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Early Season NBA Totals Handicapping

   by Bryan Leonard - 11/23/2007

NBA handicapping early in the season offers outstanding wagering value. You can’t go by last year’s stats, as players and coaches have changed. Golden State, for example, traded away Jason Richardson in the offseason for rookie Brandon Wright. They’ve had growing pains with the new personnel, not to mention numerous injuries.

The Houston Rockets used to be a slow down, defensive team under Jeff Van Gundy, but he is gone, replaced by coach Rick Adelman. Adelman has brought a more aggressive uptempo approach, similar to what he ran in Sacramento. Each year changes like this have to be examined carefully, especially early in the season with respect to sides and totals. The Rockets recently played the uptempo Phoenix Suns. Instead of slowing the pace down, like the used to, Houston ran right with ‘em. The Rockets tried a different starting lineup, shot rapidly, and even got their guards to knock down the shots they had been missing. It didn’t work, as Houston lost 115-105 at home, but notice that the game sailed over the total by 24 points!

That same night I had a play on the New Orleans/Minnesota game to go under the total. My reasoning was, “The Hornets had to go to overtime last night to beat the Grizzlies, a team they should have dominated. The reason for the poor play was on the defensive end of the court. Memphis managed 114 points in regulation and a 124.9 offensive efficiency rating. Those numbers are not typical of this Hornet defense. The worst efficiency number New Orleans had allowed up to that point was 107.3 to the LA Lakers. In fact, going into last night’s game the Hornets had allowed OE numbers of 87.5, 94.7 and 85.6 the prior three games.

“Byron Scott has his team ready after a bad defensive performance. Thus far in 2007 after allowing an offensive efficiency rating of more than 100, New Orleans games went under the posted total by 33½, 18½, 5½ and 25½ points. Minnesota has been held to 93 points or less in all but two games this season. They don’t have enough offensive options to compete against a determined defense. Look for New Orleans to slow down the pace after going to overtime last night. This game stays way under the posted total. Play the Under.â€쳌 Minnesota has a lot of new faces for this season and that factored into my handicapping.

One team that has turned up the defense in the new season is Charlotte. Charlotte has developed a hard nosed defensive style of play, especially at home. Only one squad (Phoenix) has put up triple digits on the Bobcats at home. In four home games they limited the opposition to 84, 76, 85 and 87 points. Those games combined to go under the posted total by 60 points, or 15 points per game. They started 7-2 under the total.

Attention to defense comes from a combination of personnel and coaching strategy. The Houston Rockets certainly have had the personnel to be an uptempo team that last few years with young legs like Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady, but Van Gundy was not a proponent of that style. Golden State coach Don Nelson, by contrast, prefers the run and gun game, but they have struggled to stop teams scoring because of injuries and new personnel. The Warriors started 7-0 over the total. So examine offseason changes, injuries and coaching style. All need to be combined to best assess NBA sides and totals, especially early in the season when soft numbers abound.

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