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Basketball Handicapping: A Daily Endeavor
by Bryan Leonard - 11/28/2005
Basketball handicapping is not a weekly venture. It's not something you start Sunday night, then map out point spreads and potential situations during the week, picking the majority of games you want to wager on a week in advance. It's a daily ritual, because things happen on a daily, even hourly, basis that can affect potential wagering spots.
Take a look at the Houston Rockets. On paper in preseason, this was a team that looked pretty good, a young club on the rise. However, star Tracy McGrady didn't see much time during the exhibition season because of injuries. And it's only gotten worse now that the real games have begun. McGrady has missed several games with a back problem, and guard Rafar Alston is ailing. Throw in the fact that guard Bob Sura just went under the knife and is out several months, and the Rockets are a shell of what many expected them to be, with a lack of depth and offensive options. Their problems are most evident on the road where Houston started 1-4 SU/ATS averaging just 83 points per game. The Rockets still play tough defense for coach Jeff Van Gundy and are 4-1 â€œunderâ€쳌 the total away from home. One of the players admitted this week that they have shaky confidence as a team, expecting to fall apart late in games because it's happened several times already. An astute handicapper needs to keep a constant update on the Rockets to find out about injuries and adjustments that are taking place.
The NY Knicks have been in transition under new coach Larry Brown, trying to teach his new players his defensive strategies. Brown had problems with Stephon Marbury last week, even benching him for the final seven minutes of a close game. Marbury was on the bench with a towel over his head, clearly not a happy camper. However, instead of an explosive situation, Marbury has appeared to give in to Brown, playing harder and better this week.
Marbury, coming off a 27-point, eight-assist performance in the Knicks' victory over the Trail Blazers Sunday, had 21 points and eight assists in the next game, a loss to Charlotte. As long as he was in the game, things went fairly well for the Knicks. Coach Brown pointed out something about his team, too: â€œWe got beat on pick and rolls badly most of the night. We didn't rotate out. We talk about what we're going to do in a timeout, and the next time down the court we do exactly the same things." So, on the one hand the Marbury situation has been soothed over, but they still are a confused defensive team at times. That could change, too, as Brown is an excellent teacher. Also note that the Knicks are just 1-3 SU/ATS as a favorite! They may get better, but it's clear they have been a bit overvalued as chalk.
A handicapper needs to keep up constantly on what is happening with a team, from injuries, to new coaches, new players, and adjustments. The Bucks are an uptempo team that has added frontline depth with the trade for Jamal Magliore and rookie center Andrew Bogut. In a game against Philly this week they had 18 offensive rebounds, three times as many as the 76ers! Money-line underdog players take note: The Bucks surprised by starting 4-2 SU/ATS as a dog.
Miami without Shaq isn't as good as with him, of course. The Heat is 3-6 ATS as a favorite. And the Utah Jazz seem to be bitten by the same bad-luck injury bug that ravaged them a year ago, so one needs to keep track of when some of their injured players begin trickling back. And that requires examining what's going on every day. Utah started 9-3 â€œunderâ€쳌 the total with a weak offense because of all those injuries.
Finally, on a side note, like baseball, the NBA does have some extreme differences in team payrolls despite that salary cap. Notice that this week the Knicks lost to the Bobcats, 108-95, despite their $124 million payroll, which ranks tops in the NBA. Charlotte? The Bobcats have the lowest payroll at $33 million. Perhaps there is some hope for those small market teams!