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Assessing NBA Injuries

   by Jim Feist - 03/10/2009

Injuries are a part of all sports. For serious sports bettors, it's essential to keep a close eye on basketball injuries. That's especially true this time of the year, with college basketball tournaments in full swing and NBA teams fighting for division titles and postseason positioning. Injuries affect teams differently.
This was evident with the Milwaukee Bucks. They are still on the bubble for the last playoff slot in the East, but have been decimated by injuries to key players, including star guard Mike Redd, out for the season. That has put a lot of pressure on the bench and role players to step up and contribute more. Teams can do this for a short stretch, but eventually it can wear them down. It's no surprise the Bucks recently lost six of eight games. During that stretch the Bucks went four straight games under the total as they offense struggled. It's essential to keep track of how injuries influence a team's style, as well as straight up wins, losses and over/unders.
This is where quality depth and attention to defense can pay dividends. A year ago Houston lost star center Yao Ming after a 12-game win streak. Then they won another seven in a row (7-0 ATS)! Clearly there was far more at work than one star player. Houston was motivated, one of the top teams in the West. They played magnificent defense, allowing 43% shooting by opponents, second best in the NBA and tops in the West at the time.
The Rockets began their transformation in December when Tracy McGrady missed 11 games due to a knee injury. They won seven of the first nine. From there a new team emerged, with young Luis Scola, Carl Landry and Shane Battier contributing. They stepped in when McGrady was out, and later with Ming on the shelf.
What is happening this season? Almost the same thing. The Rockets have lost McGrady for the season and traded Rafer Alston, but the supporting cast has been terrific, on a recent 7-2 SU/ATS run. When teams lose key players like this, be sure and look to see if they have something else to fall back on, like depth or defense. The Rockets continue to be a strong defensive team, allowing 44.8% shooting by opponents, fifth best in the league and second best in the West. The 94.8 points per game they allow is seventh best overall.
Other times, teams aren't as well prepared. Since there are so few players in basketball as compared to football, the loss of any one player from the starting five means a 20% change in the lineup. This can affect not only offense or defense, but team chemistry, which takes months to develop. If a coach is counting on a role player to play defense and pull down nine rebounds a game, if that player is out he has to find someone else to plug in, which, depending on the bench, isn't always easy to do.
A year ago at this time the Miami Heat decided to sit four-time All-Star Dwyane Wade for the rest of the season to rehab his left knee. They turned to a small-ball lineup with newcomer Shawn Marion, going with an uptempo attack that started 5-4-1 over the total after a 6-3 under run.
The defending champion Boston Celtics are without star Kevin Garnett for three weeks. Not surprisingly, they haven't been as dominant, particularly on defense, last week allowing the Pistons and Nets to score 105 and 111 in back to back games. That's far off their seasonal average allowing 92.6 ppg, second best in the league. They started 4-2 SU/2-4 ATS without Garnett and are now 16-4 the last two seasons without the Big Ticket.
From a handicapping perspective, it's essential to examine each team's strengths and weaknesses and gauge how much they may miss, if at all, a key player. The Clippers, for instance, have been ravaged by injuries the last three seasons and have fallen apart each time. Two years ago, point guard Shaun Livingston blew his knee out while veteran Sam Cassell was in and out of the lineup battling injuries.
Instead of a talented backcourt offering depth and flexibility, the Clippers were forced to start Cuttino Mobley and newcomer Jason Hart. The offense sputtered and the Clippers went on an 11-3-1 run under the total. Last season the backcourt continued to have the same problems, while the frontcourt was decimated with the loss of Elton Brand. The Clippers were an under the total machine (37-24). This season it's been even worse, with seemingly everybody hurting. Even oddsmakers haven't been able to keep up, with the Clippers on a recent 2-7 SU/ATS run.
It's essential to study injury logs and keep track of who's playing and who's hurting when you analyze match-ups. Some teams are deep and play good defense, which can help them survive injuries, while others can fall apart, both straight up and against the number.

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