It’s the second week of December, which means NBA teams have somehow already been plying their craft (or in the case of some, smashing their thumb with a hammer) for eight whole weeks.
The haves have separated themselves from the have nots, and a clear top 11 has emerged in the NBA heading into play.
We start with the Bucks, who are far ahead of the pack with a net rating of plus 12.9. The Lakers and Mavs are vying for second place with identical numbers of plus 9.4, and the Celtics, Raptors, Clippers, Sixers, Heat, Rockets, Pacers and Nuggets are all hovering between plus 7.2 and plus 4.6. Those 11 teams were also the only squads without double digit losses, and only one – the Pacers, with a record of 15-8 – were within two games of that designation.
After Denver there’s a clear drop off, and the NBA’s juicy middle is loaded with a dozen outfits that have net ratings between plus 1.2 and minus 4.0. Of that group, the Wizards have seven wins while the rest sit with between eight and 13. There has been little discernable separation within this group thus far.
Finally, we have the dregs of the league. The Pelicans, Grizzles, Hornets, Hawks, Warriors, Cavs and Knicks make up a clear bottom seven, all of which are getting outscored by between 7.0 and 10.5 points per 100 possessions on average. Only nine-win Charlotte has more than six victories among the group, and according to Cleaning the Glass, they have been the third luckiest team in the NBA.
It’s worth taking the time to identify these three groups, because by now, Vegas has taken full advantage of people’s perceptions and are setting the lines accordingly. As a result, there’s value to be made if you remain focused on the real trends that haven’t yet reflected themselves in the betting odds.
With that as the backdrop, let’s take a look at this week’s Stock Up, Stock Down (all stats and records reflect those before Monday’s games):
Stock UP: Boston Celtics – 16-5, 13-6-2 against the spread
The Celtics currently have the best record against the spread in the entire league according to TeamRankings.com, having won six of sevn outright and having covered the spread in four straight, including convincing wins against Miami (112-93) and Denver (108-95).
Besides the current conference pacesetters, the Bucks and Lakers, they are the only team in the top six in both offensive and defensive rating according to Cleaning the Glass. Lest you worry about backdoor covers, they’re also outscoring teams by 12.7 points per possession in the fourth quarter, which is third in the NBA. Best of all, 12 of their 22 games have been played on the road, including a five-game West Coast swing.
Yet for some reason, despite all of the above, Monday night’s game against Cleveland was Boston’s first as a double digit favorite (they covered easily).
The Celtics simply aren’t getting their due. Over the next month, they play five games against the aforementioned Sullied Seven, and have two additional games against the Pistons and one against the Spurs, both of whom have been among the bottom six teams in the league against the spread.
The Leprechaun is lucky indeed. Take advantage now.
Stock UP: Sacramento Kings – 9-13, 14-8 against the spread
Boy did the Kings do a good job of throwing us all off their scent early.
The Kings started the season as poorly as any team in the NBA, dropping their first five game straight up and against the spread, with an average margin of defeat of 17.4 points. All of the “LOL Kangz” jokes were writing themselves, what with the team having just fired the coach that took them to the most successful season they’ve had in ages.
Since then, they’ve been an over-.500 team with a positive net rating (plus 1.1, 13th in the league over that span, along with the Elite Eleven and Detroit), and they’ve done it all playing twice as many road games as home affairs, with Monday night’s foray into Houston representing their twelfth road tilt in 18 games (they won on a Nemanja Bjelica three as time expired). On Sunday, they beat Dallas, the hottest team in the league, in Big D.
Despite all of this, they’ve only been favored twice in their last 13 games. Over the next few weeks, they get the pleasure of a game against the Knicks at home, the Warriors, Hornets and Grizzlies on the road (all below .500 ATS, with Memphis a desultory 8-14), and then starting December 23, they get 10 of 12 games in the friendly confines of the Golden 1 Center.
By the time they begin that home stand, both De’Aaron Fox (out since November 11 with a left ankle sprain) and Marvin Bagley (right thumb fracture, has only played one game) figure to be back. If there was ever a time to ride a team unwaveringly for the foreseeable future, it’s the Kings right now.
Stock DOWN: Cleveland Cavaliers – 5-17, 8-13-1 against the spread
The Cavs started off the year frisky enough, going 6-2-2 against the spread in their first 10 games. They were bad but fun, looking perhaps like this year’s Atlanta Hawks. On November 12, they were a one-point loss in Philadelphia away from sweeping a three-game road trip. If they’d won, they’d have been sitting with a .500 record and feeling just fine.
So much for all that. Since the Sixers loss, the Cavs have won just one game, and they’ve covered the spread just twice. Following a Friday report that certain players were unhappy with how new coach John Beilein was running the team, they lost by 47 points to the same Philly team they nearly beat a month prior.
With news coming Monday that Kevin Love was all but done in Cleveland, things don’t appear close to getting better. Their next four games after Monday’s 22-point loss in Boston: at home for Houston before going on the road to face San Antonio, Milwaukee and Toronto. The Spurs have struggled mightily, but all that means is you might be able to get the game at a nice value. Against the Bucks and Toronto, the phrase “the spread can’t be high enough” is highly appropriate.
Take advantage while you can.
Bet on the NBA now!