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Changes are a Key in NBA Handicapping

   by Bryan Leonard - 01/10/2006

Stats are one thing, but something that doesn’t show up in the NBA stat column is changes that take place. Coaching changes, injuries, strategic shifts, all of these things can alter the performance of a team, both straight up and against the number. Seattle just fired their coach, so one needs to keep up on how this team responds to new coach Bob Hill. Will he slow the pace down, making them a better play under the total? Will he make lineup shifts? Last month the Cleveland Cavalier coaching staff was working with the team on being more aggressive on defense. The young Cavs have plenty of offensive options and it was clear that if they were to improve it would have to be on the defensive end. Notice that the Cavs are on a 6-0 run under the total.

And speaking of the Cavs, another changed happened this week that doesn’t show up in their overall stats. Cleveland guard Larry Hughes will miss the next six to eight weeks with a broken finger. The 26-year-old guard, who signed with Cleveland before the start of the season, is the team's second-leading scorer, averaging 16.2 points and 3.9 assists. Will this affect the team at either end? Or do they have enough depth to compensate for a few weeks without missing a beat? Hughes started the first 28 games for the Cavaliers before missing Wednesday's game at Milwaukee. Damon Jones started in Hughes' spot. Sometimes a team has enough quality depth to ride out an injury like that, while other times a loss can adversely influence the club.

The Milwaukee Bucks are without point guard T.J. Ford, who will be out for up to three weeks after spraining his left foot. Ford is a terrific young playmaker and has an impact on this uptempo offense. However, the Bucks have an underrated guard in Mo Williams who is stepping in for Ford. They might be the kind of team that can adjust on the fly and not miss a beat. On the other hand, pay careful attention, too, because the Bucks enter the weekend on a 2-3 SU, 1-4 ATS run.

One team that has missed a key player is the Rockets. Houston center Yao Ming had toe surgery December 19 and he’s one pivotal player you simply can’t replace, with all due respects to aging Dikembe Mutombo. The Rockets offense and defense suffered badly for a stretch, until busting out this week with big wins at Washington and Cleveland. But will it continue? Sometimes teams take a while to adjust when a player goes out, but then kind of find a groove. Other times, it is a fluke, so the Houston health situation and offensive production are worth watching closely. Ming has begun light workouts and expects to return to action in two to three weeks. Oddsmakers can overcompensate too much, as well, and notice that Houston is 14-4 ATS on the road!

The Denver Nuggets have been treading water with all kinds of injuries. NBA rebounding leader Marcus Camby underwent surgery last week on his right broken pinkie, and should be back next week. Camby is in the midst of his best season, averaging 16.3 points and 12.9 rebounds and 3.12 blocks a game. The Nuggets have lost power forward Nene Hilario for the season with a knee injury, Kenyon Martin has missed 10 games with a bad knee, Earl Boykins recently missed six games with a pulled hamstring and Greg Buckner missed three with a strained groin. With their frontcourt in disarray, the Nuggets have been forced to go with small lineups, play more zone and double-team shooters, making them susceptible both on the glass and the perimeter. Notice that Denver just played 5 straight home games – and went just 2-3 SU/ATS! How will they play on the next road trip? Changes and adjustments are taking place constantly, and the astute handicapper needs to keep up constantly and assess whole ranges of shifts.

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