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NBA Stretch Run Hustle

   by Scott Spreitzer - 04/02/2007

It's the time of season where we begin to see all kinds of hustle. No, I'm not talking about running all over the floor to grab every loose ball or long rebound. I'm talking about the kind of hustle that you see in the movies about billiards, golf, or poker.

What we've been seeing in the NBA in recent weeks represents a few different versions of THAT kind of hustle.

Let me explain…

The NBA draft lottery is designed to favor teams with the worst records. With some decent talent coming out of the colleges this year, it actually behooves the worst teams to lose as many games as possible right now. The worse your record, the better you're chance of getting Kevin Durant or Greg Oden next year. And, even if you're not one of the bottom two teams, there could still be a difference between 3rd and 7th worst in terms of the quality of athletes coming out. Simply put, it pays to lose!

Now, the league office doesn't want anyone to think that teams are losing on purpose. Not only would it be an insult to the integrity of the game, but you just can't justify to paying fans (particularly at today's prices) that they're paying big bucks to watch their local team go out and tank a game. The players are professionals, and it's their job to win.

Of course, these professionals know they'll have a better chance of playing on a winner next season, possibly even making the playoffs, if Durant or Oden (assuming Oden will declare early) is on the team. So, they're also thinking about what's best for the franchise. Add it all up, and you got teams and players who know they have to lose enough to protect their draft spot, while winning enough to make it look like they're not "hustling."

And THAT my friends, is a hustle. All that's missing is the dramatic ending where the grifter stops losing and turns everything up a notch to win the big money. In this case, the "win" is getting a shot to draft an eventual star.

The Memphis Grizzlies can't lose every game. The league would come down hard on them. So, they go 2-12 over a 14-game stretch, but then pick up the pace a little bit. They go all out on the road against the Lakers and get a win. Then they go to Portland and win again. The next night, they get annihilated by Seattle , helping maintain the distance they have between themselves and the Boston Celtics for the worst record in the league.

The Grizzlies had some margin of error, and could "afford" to win a game or two. Should Boston get close, you can bet Memphis will fall off the table again.

We're seeing something similar as teams prepare for the playoffs. Even good teams are doing a form of a hustle. Nobody wants to exhaust themselves right before the playoffs by going at peak intensity over the last dozen games of the season. But everyone wants to make sure they're in the playoffs, hopefully with a favorable seeding. This results in some yo-yo performances from the league's elite. They don't look like championship material every night. There's no need to.

So, on the bottom end of the spectrum, we've got teams who win just enough to disguise their need for losing. At the top end, we've got teams who win just enough to cement their playoff positioning and stay sharp for the games that really matter in a few weeks.

If you're trying to handicap NBA pointspreads right now, this is arguably the single most important factor for you to consider. Teams almost never play their average game right now. So, studying all the stats and trends may not get you very far. Knowing the personnel matchups may not get you very far. You've got to be in synch with the yo-yo that each team is riding to take care of business. A team as bad as Memphis can beat a team as good as the Lakers if things line up right. A team as bad as Boston can beat a team as good as San Antonio , which we saw back on St. Patrick's Day. On the other hand, bad teams can lose by 30 points if they're taking a night off while the opposing power is in the mood to play.

This is why the general public hates trying to pick the NBA. But, it's why professional wagerers LOVE picking the NBA. You have to know how to read the flow of the season as it relates to the priorities of the coaches.

If you want to pick winners in these last few weeks before the playoffs begin, you're going to have to hustle yourself to make sure you're aware of the one being performed by NBA teams!

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