NBA Handicapping: Betting on the Miami Heat Down the Stretch
by Trevor Whenham - 2/28/2014
Earlier this year it became fashionable to question the Miami Heat. They had stumbled out of the gate this year, and were playing generally lethargic basketball. They weren’t covering spreads, and they didn’t seem to care. Dwyane Wade is a shadow of his very best, and it seemed like cracks were forming all over the NBA’s giant. February, though, signaled a change. The question from a betting perspective, then, is whether a strong February means that we can expect more of the dominance we have seen in past years the rest of this season and into the playoffs, or if they are more vulnerable than we are used to.
Here are five factors to consider when pondering that question:
February was pretty impressive: The Heat are coming off a strong month. They went 9-1 in February, though the only loss was an incomprehensible setback at Utah. That would be a good month by any measure, but when you look at what the team faced it’s even more impressive. Seven of the 10 games were played on the road, including six in a row. When you combine that six-game trip with the all-star break, the team went 19 days between games — the longest gap in franchise history. Their three home games in the month also set a franchise record for the fewest they have ever played in a full month. This is a team that had a very good month in less than ideal conditions. While they beat up on some weaklings in the month, there were five nice road wins, too. They crushed Kevin Durant and the Thunder, winning by 22. They also won at the Clippers, Suns, Mavericks, and Warriors.
We’ve seen this before: It would be easier to have serious questions about the Heat this year if this wasn’t so familiar. In each of the last two years they have started out slow, and then they kicked it into gear in February. Each of those seasons ended in a championship. The team is an impressive 32-4 in February over the last three years, and they haven’t lost at home in 15 tries. Last year they started winning in February and didn’t stop until they had won 27 in a row. This team is so experienced and talented at the top end that they know what they can get away with and when they need to find their form in order to be ready for the playoffs.
Defensive intensity ratcheted up: A good sign that this team is getting serious about their play is how they have been playing defense lately. For a team to hold an opponent to 82 or fewer points means that they are playing defense at a very high level. The Heat have done that in each of their last three games — against Oklahoma City, Chicago and New York. The last time they did that as a team was back in 2010. Of course, that doesn’t mean that they are going to play like that in every game or that their defense is going to be consistently dramatically better going forward. It does mean, though, that this team knows what they are capable of and that they are willing to make the sacrifices involved to achieve that. It shows that the team is more than just LeBron James, too He was injured in the fourth quarter of the OKC game, and he missed all of the Chicago game with his broken nose, so the team performed so well without relying just on him.
LeBron is being LeBron: Here’s a trivia question for you. Since April of 2003, how many players have averaged at least 30 points and eight rebounds per month while shooting at least 57 percent from the field? Just one — King LeBron in February. It was a heck of a month, and it made a race of what was turning into a bit of a joke of an MVP battle. Now Kevin Durant has some real competition. When James is in form and playing like this, we all know what that means for his opponents.
Performance against the spread: This team is just 26-28-1 ATS on the season, so they aren’t exactly rewarding bettors. It’s not surprising that they struggle to cover spreads — they are a wildly public team, so if they aren’t playing at a high level, the spreads are just too big to cover with any regularity. In February, though, they were a whole new team to bet on. They have covered each of their last four spreads, and were 7-2-1 ATS on the month. That means that they came into the month at just 19-26 ATS — a remarkable turnaround. A team that was really struggling to meet public expectations is now exceeding them on a regular basis.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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