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NBA Musings

   by Bryan Leonard - 01/23/2006

As we approach the mid-point of the NBA season, this is a good time to examine totals. There are a lot of factors from a handicapping perspective that go into understanding totals. Team defense, coaching, a dominant shot blocking big man, home court can be factors when looking at unders. Such things as coaching philosophy, youth, and depth need to be considered when attempting to identify overs.

Let's take a look at the most prominent over team this season: Seattle. The Sonics started 29-11 over the total. Talk about a handicapping skew! That's almost three out of every four Seattle games going over the total. Why is this? This is a case where an aberration is not taking place, as there are several reasons for this. First, this is not a happy team. Remember that coach Nate McMillan got these guys to overachieve last season, but he left for Portland. A new coach came aboard and a lot of things fell apart, so much so that he was fired and assistant Bob Hill is the new head coach. McMillan's ability to get these guys to play team-oriented basketball and defense has not materialized under the new coaches this season.

In addition, they have decent undersized role playing forwards who can rebound, but no big bodies to act as defensive deterrents. What you're left with is a bunch of scorers who want the ball, essentially. Seattle's defense has been a joke all season, currently allowing 105 points per game and .495% shooting by opponents. Both are the worst marks in the NBA. This is not something that is likely to change anytime soon.

I mentioned youth as a factor, too. This is the case with Toronto and Boston, two teams rebuilding around a slew of young draft picks. Both have good offenses but serious defensive weaknesses. Notice that Toronto allows 103 ppg on the road where they started 13-8 over the total. The Celtics allow 107 ppg on the road where they began 13-7 over the total. Because of their youth, this is a trend that is more likely to continue than for them to suddenly start playing vastly improved defense, especially on the road.

Other times, teams can change in the middle of a season. The young Cavaliers have been working on defense ever since mid-December, with coaches and players admitting that's been going on. Notice that Cleveland carries a 10-3 run under the total into this week.

Coaching philosophy is also a major reason. The Detroit Pistons went from being a strangling defensive team under Larry Brown the last few years, to one that is more relaxed and wide-open offensively under new coach Flip Saunders, who has given this veteran team more freedom to be creative offensively. The new-look Pistons are 13-6 over the total on the road.

The Spurs still bring tough defense under head coach Gregg Popovich, who also still has the tools on the court to carry it out with stoppers like Tim Duncan and Bruce Bowen. San Antonio is 15-6 under the total at home, after being outstanding defensively at home last season, too. Memphis coach Mike Fratello preaches tough defense, and the Grizzlies are 14-5 under the total at home allowing just 84 ppg.

Two NBA teams are suffering offensive problems this season because of a lack of offensive options. Indiana has been plagued by injuries and a suspension and they are 14-7 under the total on the road. Minnesota is still searching for a third offensive option for Kevin Garnett and Wally Szcerbiak, and that is reflected in their 22-16 start under the total.

And sometimes, it's simply the venue. Denver continues to play its best offense at home, partly because visiting teams aren't used to the thin air. Denver averages 106 ppg at home where they started 14-8 over the total. Understanding all the facets of totals, offense, defense and team strengths and weaknesses can help sports bettors identify tangible trends to anticipate winning wagering opportunities.

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