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Late Season NBA Totals

   by Al McMordie - 04/03/2005

Last Thursday there were three NBA games on the docket. All three sailed 'over' the total. On Saturday, three of five games went 'over', with the Knicks and Nets missing the 'over' by a basket. It’s not your imagination. Late in the NBA season, some teams don’t care about working hard on the defensive end, which can result in a string of high scoring games. What’s happening is that defense requires lots effort: Effort in boxing out under the boards, effort in picking up your man on defense, hustling back on the fast break, focusing mental energy to rotate when the opposition tries to switch and cross you up during a pick and roll. All of these things require tremendous exertion on defense.

<> Offense, in essence, is the easy part of basketball. How often do you see a point guard run the clock down until there’s five seconds left, then bomb away with a long three-pointer? This drives me crazy, as it’s lazy basketball. It’s more effective to drive to the hoop, creating your own open shot, or picking up a foul, or dishing off to an open man. This creates more open shots…but also requires effort and energy. Too many players just do the easiest thing: Fire away!

But defense is the hardest of all. It’s also the most important, as most NBA champions are the stronger defensive ones (Exhibit A: The 2004 Pistons). This is why, late in the NBA season, many teams that are completely out of it will concentrate more on offense than ‘D’. Notice that the Orlando Magic have really given up on the season over the last month, playing poorly under new coach Chris Jent. Orlando is 6-1 'over' the total the last seven games and 23-13 'over' the total at home, where the offense clicks, but the defense has been poor all season.

Here are some other teams that are on 'over' the total runs: Toronto (8-5 'over'). New Orleans (8-4 'over'), Lakers (6-2 'over'), Knicks (4-1 'over'), Cavaliers (4-1 'over'), and the Warriors (5-0 'over'). What do those teams have in common? They won’t be playing long, with all likely home for the playoffs. Most also have in common lazy defense and complacency right now. One exception might Golden State, which is playing very good basketball, they’re simply a good 'over' team because of a run-and-gun style with an excess of talented young offensive players. Also note that Golden State is 23-13 'over' the total at home.

In addition, the dysfunctional Knicks are 23-12 'over' the total on the road, where this group really gives up defensively (is it any wonder Lenny Wilkens couldn’t wait to retire?) Play close attention the rest of the season if the above teams meet, as a low total could be worth pounding the 'over' on.

On the flip side, some teams are very close to being a playoff team but need to make a run. These teams, if focused, can improve defensively at the end of the season, and possibly be worth a look at “underâ€쳌 the total. A good example of that now is the Minnesota Timberwolves. They’ve gone on a bit of a run, trying desperately to catch Denver, and the players and coaches have been talking about playing tougher defense – most important, they are doing it on the court. Notice that the T-Wolves are currently on an 8-2 “underâ€쳌 the total run. But this time of year, you invariably find teams like the Lakers and Knicks, ones that are out of it and don’t care about defense. When they met last week in LA, the Lakers had 90 points after THREE QUARTERS, and the game sailed over the total by 22 points! Good handicappers put the pieces together like this to turn a healthy profit.

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