Two and a half months in the books. My, how time flies.
Teams now are what they are. There are a few surprises left – Dallas and Miami on the plus side, San Antonio and Portland in the other direction – but for the most part, the league has shaken out like many expected. Hot starts by Phoenix and Minnesota have reverted back to the mean, and early struggles by Houston and Utah have been corrected.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t still some nice opportunities to take advantage of teams that either aren’t getting their due or are still getting too much credit.
Let’s take a look at this week’s Stock Up, Stock Down:
Stock Up: Boston Celtics – 21-7 record, 18-8-2 Against the Spread
Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. Maybe we should have seen it coming. Maybe we should have looked at all the signs pointing to Kyrie Irving just being a really, really, really bad fit with the way Brad Stevens wants to play basketball, and we should have assumed that this season would be a return to form.
Either way, if you were sleeping on Boston coming into this year, you could be forgiven. Now? If you aren’t wise to the hottest team in the NBA at this point, you have no one to blame but yourself.
The Celtics enter post-Chritmas play with three wins for every loss, but that really doesn’t begin to tell the whole picture. According to Cleaning the Glass, they’ve been outscoring teams by 14.4 points per 100 possessions over the last two weeks. They’ve done it with the best offense in the NBA over that span, blitzing opponents to the tune of a 119.0 offensive rating. Paired with a defense that only the league-best Bucks are outpacing on the year, it’s no surprise that they’ve been an absolute delight to betters.
Boston has covered the spread four times in a row and in eight of their last 10. All of those covers have been outright wins despite some legit competition: Miami and Denver at home, and most recently, the Raptors in Toronto by 16 points (the Drakes had been 13-3 at home with a plus 7.8 net rating up North prior to the Christmas beat down).
Over the next three weeks, Kemba & Co. get to feast on four of the six worst ATS teams in the league - Cleveland, Atlanta, New Orleans and Detroit – not to mention Chicago, Washington and Charlotte.
If there was ever a team to ride right on through the foreseeable future and put some of that holiday envelope cash to good use, it’s Boston.
Stock Down: Detroit Pistons – 12-20 record, 12-19-1 Against the Spread
For pretty much the entire season, the Spurs have had a stranglehold for the worst betting record in the NBA, as people refuse to give up faith in what has long been the most tried and true certainty in basketball for two decades.
San Antonio is still bringing up the rear, as they’re the only team to exit Christmas without double digit wins against the spread, but someone is finally giving them a run for their (or rather, better’s) money.
Detroit entered their home tilt with the Wizards on Thursday night having lost five in a row, both by final margin and ATS. After a win vs a Washington playing without more than half of their rotation, they now have as many real wins as they do covers – 12 – despite coming into the season as the presumptive ninth best team in the NBA’s junior varsity conference.
Before the false gold Wiz win, the Pistons had a negative 12.2 net rating over the prior two weeks, scoring at their usual “meh” clip (107.9 points per 100 possessions) while putting forth the worst defensive effort in the league over that span (120.1 defensive rating).
That four of those five losses have come at home is even more disconcerting. Detroit now leaves town to embark on a five-game West Coast swing which features both Los Angeles teams and the suddenly frisky Jazz. Worst of all, they’ll be without sharpshooter Luke Kennard for the entire trip thanks to bilateral knee tendinitis, the team announced Thursday.
Short these guys while you still can.
Stock Sideways: New York Knicks – 8-24 record, 16-16 Against the Spread
Before we go, let’s spend a few minutes talking about my hometown squad, the NBA’s resident Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde, the New York Knickerbockers.
The way the Knicks are talked about, both by the national media and their own fans (raises hand glumly) you’d think that this has been a year full of blowouts and non-competitive losses. How else, after all, does a coach get canned before anyone even started their holiday shopping?
To a certain extent, you’d be right. The Knicks have been beaten by 15 or more points 11 times, which I feel like is kind of a lot. At the same time, they’ve been in a ton of games they probably shouldn’t have been. Prior to back to back blowouts against Miami and Milwaukee and a loss against Bradley Beal and nine guys he found playing pickup at Rucker Park, New York had actually covered four straight and five of six under new head coach Mike Miller.
They followed up the terrible Wiz loss with a game against the Nets on Thursday night that saw them hold Brooklyn to one of the worst shooting games an NBA team has ever had. Go figure.
Which one is the real Knick team? It’s hard to say at this point, but one thing to keep an eye on is whether they decide to move on from some key veterans. According to Cleaning the Glass, New York has been worlds’ better when Elfrid Payton and Marcus Morris play. It’s unclear at this point how eager Knicks’ brass is to move on from any veterans on the team, but with a recent report by SNY’s Ian Begley than some players want out, it wouldn’t be a shock to see a loosening of the roster.
If that’s the case, it might be time to start backing Knick opponents. Fans want the kids to play in bunches, but the advanced stats on both RJ Barrett and Kevin Knox are rather unkind (Mitchell Robinson starting, however, would likely help matters). If they transition to a full-on tank, a solid opportunity may be there with it.