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NBA Handicapping: Teams Better than Record Indicates
by - 1/18/2013

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John Wall of the Washington Wizards

Unsophisticated NBA bettors will assume that the record of a team is a good indicator of how good a team is — or how they are likely to perform the rest of the way through the season. That’s not always the case. In fact, the record of a team has the potential to be extremely misleading. Here’s a look at four NBA teams with records that aren’t necessarily indicative of what we can expect from them going forward — of what the teams really are, in other words.

Miami Heat (25-12, 18-19 against the spread)

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Despite having the best record in the Eastern Conference, the Heat have, in many ways, been a disappointment this year. At home they are as deadly as you would expect — 16-3, and a nicely profitable 11-8 ATS. They have been a different and far-less-impressive team on the road, though. Their 9-9 record is far below what it should be, and their 7-11 ATS mark more than negates the home profits. They are playing without real urgency or focus unless they really want to, and they don’t look like a championship team right now. There is no reason to panic, of course. They are by far the most talented team in the conference, and they are still in good position. We can learn what to expect from this team by looking at last year, too. In the lockout-shortened season they were an underwhelming 18-15 away from home, and they cost bettors money at 32-34 ATS. Of course, despite the relative disappointment of the regular season, they went on to win the championship. This year, then, it would likely be a mistake to expect this team to be dramatically better to bet on this year — especially on the road. It would be just as much of a mistake to assume that will translate to the postseason, though.

Atlanta Hawks (22-16, 15-22-1 ATS)

Atlanta’s record is solid — they are second in their division and would be the fourth seed if the playoffs started tomorrow. It’s not hard to make the argument, though, that they aren’t as good as that record suggests. For starters, while they are a strong 13-6 at home, they are below .500 on the road. Top teams — with the clear exception of the Heat — can’t be that bad away from home. More significantly, while they are winning a lot of games they aren’t covering many spreads, so they aren’t as strong as the public thinks that they are. While they are the second-best team in the division, they are just fourth in terms of ATS record. Given that Orlando, Charlotte and Washington are all bad teams this year, that’s just not acceptable -- and it makes it hard to believe that this team is as good as their record.

Washington Wizards (7-29, 20-14-2 ATS)

The Wizards are really bad — as their record and their nearly endless losing streak suggests. Given their struggles, it has been very easy for the public to be negative about them — and to bet against them as a result. What’s surprising, though, is that despite their ability to lose almost any game they play, they are actually the fourth most profitable team in the league. That means that while they are not a good team, they aren’t nearly as bad as the public thinks they are. With John Wall healthy and back in the fold, they should be able to score more points, and that could make them even more effective at covering spreads — unless they start winning with any regularity and the public starts taking notice. They have won three of their last four — including a win over Oklahoma City — so that is a real concern at this point.

New Orleans Hornets (13-26, 21-18 ATS)

The Hornets have the second worst record in the Western Conference behind only the Suns, and they have particularly struggled against their own conference — 6-16. Despite that, though, they have actually turned a small profit against the spread this year. It’s not enough to get excited about, but it is a pretty good indicator that the public doesn’t quite understand this team — and that they aren’t quite as bad as the public assumes. With a young team built around a rookie, it only makes sense that they will get at least a little bit more competitive as time passes. Since the public already underestimates them, they have the possibility to really deliver profits as time passes.

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