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Handicapping NBA Injuries

   by Bryan Leonard - 01/22/2007

When injuries to key players happen in the NBA, oddsmakers certainly pay attention. No Shaq in Miami? The line most definitely will be adjusted, many times significantly. No Yao Ming or Tracy McGrady in Houston? Absolutely that will cause an adjustment.

However, one needs to analyze each team very carefully when deciding to wager on or against clubs that have key injuries. For instance, no Yao and T-Mac takes 48.7 points per game out of the Houston lineup. That will influence both the side and total.

The Rockets played without McGrady earlier in the season and went 2-5. They were 13-38 without McGrady or Yao last season and are now 1-9 over two seasons when playing without both All-Stars. Yet, they just went a dozen games without Yao and posted a 9-3 mark. That defies what happened last year, but it's true. What happened is role players have stepped in and done a credible job, particularly former backup center Dikembe Mutmombo, who is playing well.

It also happens all the time: Teams can make adjustments. Granted, a team can't lose a star player for the whole season and survive better, or make a playoff run without, say, Shaq or LeBron James. But teams can adjust for several weeks and be surprisingly successful.

Look at the New Jersey Nets. They stumbled for a while when center Nenad Krstic and his 16 points, 6 rebounds per game was lost for the season after 26 games. Yet, the Nets are suddenly on a role at 7-2 SU/8-1 ATS the last 9 games. Why? Unsung 7-footer Mikki Moore has stepped into the breach and been very effective. In his last seven starts, Moore is averaging 13.6 points, 9.0 rebounds and is shooting 70.7 percent from the field in 34.4 minutes. The Nets are 5-2 in that stretch. He has been terrific in the paint, and tore up the Pacers this week with 19 points, seven rebounds.

The Miami Heat is on a 5-1 SU/ATS run without Shaq. They have been undervalued by oddsmakers at times, sporting a 14-9 ATS mark as a dog. What's important for handicappers to understand is that each injury affects teams differently. The Celtics, for instance, have been banged up and have really fallen apart without star Paul Pierce. They are a miserable 4-13 SU/ATS at home – talk about a go-against team!

This is why depth is so important, along with coaching. Coaches can get the attitude through to players that they are professional: Get out their and do your job.

Houston forward Shane Battier said this week, "This is going to sound corny — but when we got the news, there was just an attitude of 'let's go out and play.'"

"We're paid well and we're treated well, and what's expected is that we show up and do our jobs," said forward Juwan Howard. "The circumstances don't really matter. We're all in this league because we've been very good players somewhere. We don't have to surrender just because we're missing a few pieces."

Added Battier, "What you learn fast in this league is, nothing changes. You do your job. You compete. Tracy's in? Tracy's out? This team can still win games. That's the way we'll handle it." Some teams handle it better than others. In the world of handicapping, examine each team carefully when major trades take place or when key injuries happen. Different teams respond differently, both straight up and against the number.

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