UPDATING A PET NBA STAT TO PREPARE FOR MIAMI/CHICAGO AND SAN ANTONIO/CLIPPERS
This seemed like the perfect time to update sports bettors on one of our pet NBA stats here in the NOTEBOOK. The Thursday college schedule is light on marquee matchups, but the pro hoop slate on TNT has a pair of potential playoff previews when the Miami Heat visit the Chicago Bulls and the San Antonio Spurs face the Los Angeles Clippers
CURRENT EAST SEEDS
Chicago is neck and neck with Brooklyn for a #4 seed right now. It wouldn't be a surprise at all to see the Bulls and Nets meet in the playoffs...with the winner bracketed to get Miami in the second round. And, the way Brooklyn has struggled with quality teams recently, you'd have to assume Chicago would be the favorite to advance out of that series. If Derrick Rose is able to come back and contribute to the Bulls...then Chicago because a favorite to move up to a better seed...then face Miami in the Eastern Conference finals.
CURRENT WEST SEEDS
San Antonio #1
LA Clippers #3
Right now the Spurs, Clippers, and Oklahoma City are forming a "big three" in the West that will have to go to war in a triple threat match to determine who wins the West. It wouldn't be a shock to see Oklahoma City re-take the #1 seed between now and the end of the season, setting up Spurs/Clippers as a Western semifinal. Of course, this could easily be a Western Conference championship matchup too if the Spurs do grab the top seed.
Given the likelihood of future meetings, and the energy and intensity we often see in post All-Star Break basketball...this could be one of the stronger TV doubleheaders of the whole season!
To get you ready, we want to update a pet stat of ours...Wins Minus Home Games Played. This helps take home/road pollution out of the mix, and gives you a clean look at how teams truly rate right now in both conferences. Game One of the TNT twinbill features the East, so we'll start with that conference.
WINS MINUS HOME GAMES (thru Tuesday's games)
EASTERN PLAYOFF TEAMS
New York +5
Miami is far and away the best team. You can tell with the naked eye that they're only going at about three-quarters speed most nights. Yet, they lead the field comfortably, and are WAY ahead of the back end of the playoff brackets. Brooklyn is probably the biggest negative surprise. They've had a home-heavy schedule this year (30 home games, and only 24 road games prior to Wednesday's game at Milwaukee). Given their relative shakiness of late, it's hard to assume great things are going to happen as that evens out. The Nets probably aren't as good as you had been thinking.
It's not clear from the numbers above, but almost the whole Eastern brackets have had favorable schedules so far! As a composite, these guys aren't as good as those numbers would suggest. If you stuck half of them in the West, they probably wouldn't be playoff teams. Possibly more than that. The East is still a glorified D-Leauge. Handicappers need to remember that when analyzing inter-conference games.
EASTERN NON-PLAYOFF TEAMS
Just a disaster down here. Maybe there are some D-Leagues who would finish ahead of these guys! Be aware that Detroit has played 31 home games and just 24 road games in this sampling. That's why they're down at -10 up above. Philadelphia has played 29 home games and 22 road games. Eastern teams get to play each other a lot, which softens the schedule. Many had it easy in terms of home/road splits before the All-Star Break. It could get really ugly for the Eastern non-contenders from this point forward even if they're not tanking for draft position. If a tank war starts, shield your eyes!
WESTERN PLAYOFF TEAMS
San Antonio +19
LA Clippers +13
Oklahoma City +12
Golden State +7
Wow...what San Antonio has done this year is amazing. They currently have the #1 seed in the league's toughest conference. But they've don't that despite playing only 24 home games against 31 road games. They're still dealing with their annual "Rodeo Road Trip" as we speak. They will soon get a chance to build on their stellar 22-2 home record with a bunch of extra home games. That's one of the big "hidden" stories of the current season...how truly dominant San Antonio has been when you adjust for context.
Both the Thunder and the Clippers are also in double digits...which means they're also ahead of Miami at this point. That could mean the West is poised to take back the trophy this year. But, as we said above, Miami is coasting while those other teams have mostly been going at breakneck pace (though the Clippers relaxed some when Chris Paul was out with an injury).
The rest of the Western brackets are mostly solid as a rock. Denver is playing very well of late. Memphis hopes to hang tough as they transition to a new front office approach (though they've been helped so far by playing 29 home games and only 23 road games). Only Golden State of the group above has a cloud hanging over them because of a recent slump. But, they've played only 23 home games compared to 30 road games...which will give the Warriors a chance to right the ship.
Given the distance those teams are above break-even...there may not be much of a race this year for the final playoff spot. Somebody's going to have to rise up from the negatives to catch a good team.
WESTERN NON-PLAYOFF TEAMS
LA Lakers -2
New Orleans -6
Can the Lakers rise up and make the playoffs? It probably won't be enough to get into the positives. If +3 is going to reach the postseason...the Lakers have to improve significantly from what they've been doing. Dallas is in the same boat with the same leak, though at least Dirk Nowitzki is back on the floor. Why did we leap over Portland? The Blazers have no depth...which makes it very hard to anticipate a strong finish to the season. Fatigue is already taking a toll. And, their first game after a rest break was an embarrassing home loss to Phoenix.
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Back with you tomorrow to run our proven indicator numbers for the much anticipated Saint Louis-Butler game from the Friday Night slate. It could be the "game of the year" in the Atlantic 10...as Butler continues to get respect in the Bracketology assessments while Saint Louis dominates the conference. How about their blowout of VCU on Tuesday Night?!
Other big game previews coming up soon...
Saturday: Georgetown at Syracuse
Sunday: Michigan State at Ohio State
Monday: Syracuse at Marquette or Kansas at Iowa State (maybe both!)
Tuesday: Indiana at Minnesota
When big games are on the board...you need to sign up with THE BIGGEST NAME IN SPORTS HANDICAPPING...JIM HURLEY!
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