My how time flies.
By the end of next week, most of the league will have played half of their games. It would seem that by now, Vegas would have figured the NBA out, and the advantages to be gained would be few and far between.
‘Tis not the case. Even though most of the usual suspects you would have expected to be rising to the top and falling to the bottom before the season started are exactly where they’re supposed to be, there have still been enough ebbs and flows to this season to make waves if you’ve wagered accordingly.
Let’s get right to it in this week’s Stock Up, Stock Down:
Stock Up - Utah Jazz: 25-12 record, 18-19 against the spread
If you were to list the most disappointing teams of the early part of the season, Utah might not have been at the top of your list, only because they never fell out of the playoff picture and always maintained a winning record.
That said, after a 121-96 beat down at the hands of the Lakers on December 4, the Jazz sat with a record of 12-10 and a barely positive net rating of 0.1.
Since then, they have more than doubled their win total against just two losses and go into Friday just a game out of the second seed in the West. They’ve also been 10-4-1 against the spread, and sport the NBA’s best net rating over the last two weeks (plus 13.3 according to Cleaning the Glass).
Every year, it seems like the Jazz do this, making us think their struggles will extend throughout the season, and every year they turn on the jets right after their bandwagon finally clears out. It’s becoming something of a habit.
This year, the turnaround was spurred by everyone’s favorite Aussie, Joe Ingles. Not coincidentally, Utah’s fortunes swung when he began to pick up his play. He’s averaged over 16 points, six dimes and 4.5 boards since that Lakers game, with 52/51/89 shooting splits to boot.
Following a trampling of the shorthanded Knicks, the Jazz get to feast on Charlotte, Washington, Brooklyn, Sacramento and Golden State before the schedule toughens up a few weeks from now. In the meantime, they should be hit hard while the opportunity is still there to do so.
Stock Up - New Orleans Pelicans: 13-25 record, 20-18 against the spread
One of the teams the Jazz face over the next two weeks which you might think to be a pushover is the New Orleans Pelicans. They are, after all, one of only seven teams who entered play on Thursday night with at least 10 more losses than they had wins.
They’re also one of the hottest teams in the NBA. Following a 13-game losing streak, the Pels have gone 7-3 outright and 8-1-1 against the spread. According to Cleaning the Glass, they have the third highest net rating in the NBA over the last two weeks, buoyed by an offense that is scoring more than 120 points per 100 possessions during that stretch.
Despite their recent strong play, they’re still not getting any respect from Vegas. New Orleans has been an underdog in five of its last eight games, and was barely favored (-3) against the Chicago Bulls at home on Wednesday night. They ended up winning by 15, putting up 123 points against a Bulls defense that had been the second best in the league in the 15 games prior.
So yeah…things are clicking. A big part of why has been the return of Derrick Favors. He’s been averaging a double-double on 60 percent shooting over his last 10 games, and the Pelicans are outscoring teams by 10.2 points per 100 possessions during his minutes over this stretch.
Coming up, New Orleans has a road trip which includes games against the currently banged up Knicks and Pistons before going home for four of five against current Western Conference playoff teams. Depending on where those lines fall, there could be a good opportunity all the way through the end of that tough run.
Keep in mind: they’ve beaten Houston at home and Denver on the road during their recent hot streak. They have it in them to topple the giants.
Stock Down – Brooklyn Nets: 16-20 record, 16-19-1 against the spread
My, my my…how quickly things can turn in this league.
The Nets started off the season unevenly, with Kyrie Irving delivering head-turning performances but not necessarily wins. When he went out with what seemed like an innocuous injury, the team actually rallied, initially going 12-6 in his absence.
Since then, things have gone off the rails. The team has lost seven straight and has dropped all seven against the spread. Despite continuing to defend at a high level (eighth in the league over the last two weeks), they have the worst offense in the NBA by a comfortable margin since Christmas, putting up an abysmal 95.1 points per 100 possessions over that time.
Worst of all, there is no immediate help on the way. Kyrie Irving is apparently dealing with bursitis in his shoulder, something which the team has tried to treat non-invasively but for which there is no definitive timetable on his recovery.
The schedule also does them no favors. Sandwiched around an upcoming home bout against Atlanta are games against Miami, Utah, Milwaukee, the Lakers, and two against Philadelphia (who looks like they will be without Joel Embiid, but have Al Horford to man the middle in his absence).
Through it all, Brooklyn has maintained its spot as the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference due mostly to the paucity of competition below them. Thanks perhaps to that designation, Vegas still hasn’t come around on their struggles, making them favorites in five of their last eight games.
That figures to change at some point, but for right now, there’s a good change to take advantage of their woes. Back their opponents accordingly.