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NBA First Half Notes

   by Al McMordie - 02/28/2012

Football season is behind us, and we find ourselves smack in the middle of both the college and pro basketball seasons. Due to the extended lockout, the schedule began on Christmas Day and ends on April 26. That is 66 games in 123 days. Fortunately for bettors, there are dozens of games each day to look for soft sides, totals, and winning opportunities. One thing to keep in mind as we come down the home stretch in college and pro basketball is that we are approaching the point where some teams are more motivated than others.

There are many reasons for this: Injuries, personnel, coaching, postseason races at stake. The Philadelphia 76ers will come out of the All-Star break in first place in the Atlantic division, a surprise start. That is certainly motivation enough to give it their all and play hard. They are battling injuries, however, and slipped badly coming into the break, especially against good teams.

The 76ers are playing 66 games in 122 days. At what point does this crammed schedule take a toll on teams? The Sixers got off to a 20-14 start, though they have lost five straight. Their biggest personnel moves involved the drafting of centers Nik Vucevic and Lavoy Allen, both of whom have had to play extended minutes due to the Achilles tendon injury to 23-year old 7-foot starter Spencer Hawes.

Hawes was averaging 10.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per game before the injury. In 14 games this season, he recorded six double-doubles, one shy of his total in 81 games last season. The Sixers are 12-2 in games in which Hawes has played this season. Without Hawes, they are 8-12. It’s tough to get healthy with so many games crammed together, but at least the 76ers have their great defense to fall back on, leading the NBA in points allowed. Keep in mind the under is 20-7 in the 76ers last 27 games following a loss and 22-9 under the total against the Eastern Conference.

Some teams have been hurt by the lockout more than others. The Lakers have a new head coach in Mike Brown trying to learn a new system with more veteran players than young ones. The Lakers haven’t been good in the second of back to back spot, as we saw in the first half finale last week, as the Lakers lacked energy in their 100-85 loss at Oklahoma City. The Lakers settled for mostly jump shots and couldn't match the Thunder's speed. That’s a problem for veteran teams in this tightly packed NBA schedule.

Speaking of veterans, Kobe Bryant has averaged a league-leading 28.7 points per game on 43.5% shooting, 5.8 rebounds, 4.9 assists. Even with a torn ligament in his right wrist, Bryant strung a four-game stretch where he scored at least 40 points, the first time he's done so since 2007. But will he be at a disadvantage in the second half of the season if he keeps logging more minutes? New Lakers Coach Mike Brown said he wanted to keep Bryant’s minutes around 33-35, but Kobe has been averaging 38.2 minutes a game. You want to have Bryant at his best in the playoffs, not worn down, something that the new coaching staff will get ripped for – if it happens.

Pau Gasol was fine on offense against Oklahoma City, getting 22 points on nine-of-14 shooting with nine rebounds while, but he didn’t play any defense. He gave way too much space to Serge Ibaka, who scored 11 points on five-of-10 shooting, mostly on open jumpers. And Metta World Peace, a former defensive stopper, doesn't have the same lateral quickness he did two years ago when he held Kevin Durant to 35% shooting in the first round of the 2010 NBA playoffs. Durant lit him up for 33 points on 12-for-22 shooting last week.

The other LA team, the Clippers, have been as good as advertised, taking first place in the Pacific division behind Blake Griffin and newcomer Chris Paul, an all-star point guard. Say this for the Clippers: They are exciting on offense, 7th in the NBA in points scored, but in the middle of the pack in rebounds and defense. That’s not a formula for winning in the postseason.

The one plus is that they are still a work in progress. Starting guard Chauncey Billups (season-ending left Achilles' tendon injury) has been gone for the last eight games and Kenyon Martin, who was acquired Feb 3, has played in just eight games so far with the Clippers. Old teams need rest more than young ones and the Clippers are 3-7 ATS in their last 10 games playing on three or more days rest.
The team that may be pivotal in deciding playoff races and perhaps even the NBA title? The Boston Celtics. Not because of anything the Celtics have done or will do on the court, they are pretty much done. But because GM Danny Ainge must be thinking about blowing up this veteran team. In which case, where do Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen end up? Can you picture the Bulls adding Allen to upgrade their three-point shooting? Or the Clippers with Garnett as a defensive force? Or Pierce with the Thunder?

The Celtics are 0-6 ATS in their last six road games, but 21-10 ATS in their last 31 after allowing 100 points or more in their previous game. The under is also 7-2-1 in the Celtics last 10 games following a loss of more than 10 points. There are a lot of things to watch over the next month in the NBA – both on and off the court! Good luck, as always....Al McMordie

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