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A Closer Look at the Eastern Conference

   by Ben Burns - 02/11/2008

When attempting to determine motivational levels, in addition to analyzing various "situational" factors, one needs to know each team's position in the standings. This sounds simple enough. However, it's important and is often a factor which is overlooked. While we haven't reached the All Star Break quite yet, the NBA playoff picture is already beginning to come into focus. There are several teams which are virtually guaranteed to be participating in the postseason, while a handful of others have no chance at all. There's also a fairly large group of teams who's fate remains undetermined.

Beneath, I've grouped the Eastern Conference teams based on their likelihood of making the playoffs. I've also provided a brief thought on each team's current "state of mind" and listed their respective "future" odds, where applicable. Make sure to check back, as I'll provide the teams from the Western Conference in tomorrow's update.

IN

BOSTON: The Celtics boast an impressive 37-9 record for the season, going a healthy 29-16-1 against the number. With odds of +345, they're considered the favorite to bring the championship home to Boston. They've cooled off somewhat lately though, going 4-3 SU/ATS their last seven games. A 9-8 ATS mark their past 16 games reveals two things. First, the inflated lines have finally started to catch up with them. Second, the Celtics haven't been as dominant over the past month. Of course, the latter has a lot to do with the injury to Kevin Garnett. First seed isn't an absolute certainty quite yet, so there shouldn't be too much "coasting."

DETROIT: They're not flashy but the veteran Pistons continue to get the job done. They're currently 35-13 for the year, going 28-19-1 ATS. They've had some trouble covering the spread over the past month though, going just 5-10 ATS since the first week of January. The Pistons should remain motivated the entire way. They've still got a shot at catching Boston for the top seed and they've got both Orlando and Cleveland challenging from behind. In terms of futures, they're the second seed in the East, listed at +645 to win the title.

ORLANDO: At 32-19, the Magic are a long way off from locking up a playoff spot. Still, barring a complete collapse, I think it's safe to assume that they belong in this group. Over the next few months, they'll be fighting for homecourt advantage. However, the Magic are one of the few teams that has performed better on the road. Indeed, while the Magic are a mediocre 13-9 (12-9-1 ATS) at home, their 19-10 (20-9 ATS) road mark is the best in entire league. While their record is highly respectable, at +3050, the Magic still aren't being viewed as a serious contender.

PROBABLY IN

CLEVELAND: The Cavaliers are playing as well as anyone in the East right now, going 9-2 their last 11 games and 15-4 their last 19. That has brought the defending conference champions to 27-20 for the year, which puts them within striking distance of Detroit for the division title. While that's certainly still a possibility, it looks more likely that they'll battle Toronto for the fourth seed. Despite their recent strong play, the Cavs remain just 22-25 at the betting window, including a money-burning 8-14 ATS mark at home. While he still doesn't have a terrific supporting cast, Lebron gives his team a "puncher's chance." They're listed at +2850 to win the title.

TORONTO: The Raptors won't be repeating as champions of the Atlantic Division. They should still manage a playoff spot though and are playing very well over the past month, going 9-4 SU/ATS since January 9th. That brings them to 26-21 (27-20 ATS) for the season. They'll be battling for playoff seeding (see above) down the stretch and should continue to give a maximum effort the entire way.

ON THE BUBBLE

WASHINGTON: Although they're only a 500 (24-24) team, the Wizards are still within striking distance of Orlando for first place in the Southeast division. They've lost some ground recently though. After playing well in January, the Wizards have suddenly gone 0-5 SU/ATS their last five games. Despite that recent swoon, they remain a profitable 27-20-1 ATS for the season. The Wizards are currently sixth in the conference, slightly ahead of the rest of the "bubble teams."

ATLANTA: The Hawks have a dismal 6-15 record away from Atlanta. However, last night's win over the Lakers gives them a highly respectable 15-9 mark at home, which has them right in the thick of the playoff race. In fact, if the playoffs started today, the Hawks would have the seventh seed, earning them a date with Detroit in the first round. One advantage that the Hawks have over the other "bubble teams" is that they have played less games than any other team in the league. Making the postseason would be a big deal for this young team and they should continue to fight hard during the second half.

NEW JERSEY: The Nets have more talent than their 20-29 (18-30-1 ATS) record indicates. However, with Jason Kidd publicly demanding a trade, things haven't been right for some time now. That's led to a 3-12 SU/ATS record the past 15 games. Kidd should eventually get his wish, however, it's hard to say how the Nets will react in the coming months. They're more than capable of finishing within the top eight but are also capable of "sulking" and continuing to underachieve. Indiana: Last night's win at New York brought the Pacers to 20-30 (24-25-1 ATS) for the year. Despite that ugly record, the Pacers are only a half game out of the final playoff spot. If they could ever get Jermaine O'Neal to return to his former All-Star health and form, the Pacers would have a good shot at the playoffs. However, note that there is a reasonable chance that O'Neal will be moved before the trading deadline. Regardless, unless the defense (which ranks last in the conference) improves, they'll continue to struggle during the second half.

CHICAGO: Expected to be a contender, the Bulls have gone just 19-29 SU/ATS at the betting window. They've been particularly brutal at Chicago, going a money-burning 8-15 ATS. If playing in the West, the season would be a write-off. However, playing in the watered-down Eastern Conference, the Bulls remain very much alive, currently sitting in ninth spot. They'll be fighting for a playoff spot the next few months and should eventually start to play up to their potential. Note that last night's "cover" brought them to 3-1 ATS their last four games.

MILWAUKEE: The Bucks have some exciting young players and are capable of looking pretty good at times. Those times are usually at home, where they sport a decent 13-8 record. On the road has been a different story. Last night's loss dropped them to 6-23 away from Milwaukee. While they did manage to hang within the number last night, they're still just 12-16-1 ATS on the road for the year. One advantage that they have over the other "bubble" teams is that they play eight more home games than road games during the remainder of the regular season. If they can stay healthy, they should fight hard down the stretch and at least contend for the final playoff spot.

INDIANA: Last night's win at New York brought the Pacers to 20-30 (24-25-1 ATS) for the year. Despite that ugly record, the Pacers are only a half game out of the final playoff spot. If they could ever get Jermaine O'Neal to return to his former All-Star health and form, the Pacers would have a good shot at the playoffs. However, note that there is a reasonable chance that O'Neal will be moved before the trading deadline. Regardless, unless the defense (which ranks last in the conference) improves, they'll continue to struggle during the second half.

PHILADELPHIA: The 76ers (19-30) are generally a hard-working team. They just don't have a ton of talent. While their still just 23-25-1 ATS on the season, they have managed a profitable 4-1 ATS mark their past five games. Playoffs are likely a longshot but they're currently playing as well as any of the "bubble teams" and should continue to give a maximum effort down the stretch.

CHARLOTTE: After trading for Jason Richardson in the offseason, the Bobcats had playoff aspirations this year. Due in no small part to injuries, they have underachieved though. Monday's 14-point loss at Phoenix brought them to 18-31 on the year, going 19-28-2 against the spread. They've got the worst record of the "bubble teams" and are only barely still alive for a playoff spot. Their 4-17 (6-14-1 ATS) mark on the road is among the worst in the league. They've remained competitive at home though, going 14-14. They should continue to fight hard down the stretch.

OUT

MIAMI: The Heat have really fallen a long way in a short period of time. Indeed, in just two seasons, they've gone from being champions of the world to having the worst record (9-38) in the entire league. They've also been the worst from an "ATS perspective," going an ugly 17-30 ATS. While the playoffs are long since out of the question, with Shaq out of the picture, the Heat should improve slightly down the stretch. Note that they began the "new era" with a relatively easy "cover" vs. Detroit last night.

NEW YORK: At 14-35, the Knicks have the second worst record in the East. They have managed to remain relatively respectable at the betting window though, going 23-26 ATS. While they have no chance of making the playoffs, the Knicks are currently playing hard. Despite failing to cover last night, they've still managed a 9-5 ATS mark since the middle of January.

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