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Defensive Spread Notes

   by Ben Burns - 03/06/2008

It’s not too early to start talking about NBA teams that are packing in the season. I know there’s plenty of basketball left, but the fact is many teams have no shot at the postseason. This is particularly true in the West, which has so many of the NBA’s best teams. What often happens, especially down the stretch, is that players begin not to care, preferring to just ride out the season.

This shows itself statistically far more on defense than on offense. Defense requires maximum effort. There’s lots of hustle required for defense and little praise. Think about Bruce Bowen of the Spurs. How valuable is he? He shuts down the opposing star player by getting in his face all game, crashes the boards with bigger guys, boxing out, which means he’s getting knocked around a lot. There’s little glamour in that. There’s far more glamour in taking 25 shots a game, but a guy like Bowen is so valuable. If you don’t believe me, he’s got 4 championship rings to show you! Bowen got some glory last week, blocking Jason Terry's leaning 6-footer with 3.9 seconds left, helping the Spurs preserve a two-point lead in a win over rival Dallas. But, usually, he does the grunt work while others get interviewed after the game. And what did San Antonio do the following three games? 3-0 under the total, allowing 94, 83 and 70 points. They’re not only great defensively, they are getting better! Here’s a look at some NBA defensive wagering angles to keep in mind and the reasons behind them.

Knicks: Who would want to play defense for Isiah Thomas? His pet projects of offensive players Stephon Marbury and Eddy Curry have been a disaster. Thomas messed up Marbury by demoting him two weeks into the season, and now he’s throwing Eddy Curry under the bus. We know the Knicks are a dysfunctional mess, and have been for several years, and one thing that stands out now is how the team cares little for defense. How about going 8 straight games over the total heading into March, and 19-10 over the total on the road for the season! It’s hard to see this dysfunctional disaster suddenly start turning things around on defense at this point in the season.

Bucks: Milwaukee isn’t as dysfunctional as the Knicks, but there are similarities on the defensive end. The Bucks allow over 47% shooting from the field, second worst in the NBA. That was a problem last year, too. The Nets just scored a season-high point total of 120 as they riddled the Bucks' interior defense and went 11 for 23 from beyond the three-point line. New Jersey shot a torrid 63.4% in the first half while piling up a 68-55 lead. That’s nothing new. Keep in mind Milwaukee is on an 11-2 over the total run.

Jazz: A common theme with young teams is that they can start to get better at home, but often stumble on the road. Exhibit A for 2008 is the Utah Jazz. Coach Jerry Sloan knows how to teach defense, and this young team plays great defense at home, allowing 95 ppg. That’s why they are 16-14 under the total at home. Yet, notice on the road this young team disappears defensively, allowing 104 ppg! That’s a whopping 9 per game difference than in the Salt Palace. It also explains why Utah is 17-14 over the total on the road.

Suns: So what has Shaq brought? Well more important is what he HASN’T brought: defensive stability. The Suns are 2-6 when the second game of a back-to-back set is on the road. That happened again this week when they played at Portland and Denver, winning at Portland but the next night failing to cover while giving up 126 points to the Nuggets. With O'Neal, who just turned 36, the Suns starters average 32.4 years of age. They’ve had numerous defensive meltdowns all season, with and without Shaq. "I'm hoping it's tired legs," Suns coach Mike D'Antoni said this week of the "meltdowns." The Suns are currently on a 9-2 over the total run.

Pistons: Now this veteran team has no trouble playing great defense. What a road trip for the Pistons, holding Phoenix to 86 points and Denver to 93! They are third in the NBA allowing 43.6% shooting by opponents, and just 90.5 points per game – second best. That’s likely to continue, as they are a motivated team expecting to go deep into the postseason. They play their best defense at home, allowing 88 ppg, where they are 17-10 under the total.

Spurs: And speaking of defense, the defending champion Spurs know the value of fine tuning the defense before the playoffs, with Greg Popovich, Tim Duncan and Bowen. They have 4 rings since 1999. Duncan had another monster night — 31 points and 15 rebounds — to lead the Spurs over Dallas this week. They extended their season-best winning streak to seven in a row and capped a 10-1 February. San Antonio is 18-10 under the total at home in the Alamodome, another ATS trend that is more likely to continue than be some statistical aberration.

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