Ah, the All Star Break...it comes and goes so fast. We cashed some juicy tickets with John Wall as the Rookie/Sophomore MVP (at +900), Team Atlanta in the Haier Shooting Stars Competition (at +250), and Steph Curry in the Skills Challenge (at +300). We gave back small amounts with a few hedges on MVP plays, and the Dunk and 3-Point Shootout, but overall, we were well in the black.
It was also nice to have a few real days off from NBA handicapping, outside of the couple hours I sunk into All Star money-making.
Of course, the Break happened to occur when we were heating back up, so that's unfortunate. Heading into the All Star layoff, we had hit Paid Plays on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and despite going just 2-2 on Free Plays over those 3 days, we won both of the 1* Freebies, and lost the half-unit plays. Hopefully, the rust of a break has a bigger impact on the teams than it does on our collective handicapping.
As I'll try to elucidate in the coming weeks, this is a good time to really focus hard on the "bubble" teams, those hovering between the 6th and 11th spots in each Conference, and needing a strong finish. I think we'll find a few of those teams in the next week, and we can really focus hard on backing them, rather than jumping around. These first two days after the Break are tough, though, since it's a matter of figuring out which teams are going to show the most rust. I'll do my best to put some thoughts on each game, but the next couple days could involve a tiny bit of finger-crossing...
Sports Wagering: NBA
Toronto Raptors @ Charlotte Bobcats (-8) with a total of 195.5;
This game is a double revenge spot for the Raptors, but Toronto is a team that can easily lose by 8 or more. Charlotte went into the Break playing solid ball, beating the Lakers, Celtics, and Hawks in the week before the Break, but they lost to Indiana and Jersey, as well, so it's tough to know exactly what to expect. Generally, I would prefer to fade teams like Charlotte that took momentum into the Break, since the layoff can break the positive vibes. Of course, Toronto is a total mess no matter when they play. The Raptors have covered 2 in a row, but does that mean anything? I'm hard pressed to believe in Toronto against a decent rebounding team like Charlotte, but I can't lay 8 with a rusty team that tends to play to the level of its competition. Slight lean to TORONTO and the UNDER.
Indiana Pacers @ Washington Wizards with a total N/A;
We could, maybe, possibly, be seeing a slight, baby surge by the Wizards...sorta. Going into the Break, Washington looked like they had found some sort of rhythm, winning a rare road game (yes, over the Cavs, but still), and taking care of Milwaukee at home a few days prior. Washington lost to San Antonio and Orlando (on the road), but that's nothing to be ashamed of, and playing at home out of the Break is a tiny bit easier, in terms of getting a practice in. Indiana had a hot run under new Coach Vogel, but they stumbled heading into the Break, and I can't help but think a little of that foul scent carries over. Lean to WASHINGTON and the UNDER.
Houston Rockets (-2) @ Detroit Pistons with a total of 203;
This is a weird one to handicap. The Houston Rockets are actively trying to add Centers and Forwards while simultaneously trying to jettison contracts belonging to Forwards and maybe some Guards. It's tough to back the Rockets when they're a favorite for a few reasons, one being the aforementioned personnel question marks, and another being that they don't play defense and rarely win (or lose) by more than a few buckets. This line is probably pretty close to correct, though if there was one spot where I might consider backing Houston, it would be against the Pistons, somehow still coached by John Kuester. What a mess they've got in Detroit right now - they did beat Indiana in overtime heading into the Break, but Detroit has been awful since the latest Stuckey/Rip/Kuester showdown, and I can't back a team in disarray. Tiny, tiny lean to HOUSTON on the side, and the OVER.
Sacramento Kings @ Miami Heat with a total of N/A;
I see no great reasons to back anybody, here. The Heat are likely a little more tired, given all 3 Heatles played minutes in the All Star game, and LeBron and Wade played pretty big minutes. Wade turned his ankle again, and a cross-country flight is rarely good on those types of swelling injuries. On top of that, Miami heads to Chicago for their next game, and the Bulls are set to get Joakim Noah back for what's sure to be a pretty good game. Sacramento is starting a 4-in-5-nights stretch through the Southeast, and I'm hoping to fade them at the tail end of that tiring run. At the beginning of a road trip, you tend to get a team's best effort, but the first game out of the Break is usually a little ugly. I suppose with the line set to come out in the teens, SACRAMENTO should be able to hang within 14-15 points, perhaps, and I'd be surprised to see a ton of defense, so maybe a little OVER lean.
Los Angeles Clippers @ Oklahoma City Thunder with a total of N/A;
The Clippers 11-game road trip resumes in Oklahoma after a short layoff, and continues through New Orleans, and then back to LA for a "road" game against the cross-town Lakers. I honestly wish I could step up and say, definitively, "this is how a team will react to this situation" but I cannot. This is an extremely rare spot, for a team to be on an 11-game roadie through the Break, especially any team other than the Spurs. The Clippers have Chris Kaman back to add some actual post moves to their lineup, and they won their final game before the Break after ugly losses in Cleveland and Toronto (among others). Long story short, Blake Griffin didn't really get any time off, Durant and Westbrook partook of All Star festivities, too, and while I'd love to back the Clippers, who probably want to finish the road trip strong, Oklahoma is actually the team on revenge. This is going to be a big line, and one I'm not sure I can lay the chalk. I'm tempted to PASS on the side, but maybe a small lean to CLIPS, and I prefer the UNDER.
Minnesota Timberwolves @ Milwaukee Bucks with a total of N/A;
Milwaukee strikes me as one of those "teams to watch" down the stretch. It is, to steal a lame cliche, put up or shut up time, and if the Bucks want to make a run at the postseason, they're going to have to put together a nice stretch run, and that is going to desperately need to include wins over lackluster opponents like Minnesota. That doesn't mean I want to back either team, but you can be darn sure I'm planning to watch this game to see if the Bucks can get things kicked into high gear. Milwaukee is on some tiny level of revenge from a loss back in November, so I'm not sure we can even count that, and both teams went into the Break with zero momentum. PASS on the side (but watch the game for research), and another UNDER lean, as both teams went into the break playing a very slow, clunky tempo.
Memphis Grizzlies @ Denver Nuggets with a total of N/A;
I wanted to back the Grizzlies because I thought the team would do a nice job of rallying around the loss of Rudy Gay, but to some degree, I wonder if this is one of those rare cases where the team had time off, and "missed the boat" on the adrenaline that might result from an Injured Star game. Tough to say. Meanwhile, Denver recently lost a game in Memphis to a full strength Grizzlies team. Denver beat Memphis early in the year, but something tells me that both teams remember the recent game a little better. This is a difficult spot - do we ignore the Injured Star possibility and roll with the Nugs, who may or may not have Carmelo Anthony for this game? That's a pretty saucy play. My lean is certainly to DENVER and the UNDER, but Denver is a bit of a question mark these days...
Atlanta Hawks @ Los Angeles Lakers (-8) with a total of 190;
Lakers are playing their first game home off a long road trip, but at the same time, they've been home since Thursday, so I'm not sure that angle actually matters. Atlanta, meanwhile, opens up the post-break experience with 5 straight on the west coast (or thereabouts). As we've said, we're likely to get the Hawks best effort in this first game, and Al Horford and Joe Johnson are already in LA, so while I expect the Lakers to win the game (since we know darn well they're not going to respond kindly to a loss in Cleveland), I'm not positive LA is all that interested in covering. LA has a tough one in Portland tomorrow, and Atlanta has a tough one in Phoenix tomorrow, so maybe our time would be best spent fading these teams on Tuesday. Just sayin'. Very, very small lean to ATLANTA and almost as small of a lean to the UNDER.
Boston Celtics (-4.5) @ Golden State Warriors with a total of 197;
These two teams play again in about 10 days, so maybe our best course of action would be to wait and see how this one goes, and try to exploit some value in the repeat. This one is extremely tough, since this is normally a spot to consider backing Golden State (the team that hasn't had to travel), but most of Boston's roster was in LA for the All Star game, so they're only flying the 350 miles to the Bay. Boston is a strong road team, and they get a day off between every game on this road trip. I would wager Doc Rivers is currently dropping a cool hundo off to the schedule-makers for somehow getting away without a back-to-back on this roadie, and given Boston's success away from home, this line is probably pretty close to where it should be. The Warriors have been playing better defense against everyone not from Phoenix, so they'll be a tough competitor, but I don't see any angles strong enough to push me in either direction. Tiny lean to BOSTON on the side, and totals lean to the UNDER.