NBA Wins Minus Home Games
JIM HURLEY'S HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK
TIME TO CHECK IN ON OUR PET STAT IN PRO BASKETBALL
You longtime readers know we believe very strongly in making sure handicappers have a proper read on teams. One of the leading causes of pollution is an odd difference in the home/road split. It's easier to look great if you're playing a lot of home games. It's easier to look bad if you're playing a lot of road games.
Is that a problem in professional sports, where everyone is supposed to have an even split?
YES! In fact, it can be a bigger problem that you realize because everyone assumes the schedules are fair when midseason quirks are often creating illusions.
To help combat this, we invented a stat several years ago for pro basketball and Major League Baseball that's simply Wins Minus Home Games Played. It's far from a perfect stat. But, it helps you make nutshell adjustments as a season is developing. You have a greater appreciation for what teams are truly accomplishing. And, you find possible problem areas where teams are benefitting from an extended home stay (which you'll see later in today's article when we get to the LA Clippers).
We haven't had a chance to run the numbers yet this year in pro hoops because we were so focused on football through the December, and now college basketball much of the time through January. NBA teams have just passed the halfway mark of their 82-game schedules. Let's see where everyone REALLY stands on a division by division basis.
Note that records are accurate through Wednesday Night's busy schedule. Publication deadlines prevent us from including the small Thursday Night schedule.
WINS MINUS HOME GAMES PLAYED
New York +3
New Jersey -8
Notebook: Boston is obviously a championship caliber team. But, they've played 25 home games this year, compared to just 19 on the road. They may not be quite as dominant as you think in terms. And, they showed a tendency last year to coast down the stretch to save themselves for the playoffs. If you're just glancing over the newspaper standings, it's easy to see that 34-10 record and consider the Celtics a juggernaut. We hope oddsmakers are doing that. Boston isn't quite as good as that record would suggest. You'll see in the next division that they're not even the best in the East in this pet stat of ours.
New York has played 20 home games, and 24 road games, meaning they're likely to be better than you realize. It's true that they have slumped a bit lately. Extra travel can do that to a team, particularly one that runs a lot and doesn't have a deep rotation. Look for spots to back the Knicks once they get their legs back and the schedule evens out.
Notebook: Yes, it's Miami who has the best mark in the East. The Heat have played more road games than home games thus far. Once the schedules even out between Miami and Boston, it could easily be the Heat who are in possession of the top seed in the East.
Note also that Atlanta grades out very well. They've played 21 home games and 25 road games. You may not be thinking of the Hawks as a real threat come playoff time. Maybe they're not. In terms of regular season handicapping, you might be able to find some value spots with a team who's better than people realize. Not many stat formulations rate Atlanta better than Orlando. That's because too many formulations ignore the impact that the home/road split has on performance.
Notebook: Chicago is getting a lot of media run lately as a potential championship darkhorse. Hey, these guys have the best defense in the league, and defense wins championships! A 25-20 split in favor of home games may be creating some illusions though. It's easier to look great in the numbers with a home heavy schedule. We do have a lot of respect for the Bulls. And, we'll be looking to take them as a dog or with Unders come playoff time. We're not yet ready to say they deserve a nod over some of the other contenders in terms of going the distance. The media is overreacting to a home/road split they haven't even noticed in our view.
Let's run the numbers for the contenders...
New York +3
Only six teams have positive marks right now in this weak conference. Would you have guessed Chicago would have rated fifth? We do think the Final Four of the Eastern playoffs will be exciting and interesting. The conference as a whole will only be interesting when these top teams play each other.
Moving to the West...
San Antonio +13
New Orleans +7
Notebook: The Spurs have a favorable 26-20 home road split, as they gear up for their annual marathon road trip necessitated by a rodeo taking over their arena. They're certainly still one of the best teams in the league, if not the best. But, as is the case with Boston, their edge over the field may be exaggerated in the standings because of a home friendly schedule. Let's see where things stand in another month when things should be more balanced.
New Orleans has stormed back to respectability with a 10-game winning streak. They had looked like a one-month wonder for awhile. A re-emphasis on defense has helped them shut down everyone they've faced lately, including San Antonio.
We want to give special attention to Memphis, who's played only 20 home games by 26 road games. They're probably better than you realize. And, they have a recent history of closing the season pretty well too. Keep an eye on the Grizzlies.
Oklahoma City +7
Notebook: The NBA's divisional standings are kind of arbitrary because they don't influence the schedule or playoff structure that much. This is one division where the splits really scramble things around. Denver currently sits in second place in your newspaper standings (thanks in part to a 25-20 split in favor of home games, where they have a big home court advantage at altitude). They're only fourth best once you make an effort to equalize the schedules.
Utah is in danger of falling down the ladder given their recent play. The Jazz were just outclassed badly by the Spurs and Lakers, after going 0-4 straight up and ATS on an Eastern swing.
Oklahoma City will have a win volume that suggests they're a threat in the playoffs. Their defense has taken a big step backward from last year though...so we currently don't take them seriously as a team who can take down the Spurs or Lakers in the postseason. Defense does win championships.
LA Lakers +10
Golden State -3
LA Clippers -10
Notebook: The Clippers should jump out at you from that list. They've been a very hot team the past few weeks, yet they grade out as one of the worst in the league. How is that possible? How could the Clippers look as bad as Cleveland in any stat right now?
The Clippers have played an amazing 27 home games so far, with just 18 road games after visiting Dallas and Houston this week. The split had been 27-16! Blake Griffin is definitely a force to be reckoned with. It's easier to reckon with him if you're not visiting his arena. The Clippers are only 3-15 on the road this season. If they don't figure out how to win on the road soon, they're going to fall from media darlings to short term fluke in a finger snap.
Now, as handicappers we don't think the Clippers are as bad as that -10 makes it look. But, studying this stat has helped us keep our heads on straight during all the media hype about Griffin. The media would lose a fortune if they had to bet their opinions. We make fortunes for our clients because we create and trust meaningful indicator stats.
Let's quickly run the Western contenders since we looked at the East...
San Antonio +13
LA Lakers +10
Oklahoma City +7
New Orleans +7
That wraps up today's diversion into the NBA. There's a huge pro basketball schedule tonight with 12-games on tap, including Orlando/Chicago, Boston/Phoenix, and New York/Atlanta. And, we're all looking forward to Sunday's TV doubleheader that features Miami at Oklahoma City (LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant) and Boston at the LA Lakers (championship rematch). We'll crunch the boxscore numbers in those games for you in our Monday edition.
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