Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, February 20, 2019 at 9:00 AM
You longtime readers of JIM HURLEY’S HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK know we like to check in on a pet stat periodically in both pro basketball and Major League Baseball. Unbalanced home/road splits can sometimes cause illusions in the middle of the season. At the end, everything balances out (41 at home and on the road in the NBA, 81 apiece in MLB). In the middle, it NEVER is completely balanced.
The stat “Wins Minus Home Games Played” tells you at a glance who the possible pretenders are. Teams who have good records because they’ve played more than half of their games at home see a quick correction. Teams who are good despite playing more games on the road really jump out.
With that in mind, the All-Star Break seems like the perfect time to check the pro basketball numbers. That can allow us to put the first part of the season in context before outlining what to expect down the stretch.
The biggest news in this group is that Boston…already a disappointment…has played four more home games than road games thus far. The schedule is about to get tougher for a team that too many expected to dominate the East. If key Celtics players can’t get on the same page soon, Boston may solidify as a #5 seed that can’t have home court in the playoffs vs. any of the other top threats. (Indiana must be tired of hearing they don’t have a chance!)
Also worth noting that Charlotte and Miami are in better shape to make the brackets than it appears in your morning newspaper. They both have played slightly road-heavy schedules. Detroit has played four more home games than road games. When that evens out, we could see both the Hornets and Heat in the postseason.
New York -16
Orlando has shown some fire lately, so they may be worth a look in betting terms even if this particular stat doesn’t smile on them. We’re more skeptical about Detroit and Washington closing impressively given their inconsistent play. With the “tankers,” this stat doesn’t tell you much unfortunately. The Knicks and Cavs want to lose wherever their games are being played.
Golden State +12
Oklahoma City +10
San Antonio +4
LA Clippers +4
A shocker here, with Portland falling all the way from a #4 seed (with home court advantage) in your morning newspaper down to the bottom of the playoff heap. That’s because the Blazers have played SEVEN more home games than road games…the friendliest schedule in the league. Don’t call the Blazers a possible sleeper until THAT evens out.
This math really throws the door wide open for anything to happen below the current “big three” of GS, Denver, and OKC. Obviously getting position #4 is huge, as is avoiding position #8. We all know Golden State (currently coasting) is well clear of the field. Nobody wants to be on the floor when that extra gear kicks in.
LA Lakers even
New Orleans -2
The Kings and Lakers are very interesting teams. Both are within arm’s reach of the postseason. And, the Lakers have LeBron James returning to action after a long layoff. This stat shows that both are much closer to Portland than everyone realizes…and are capable getting hot enough to pass any slumper.
At the bottom of the spectrum, keep an eye on both New Orleans and Dallas to join the “tankers” category very soon. Again, no reason to fight for the #8 spot when being in the draft is better. Memphis has had some ugly outings recently too. We may see more than a quarter of the league in tank mode in the final month of the season.
The most important lessons today are to be aware of the vulnerability of Boston and Portland. Watch them when action resumes to see if the players acknowledge a sense of urgency.
JIM HURLEY won’t mention specific teams because that’s not fair to his paying clients. But, he will tell you that at least three “contenders” in each conference are about to really lift their games for the drive home…and at least two “mid-level” teams in each (those not on the futures radar but playing good ball) should offer profitable betting value.
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The NBA season resumes Thursday with six games (including Boston/Milwaukee and Houston/Lakers on TNT), then 10 more Friday (including San Antonio/Toronto and Utah/Oklahoma City on ESPN). Of course, college hoops is still rolling strong. How about North Carolina/Duke Wednesday night?! Saturday’s slate is huge. Sunday’s brings Michigan State/Michigan from Ann Arbor.
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