During February we heard endless conversations about bubble teams. Who is in? Who is out? Who is on the edge? That, of course, was referring to the college basketball tournament. But a new focus on bubble teams is very much on the sports betting scene in March and those are the bubble teams of the NBA playoffs.
This should be taken into account when analyzing the downsides at this time of year. Many teams are simply going through the motions, preparing golf dates instead of postseason plans. But those teams that are still alive, whether fighting for playoff position, division titles or the playoff bubble, may be more motivated.
This is where the general statistics can be less significant. Take the LA Clippers. There is a team that has been terrible on the road all season with 10-24 straight and 12-20 against the spread. Absolute money burners! However, the Clippers are 4-1 ATS in the last five games, despite playing ALL of those on the road. What’s going on? What is happening is desperation as they are in the bubble, not to mention the adjustments.
The Clippers just picked up an impressive 103-89 win at Chicago as a +8 dog. With the victory, the Clippers moved closer to the Golden State Warriors, who still lead by percentage points, for the final postseason spot in the conference. And the Clippers improved to 2-3 SU, 4-1 ATS in a 10-day trip. “We have to win to try to take care of business in this playoff race,” Corey Maggette said.
It is clear that they are much more motivated as time is running out. What’s also interesting is that Maggette is finally getting more playing time, averaging 38 minutes per game over the last nine contests. He even made 14 of 17 free throws in the win at Chicago! That’s significant because Maggette and Clipper coach Mike Dunleavy have had a lot of momentum all season. But now Maggette is getting more playtime and making the most of it.
The Clippers only have 15 games left and would be out of the playoffs if the season ended today, but they are still in the mix after beating the Bulls at home. The team is finally getting serious after losing so much time all season. So again, you can’t look at the overall Clippers road game, it’s more important to look at the recent road game because of all the things I just mentioned that have changed. Being a successful handicapper means being flexible, adapting to changing situations.
Another noteworthy adjustment is the Detroit Pistons. Last season, the first under coach Flip Saunders, they were a dynamic offensive team. Players liked it, but after his surprising blackout in the playoffs, fans and players realized that Larry Brown’s stifling defensive style was more essential to winning than Saunders’ more relaxed and dynamic approach. The Pistons are playing a lot better on defense the last two months. They just kept the Suns at 83 points (22 points below their average) while going 13-6 below their last 19 games total!
Another team that focuses on defense is Cleveland. The Cavaliers’ focus on defense will not waver as coach Mike Brown maintains the team has found its defensive identity, holding opponents to 91 points per game during the 9-1 SU / 9-0-1 ATS streak. Cleveland’s season average of keeping teams at 93 points ranks fifth in the league. Like the bubble teams, there is motivation for the Cavs to overtake Detroit for the Eastern Conference lead now that they are within 1.5 games of the Pistons. The successful handicap consists of carefully analyzing the sport landscape and being flexible enough to adapt to changes. The NBA bubble teams are one of many examples at this time of year.