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NBA After the Break: What to Watch For

   by Al McMordie - 02/21/2005

With the NBA All Star break, teams can take a deep breath and begin preparing for two things. 1) A second half surge to make a playoff run or improve their standings in the division. 2) To pack it in and think more of individual play than team-oriented ball. Both of these things will start to take shape for some teams. Don’t believe for a second what players say about “It’s all about the team and winning.â€쳌 That’s what they always say, but their play on the court reflects far more of what is happening than what athletes say. For instance, do you think the Atlanta Hawks are concerned with improving the second half of the season? This is a team that has had a talent-void all year and is going nowhere.

Atlanta is 28-22 over the total for the season and headed into the All Star break on a 4-1 over the total run. This is something to keep an eye on as players like Antoine Walker are likely more concerned with putting up big numbers than playing defense and team-oriented ball (come to think of it, hasn’t most of Walker’s career been like that?) Big numbers can mean big paydays in the offseason. Agents can’t say about potential free agent clients, “Hey, my guy boxed out on the boards all season and hustles on defense!â€쳌 The agents have to put up numbers, and players on bad teams are well aware of this, even if they never admit it. Here’s a look at some ATS trends that might continue in the second half of the season as some teams give up.

Bucks: This is a weak team going nowhere. Milwaukee is 27-20 over the total, caring little for defense. Notice they entered the All Star break on a 5-0-1 over the total run. If they keep focused on offense knowing they’re going nowhere, will they continue to be a better over the total play?

Knicks: This has been a dysfunctional team that last two months, which Lenny Wilkens recognized and hastened his departure. New York is 30-22 over the total and 17-10 over the total on the road, where the defense really diminishes. The Knicks took over the total runs of 7-0-1 and 11-2-1 into the All Star break. Their defense isn’t likely to improve.

Jazz: Utah is a young team that is tough to figure. Utah is 30-22 over the total and on a 5-2 over run. However, they have talent and a demanding, experienced coach in Jerry Sloan, so this is one team that may begin to improve its defense. Well coached teams are more likely to try hard even if they’re out of the playoff picture, unless the players have tuned out the coach (see: Bill Fitch and Larry Brown’s coaching history).

Timberwolves: Minnesota went on a 5-0 under the total run into the All Star break. The offense has been poor because of injuries to Sam Cassell. And while the defense has been poor, they have a new coach in Kevin McHale. It’s not yet clear how they will respond to McHale and this is his first coaching job. They’re 3-0 under the total with McHale, but it’s best to watch this team carefully: They could continue to underachieve, or they could get better defensively. The jury is still out.

New Orleans: They’re on a 5-2 over the total run and going nowhere. If you’re looking for a team to pack it in fast and play no defense the second half of the season, this might be Exhibit A.

Golden State: Another team worth a look at over the total. Jason Richardson has returned after missing nine games with an injury and he really makes this offense go. And the young team is still weak at learning how to play defense. Golden State is 33-20 over the total on the season and 6-2 over heading into the All Star break.

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