NBA Teams To Watch After All-Star Break
by Trevor Whenham - 02/12/2008
As we head into the All-Star break in the NBA it feels like we have a pretty good handle on which teams are competitive and which ones are just playing out the string. Every year, though, we see teams that quietly improve their performance against the spread after the break. They usually aren't great teams in the first half of the season, and they likely won't be particularly relevant by the time the season ends, but they have the elements that make them a much more profitable, and therefore enjoyable, bet later in the season than they were at the start. This can be caused by players returning by injury, young players coming into their own, a change in coaching or personnel, or a system finally taking hold and making sense. Whatever the reason, it is always nice to be able to spot the teams before they start their rise. Here are four teams that seem poised for a stronger second half from a NBA betting perspective:
Minnesota - This is the one team on the list that has already shown a significantly improved recent form. They are only 23-26 ATS on the season, but they have quietly covered eight of their last 11. That comes in part because they are getting healthy, and will be in good shape if Theo Ratliff returns to action after the All-Star break as expected. Mostly, though, it's just a case of a ridiculously young team finally learning to play together and trust each other. They might not have world-class talent, but they have some solid young players, and every game they play makes them more ready for NBA action. As the team continues to mature they have a good recipe for continued success - they are covering more than they are winning, so the public won't catch on quickly, they have such a bad record that casual fans will assume that they will lose, and the overall public opinion is that they are terrible since giving up Garnett. That should all lead to lines that are fatter than they need to be, and lots of covers for a prideful young squad.
Miami - For the sake of my credibility I want to make it clear that I know that this is an awful team, and I am not suddenly expecting miracles. I do think, though, that there is lots of room for this team to grow ATS, and that it is reasonable to expect that they might. The public will see the departure of Shaq as a sign that the team has given up. That may be the case, but Shaq wasn't a huge contributor or a positive locker room presence for the team. In Shawn Marion they got a very legitimate starter, and one who will be happy to have new surroundings. He is a bigger impact on the lineup than an unhappy, unhealthy Shaq has been. If Marion and Wade can co-exist, which is not guaranteed given Marion's attitude issues, then they could thrive off of each other and play better than they have been to this point. They won't make the playoffs or anything else respectable like that, but they should be able to cover a few games, and they should be able to do it without attracting a lot of attention.
Portland - The Blazers weren't as good as they appeared at the start of the season but they aren't as bad as they seem now, either. They've covered just once in their last 10. Despite that slide, though, they are still slightly profitable on the season. It might sound blindly optimistic, but it is also inevitable - this team will find their form again. They won't reel off 17 wins in 18 starts again in all likelihood, but they are too talented to struggle the rest of the way. All this rough patch will do is turn off the public and make the lines more reasonable down the stretch.
Atlanta - If the playoffs were to start today then the Hawks would be the No. 7 seed in the East. You may have to read that sentence a few times because it seems so odd and impossible but I promise that it is absolutely true. Much like the Ottawa Senators in hockey, or the San Diego Chargers in football, a team that keeps stockpiling high draft picks has to become competitive at some point. While it's too soon to say that Atlanta has turned the corner, they have certainly improved, and they have lots of good young talent. It has been a long time since the franchise has been in a playoff race of any description, and we really have no idea how they will respond, but something about this team makes me believe that they could pull it off and stay strong enough to stay in position. We've seen it with teams like Golden State in the recent past - the promise of a playoff spot after a long absence can be a tremendous motivator. If the Hawks can understand and embrace that then they have the potential to be kind to bettors down the stretch.