We’re halfway home!
The NBA season has officially crossed the midway marker. A few years from right now, that might mean we’re pausing regular play for weeks on end to accommodate a midseason tournament no one seems to want to solve a ratings problem no one seems to understand.
For right now though, it just means that we’re closer to the end than to the beginning. Almost every team in the NBA has figured out its M.O. by now, and is either prepared to make a push forward or is ready to scale it back.
Thanks to those in the second category, the next several months will present nice opportunities to take advantage of teams playing their kids early and often, as vets accumulate rest days in Costco-sized bulk packages. Rest months will be available on special order.
For now though, we’ll take some time to shed light on a few teams that were supposed to be playing out the string by now but instead have crashed a party they were never invited to.
It’s Stock Up, Stock Down for Week 14…
Stock Up: Oklahoma City Thunder – 23-18 record, 27-14 record against the spread
We have to stop and truly appreciate what the Oklahoma City Thunder are doing this season.
Let’s start here: the Thunder had a preseason over/under of 32 wins. They are within 10 victories of meeting that mark, and we are barely halfway through January. They may very well get there before All-Star Weekend.
Then how about this one: of every team in the NBA with a winning record, they are the only one whose record against the spread exceeds their won-loss record, and it is not close, with OKC having given bettors four more wins than they’ve accumulated on the schedule. The closest team to matching this feat, the Miami Heat, has five fewer covers than they do actual victories.
But of course, that speaks to the lead that we’re burying here: we’re halfway through the season and Vegas still isn’t giving Oklahoma City anywhere close to the respect it deserves.
Consider for a moment that Chris Paul & Co. have covered 65.8 percent of their games thus far. The next closest teams – Boston and Miami – are tied with a 60.5 cover rate according to TeamRankings.com. The difference between OKC and those two teams is roughly the same as the difference between the Celts/Heat and the group of teams tied at sixth through ninth, at 55.0 percent. They are head and shoulders above the competition.
And guess what? They’re on a cold streak, at least for them, having failed to cover two of the last three games – home affairs against the Lakers and Raptors.
Coming up though, they’re a good bet to get back on track to their winning ways. Between now and the All-Star break, the Thunder face off against the Portland Trail Blazers, the Atlanta Hawks, the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Detroit Pistons and the San Antonio Spurs; aka, the worst six against-the-spread teams in the NBA, with a combined cover percentage hovering around 40.
Oklahoma City may just be hitting its stride as well, sporting the eighth best net rating in the league over the last two weeks according to Cleaning the Glass.
Take advantage now, while you still can.
Stock Up: Memphis Grizzlies – 19-22 record, 22-18-1 against the spread
If you had the Grizzlies occupying the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoff bracket going into Martin Luther King Day weekend, stand up and take a bow.
Also, please give me stock tips. Actually, just take all of my money and invest it as you see fit, because you might be able to see the future. Or you might be a wizard.
The Grizzles were not supposed to be here. Nowhere close, in fact. For as well as OKC has outpaced expectations, Memphis might even be further ahead of where most folks projected them to be (Vegas had them at 26.5 wins, ahead of only the Hornets and Cavs).
Thanks to Ja Morant’s Rookie of the Year campaign that is pretty much locked up by now, the Grizzlies are arguably the hottest team in basketball that doesn’t have legitimate title hopes. They have been outscoring opponents by an even 10 points per 100 possessions since the new year, propped up by an offensive rating above 120.
Heading into Friday’s play, Memphis has covered six games in a row, the longest current streak in the league. Their only loss against the spread since Christmas game by a half a point, when they lost by five to the Kings on January 2nd as 4.5 point dogs.
There is no indication this is going to let up anytime soon, not with Jaren Jackson Jr. playing second fiddle to Morant and a team full of complimentary players who know their role and execute it well.
Grit & Grind never looked so good.
Stock Down: Portland Trail Blazers – 18-24 record, 16-24-2 against the spread
It would be unfair to highlight our two party crashers without also spotlighting our party poopers.
The Blazers weren’t necessarily a lock to make the playoffs in the West (nor are they, for that matter, out of the race; they sit just a game and a half out of the eighth seed).
But for some time there has been a presumption that, like the Jazz and Spurs, the Blazers will just sort of figure it out before all is said and done.
That ship may finally have sailed. Portland has the third worst record against the spread in the NBA, and has just three covers against nine beats over their last 12 games. They have the eighth worst net rating in the league over the last two weeks, as their defense is giving up an almost unfathomable 117.2 points per 100 possessions over that stretch.
With this season clearly a lost cause, maybe they begin to sell off some pieces and further invest in some of their young players. That could mean even longer evenings in a year that has been full of them. Might as well take advantage.