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Recent History vs. Season Totals
by Bryan Leonard - 02/17/2006
Understand that oddsmakers base their numbers in large part on stats. The Portland Trail Blazers, for example, average 92 ppg at home, but just 86 ppg on the road. So when making a side or total, the oddsmaker has to factor in the difference whether that team is home or away.
But when we are this far along in the NBA season, for me it's more important to examine recent games rather than seasonal stats. Take the Milwaukee Bucks. They started off the season with a lot of young legs and an uptempo game under coach Terry Porter. But along the way their guard depth took several hits. Playmaker T.J. Ford missed several weeks with an injury, and recently guard Mo Williams has been out.
It was also evident that their offense suffered each time. On Sunday I gave out the Bucks/Nets game under the total, and part of my thinking was recent stats in comparison to the whole season. In my write up I mentioned, "At first glance you would expect a higher scoring offensive battle when these two teams meet, but that couldn't be farther from the truth. While Milwaukee was a higher scoring team earlier in the season they have struggled to put points on the board as of late. Each of the last four games the Bucks have shot less than 40% from the floor. That has resulted in point totals of 94, 86, 88 and 84. In fact, they haven't surpassed 94 points in the last six games."
You might think of them as a fine offensive team overall, as they currently are 7th in the NBA in three-point shooting (37%) and 12th in assists per game. And they do push the ball up the floor far more like Dallas and Denver than Houston or Memphis. Yet, there are distinct differences in their team productivity this season. And it's imperative for a handicapper to examine these ebbs and flows and to try and determine if there are reasons for this.
While examining the recent play of Milwaukee, I noticed something else: Their defense is improving. I wrote, "While the Bucks have struggled offensively they have made up for it on the defensive end. The last seven games they have held every opponent to 94 points or less. Six of those 7 teams failed to reach 90 points. New Jersey has held 13 of 14 opponents to under the century mark. The Nets have shot under 49% from the field in 18 of their last 19 games." I was on the under, as both teams matched up far better for lower scoring games than high scoring games of late.
Again, recent history paints a better picture of where a team is than overall stats. If you're looking for a time frame to reference, 2 to 3 weeks is always safe. But that can be stretched out to months, as well. For instance, the Houston Rockets have been winning the last two weeks because they have their two big guns, McGrady and Ming, healthy. So you can pretty much throw out much of the season stats for the Rockets, as long as the duo stays healthy.
Teams like the Pacers and Kings would also be worth looking at in their recent games, simply because they made the Ron Artest/Peja Stojakovic swap. The Pacers have more offensive firepower and they were playing shorthanded anyway without Artest most of the year, so this is a very different team than, say, in December and January. Segment your handicapping all season long, don't just look at the whole bundle of season stats.