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The NBA Stretch Run: Does Anybody Care?

   by Bryan Leonard - 04/08/2012

Does anyone really care in the NBA? I'm not talking about fans, I'm referring to the players. Certainly a lot of players have pride and want to give their best. But this is the time of year when some NBA players don't care, and it can be reflected in their play on the court, and their performance against the spread. The playoffs are on the horizon and it's clear many NBA teams are playing hard every night. Those that are on the playoff bubble are giving 100%, or those that are battling for division titles or playoff seeding.
If you check out NBA website news or local newspapers, even the players are talking about "catching so and so" or "we can smell a division title." Naturally, that kind of incentive is more enjoyable for athletes to get excited about coming to work.
Several teams, however, are not in that kind of situation. The Cavaliers, Nets and Wizards are out of it, along with a string of other teams. Cleveland hasn’t been winning or covering, plus has to deal with the loss of their star rookie guard for another week, a tough blow.
The Bobcats didn’t even show up in their loss this week at Atlanta, a 120-93 defeat. Winding down this lost season while working on their second coach, why would they even care down the stretch? After all, many players have to be thinking about going on a nice long vacation within a week when the regular season ends.
And then there’s the circus in Orlando with acrimony between Stan Van Gundy and Dwight Howard, plus mixed vibes from the front office. Think that explains an 0-5 SU/ATS run after getting roasted at home by the depleted Knicks? And Orlando was FAVORED in all 5 of those games!
I recall a few years ago when Orlando was a bad team all season, they played the final month of the regular season stumbling like a bunch of Keystone Kops. A new coach took over and they were riding several losing streaks, punctuated by poor play on the road (11-24 SU, 13-22 ATS), which is common with teams late in the year. All the frustration got to guard Steve Francis when he kicked a courtside photographer in a loss on the road! Keep a close eye on this imploding team, especially ATS, because a team that is unhappy and doesn't care can continue to be a great go-against.
That same season the Atlanta Hawks packed it in down the stretch. That was a group that, in essence, management took the rug out from under them even before the first game. They let their best players leave or were traded, cut salary, and failed to upgrade the talent level. It was not a happy working environment, knowing you're going to lose most nights (the Hawks were getting outscored on the road by 12 points per contest at the time, going 3-30 SU, 13-20 ATS on the road. With the season winding down, who could blame them if they just go through the motions, especially on the road?
Teams beat up with injuries can take it easy down the stretch, either resting up for the playoffs (like Boston did two years ago) or pack it in if they have not shot of making the playoffs. One recent season the Portland Trailblazers lost a HOME GAME to Orlando, a team playing without one of its best players!
The Blazers were ravaged by injuries that season and all the frustration seemed to explode over the final month. Coach Maurice Cheeks was fired and Portland went 1-8 under interim coach Kevin Pritchard. Portland was on a miserable 2-12 SU/ATS run over 14 games down the stretch. They were getting more playing time for rookies like Sebastian Telfair and forward Viktor Khryap, which can't make some of the veterans feel too happy. A good handicapper keeps his eyes open for teams like this that might start sliding ATS or ones that continue to pack it in.

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