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Submitted by Kelso Sturgeon on Saturday, February 11, 2017 at 8:38 AM

The Washington Wizards are on the move in the NBA’s Eastern Conference playoff race. The Wizards have won 16 of their last 19 and moved into the #3 spot in the East. That stretch of games includes wins over Boston and Atlanta, two teams Washington is jousting directly with for playoff position in the battle to be the prime challenger to Cleveland. And speaking of the Cavs...the Wizards took LeBron & Co to overtime on Monday before dropping a thrilling 140-135 final.

All that glitters isn’t necessarily gold though, especially in the cutthroat world of NBA betting that I’ve navigated for four decades-plus. That game against the Cavs, in a pure basketball sense, was heartening for those who believe in the Wizards. It was also an ATS loss—playing on their home floor, Washington was only a (+1) underdog.

The trend continued last night in another nationally televised game, this time against Indiana. Washington won 112-107, but narrowly missed the (-5.5) number. Even though the spread record overall is a nice 30-23, the Wizards have cost their backers each of the last three games.

Part of this is some bad luck—the Cleveland game goes to OT and costs Washington a cover. The Indiana game misses by a hook. In the course of a long season, that’s going to happen. But it also suggests the market was just waiting for the Wizards to kick into gear and was ready to immediately adjust when they finally did.

Dig a little further into the ATS numbers and you see a couple more trends. The Wizards are decidedly better at home—19-11, against an 11-12 vig mark away from D.C. In a related point, they have a similar split when it comes to playing as the favorite and being the dog. They also play more games to the Over, by a 33-20 count.

This suggests Washington is an “orchid” team—they flourish in the sunshine. When all is going well, the backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal are running the floor, hitting their shots and able to roll along to wins and covers. When things don’t go as well, or they face a tough road opponent, it’s a different story.

That gives concern to Washington’s value in the playoffs. A smart futures player has to look at the possibilities that the Cavs are one torn hamstring from LeBron from coming back to the pack and changing the Eastern Conference picture, much the same way Derrick Rose blowing out his knee did so in 2012. The Wizards are a 15-1 bet right now to win the East, but if they can’t win on the road it won’t do them much good.

The tests keep coming for this Washington team. At the end of February, Golden State comes to town. The games I’m really focused on though, are a road trip to Indiana on February 16 and a game at Toronto on March 1. Those are the games that will tell us if the Wizards can become road-tough, or if they’re just another orchid.

 

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