and Orlando suggest superiority over the West at first glance. Take that with a grain of salt. There are so many weak teams in the East that you can pad your margins against the softer schedule. Put a Western power in the East and their margin averages would go up a couple of points. Stick Cleveland or Orlando in the West, and they're part of the power pack but not necessarily dominant against it. Well, they'd be dominant against shorthanded playoff teams battling injuries. Our point is that the margin averages are a bit warped because of schedule strength when you compare East to West.

Here at JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK, we're looking forward very much to the pro basketball that's ahead. The stretch run could get very interesting with teams jockeying for position. We're disappointed there won't be much of a playoff chase. There are still edges to be found when looking for teams who are still playing like it matters vs. teams who have thrown in the towel. The margin averages we've looked at today suggest the playoffs are really going to be something special. There may be as many as 5-6 first round wars...with each succeeding round getting more and more exciting!

Among games of interest for us tonight:

  • Milwaukee at Cleveland: ("Fear the Deer" vs. "The Akron Hammer")
  • LA Lakers at Atlanta (shorthanded Lakers trying to get on track)
  • Oklahoma City at Boston (youth vs. experience!)

What a great night to have the League Pass package on cable!

Thursday's schedule will feature the TV doubleheader of Orlando/Dallas and Portland/Denver on TNT. More great stuff Friday with Atlanta/Cleveland and Utah/Lakers in possible playoff previews on ESPN, and Orlando/San Antonio as well.

Are we getting to you? Are we showing you there's life after the Final Four?!

If you're not on our basketball program yet, now is a great time to sign up. Register for the rest of the NBA, and we'll include our remaining college selections at not additional charge. Or, sign up for ALL of April to get NBA, Major League Baseball, and these last few tournament games (with tonight's March finale included as well). Call 1-800-323-4453 to get on board. You can also purchase game day releases and packages here at the website with your credit card.

Call right now so we can HOOP IT UP! And be sure to ask about are baseball when you call. The BEST time to attack the bases is early in the season when oddsmakers are posting odds based on perceptions from last year. Many teams have made significant changes in the offseason. Our scouts in the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues will have NETWORK well ahead of the learning curve in April.

Football is fun...but it's basically a weekend event. With pro basketball and baseball, JIM HURLEY WILL HAVE YOU WINNING SEVEN DAYS A WEEK!
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Nov

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