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NBA Embarassments

   by Bryan Leonard - 03/29/2008

Many teams get embarrassed during an NBA season. After all, it’s a long season and even good teams get smacked around on occasion. It happens. What’s important to look at from a handicapping perspective is what happens next! Does a blowout loss reflect something negative internally that is taking place? Something detrimental to the team’s short and long term health? Or is it an aberration that will subside quickly, in the form of a big win the next game?

The team with the best record in the NBA, the Celtics, have been embarrassed twice over the last two weeks. They were bombed 110-92 as a big favorite at HOME against Utah. The next game, they destroyed Milwaukee by 22 points, covering by double digits. This week they were stunned at home again, this time by the 76ers, 95-90. The next game, in a showdown with Shaq and the Suns, it wasn’t even close. Paul Pierce erupted for 12 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter of a 117-97 nationally televised rout of the Phoenix Suns.

It’s no uncommon for teams to get totally outplayed, then come back with a fierce performance the next game. Usually these bounce-back teams have strong veteran leadership or good coaches who know how to use the bad defeat as motivation.

We saw this a year ago with the Denver Nuggets, who were up and down all season when it came to blowouts. On February 24 Denver lost by 20 at Dallas, the next game they won and covered at Memphis. Two weeks later Denver got flattened 121-94 at Toronto. The next game they were a +6 road dog at Cleveland and won the game, 105-93. Then again they got flattened again at Phoenix, only to bounce back the next night and win at Seattle by 11.

Of course, you have to be careful when BAD teams get blown out, as that can have the opposite effect. Perhaps the bad team doesn’t care anymore or the players have tuned out the coach. It’s good this time of the season when a good team or one on the playoff bubble suffers an embarrassing defeat, as you know the group is already motivated to make the playoffs. So an extra slap in the face can get them even more fired up.

The pitiful Knicks, for instance, clearly have packed in the season, recently getting blown out in succession by the Hawks, Pacers, Grizzlies, T-Wolves and Nets. Not only blowout losses, but against some bad teams! Consistency, just like in handicapping, is more important than one surprise win.

I recall a few years ago the Pacers used a blowout loss to right the ship after a 105-75 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. Indiana was fighting for a playoff spot, so that loss raised eyebrows. 'It was a terrible performance. It's as simple as that,' then Coach Rick Carlisle said. Point guard Anthony Johnson said, 'We were embarrassed, point blank.' So what happened the next game? The Pacers played a very passionate game, covering in a 95-85 win over Chicago. What happens in one game can have an effect on what happens next.

Think back to the two teams that met in the NBA Finals two years ago, Dallas and Miami. During the regular season, Miami got destroyed by Dallas 112-76 in February. That was the biggest embarrassment of the season for the Heat. Miami then won 10 in a row and went 5-2 ATS after that debacle. A slap in the face, particularly one on national TV, can wake a team up helping them go on a strong run, often times both straight up and against the number.
Also, one can’t look at simply the next game that a team might bounce back after a terrible loss, but look at how the team plays for several weeks. 'These games are crucial to us,' said Kevin Garnett after the loss to the 76ers. 'We are trying to establish something in the rhythm going into the playoffs, from all the starters, bench play, to the new guys.' The point is, don’t write off a team after a bad loss as they may use it as motivation the next game.

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