It’s official: we’ve played a month of basketball, which means it’s just about time to stop calling early season trends an accident or even a coincidence. The Rockets have rebounded nicely, Phoenix is here to stay, and the Lakers are probably the safest bet in the entire sport.
Let’s take a deeper look at a few trendsetters and whether reality holds up to their initial appearance…
(All stats and records prior to Tuesday’s games)
Stock Up: Miami Heat – 9-3 record, 9-2-1 against the spread
At some point, you just have to start believing a team is what it purports to be.
After a dozen games, the Miami Heat are neck and neck with the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks atop the Eastern Conference. Fittingly, they also have the third best net rating in the East behind those two teams (and fifth in the league overall, also trailing the Lakers and Suns), checking in at plus 7.3 points per 100 possessions according to Cleaning the Glass. There is a sizable gap between them and the team in sixth (the Clippers, at plus 5.8).
Is it real? On one hand, over the last two weeks, Miami’s point differential has dropped to plus 2.5, which is only 12th in the league. That’s partly due to their only two loses against the spread on the year – road blowouts at the hands of the Nuggets and Lakers. They’re also shooting a preposterously high percentage on above the break threes (39.8 percent according to Cleaning the Glass, which is third in the league). That number is going to fall at some point.
But they’ve also followed up their most recent loss by fattening up Detroit, Cleveland and New Orleans. They covered the spread by an average of only four points during those three games, but a win is a win is a win.
Coming up this week, the Heat have to deal with tough away games against the Sixers and red hot Rockets, but also get to feast against the likes of Cleveland, Charlotte and Golden State at home and Chicago and struggling Brooklyn on the road.
Plenty of good opportunities in that mix.
Stock Down: San Antonio Spurs – 5-9 record, 3-11 against the spread
We’ve now gone past the point of ignoring what we’re seeing from the longest playoff mainstay in the NBA.
Despite their year-long struggles, the San Antonio brand has prevented Vegas from giving lines that reflect just how poorly the Spurs have played. They’ve only been underdogs five times, and never by more than five points, which happened twice.
The results speak for themselves. Thus far this season, Pop’s crew has fallen short against the spread by an average of 5.6 points, which is the lowest in the NBA by a point and a half. They’ve lost six games in a row and are sitting in 13th in the brutal Western Conference.
The problem is that there’s no clear sign of escape from the doldrums. As has become custom, San Antonio is taking a greater percentage of their shots from the midrange than anyone else in the league, but they’re also making more of them than anyone according to Cleaning the Glass. It’s tough to see their already eighth ranked offense getting much better. Defensively is where they’ve struggled more (24th in the league in defensive rating), and yet they’ve already played five of the six worst offenses in the NBA.
They’re in the midst of a four game road trip that takes them East, first to Washington, then to Philly, and finally New York. Then they return home to face both LA teams in the span of a week. There’s a good chance the Spurs will be road favorites against both the Wizards (7-3-1 ATS) and Knicks (7-7 ATS), so between those and the home affairs vs the Lakers and Clippers, there might be some good opportunities at hand before Vegas takes the hint.
Toronto Raptors: 9-4 Record, 8-5 against the spread
While the Spurs are bringing up the rear in average points against the spread, the defending world champion Raptors are at the head of the pack to the tune of plus 6.7, a hair ahead of both Miami and Phoenix.
The Raptors are interesting. They’ve been dogs almost as many times (six) as they’ve been favorites (seven), and have started the year by playing eight of their 13 games on the road, including a brutal five-game West Coast swing that just ended. On that five-game trip, they covered three times (including against the Lakers), pushed once and lost once - to Dallas - on the final game of the trip, and even that was an eight-point defeat on a 4.5 point line.
They didn’t waste time getting back on track either, lambasting the Hornets on Sunday night by 36 points. There’s nothing about this team that feels illegitimate in any way, and their upcoming games include home affairs with the Magic (4-8-1 ATS), Knicks and struggling Sixers (6-6-1 ATS) and road tilts against Atlanta (5-8 ATS) and Orlando.
The Raptors have already had five victories by double-digits. They’re playing like a well-oiled machine that is deep enough to not let its foot off the gas, even in garbage time when the back door is usually open wide.
Washington Wizards: 3-8 Record, 8-3 against the spread
Before we go, a word about the frisky Wizards, who are the only bad team in the league consistently beating projections for betters.
As favorites, they’re not so hot, going only 1-2 against the spread in such games, but as dogs, you can’t ask for much more. The Wiz might not be good, but they sure do keep things interesting. Bradley Beal is the league’s third leading scorer and is doing more playmaking than he ever has, averaging nearly seven dimes a game.
He’s leading a rag tag group that plays hard and features a lot of young guys and retreads that seems to have found an identity under head coach Scott Brooks. They’re feisty, if nothing else.
With a home slate this week against the Spurs, Hornets and Kings, you could do worse than to roll the dice on Washington.