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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Monday, February 27, 2012 at 9:13 AM

The NBA All-Star Break is the perfect time to sit back and take stock of what's been happening so far in the season. Far too many gamblers just take the time off from thinking...figuring they'll study the games once they're back on the schedule Tuesday. Well, the Monday college schedule is very light, so you owe it to yourself to do a little digging and see what you can learn about what might be ahead in the second half of the NBA season.

Our favorite stat for taking pollution out of the standings is"Wins Minus Home Games Played." The schedules for many teams have been unbalanced this season...with some playing a few more home games than road games, and others spending more time on the road than at home. Once all 66 games are in the books at the end of the season, the home-road splits will have equalized. But, until then, you need to be making mental adjustments on the fly about teams who have faced easy or hard schedules.

We want to quickly note that you also want to pay attention to the East/West split. The East has five horrible teams right now...and many of the Eastern contenders have padded their records because you play a lot more games within your own conference than you do outside of it. There are only two horrible teams in the West...meaning many Western teams have played some really grueling schedules. This won't be an issue for us today as we're focusing mostly on how the playoff picture is going to shape up within each conference. Just remember that the East isn't as good as it looks below in the big picture, and will perform worse when playing the West than these numbers would suggest.

You can ask Philadelphia about how hard it is for mid-level contenders in the East to play well against contenders in the West!

Today, we're focusing on home-road splits. Let's see how everyone measures up in Wins Minus Home Games Played through the All-Star Break...

ATLANTIC DIVISION
Philadelphia +1
New York -2
Boston -4
Toronto -6
New Jersey -6

Hello! This division is much worse than people realize because so many teams have played home friendly schedules AND soft Eastern schedules. Philly has played 19 home games and 15 road games through the Break...and it was even more imbalanced before a few recent road games. Boston is at 19 and 13, which means they'll have six extra road games from this point forward. A recent slump has the Celtics below .500 overall for the season. Things could get ugly quick for that disintegrating team. New York is definitely playing better with Jeremy Lin. They sure had some home games vs. weak opposition during that media storm. They'll be playing three extra road games from this point forward.

CENTRAL DIVISION
Chicago +12
Indiana +7
Milwaukee -2
Cleveland -4
Detroit -7

Chicago's playing championship caliber basketball, particularly on those rare occasions when all of their starters are healthy. They've played just 15 home games this year, compared to 20 road games. They're 27-8 anyway! You can really see how bad the Atlantic Division is by comparing them to what Chicago and Indiana are doing here in the Central. Of course, this is only two more teams on the plus side of the equation. The East is just awful this year!

SOUTHEAST DIVISION
Miami +10
Atlanta +5
Orlando +4
Washington -10
Charlotte -10

Atlanta's the only relevant team here with an unbalanced split. Once again they've been playing so badly vs. good teams lately that it's hard to take them seriously as a playoff threat. They'll MAKE the playoffs for sure...and they may line up with Orlando again who they match up well with. But, that +5 mark has been influenced by a lot of games vs. horrible teams. Washington and Charlotte have been a special kind of horrible this season. Interesting that Michael Jordan wearing a suit has connections with both. Is he trying to sabotage the league?!

EASTERN PLAYOFF PICTURE
Chicago +12
Miami +10
Indiana +7
Atlanta +5
Orlando +4
Philadelphia +1

That's only six teams on the right size of zero...and eight teams will make the playoffs. Boston and New York are still well-positioned in the overall standings to get in. But, they'd better keep winning or a healthy Kyrie Irving might lead Cleveland into the mix. Tough to see anyone besides Chicago or Miami winning the East in the Spring. And, if you're only focused on recent form...it's tough to see anyone beating Miami! The Heat have been on a rampage in recent weeks...one that shows that Miami at its peak is better than Chicago at its peak in our view. Both team's peaks are WAY ahead of the rest of the East.

Moving to the West...

NORTHWEST DIVISION
Oklahoma City +11
Denver +1
Portland even
Minnesota -3
Utah -3

Some surprises here. Utah has had some good results, but they've played 18 home games and only 14 road games. Minnesota's playing .500 ball for the year, but has a stunning 20-14 split in favor of home games. Will they be able to win the extra road games that are on tap soon? Oklahoma City has been slightly road heavy, which has hidden how well they've played overall. Note also that OKC has had a MUCH tougher schedule than Miami or Chicago if you're thinking about the whole league. For the first half of the season...OKC can make a reasonably good case as best team overall. Of course, Miami has been so good during its recent tear that it seems futile to make that case!

SOUTHWEST DIVISION
San Antonio +10
Dallas +2
Houston +2
Memphis +1
New Orleans -9

The Spurs have kept themselves off the radar because they didn't set the world on fire at first, then Manu Ginobili got hurt. He came back, and the team played championship caliber ball until he got hurt again. The Spurs are now CLEARLY in a"big four" with OKC and the two Eastern powers based on this stat, and based on what's been obvious on the floor. Too many pundits are lumping them in with Dallas in discussions right now as"smart Texas teams who have a chance." The Spurs are way above the Mavs once you adjust for home road splits. San Antonio has played 14 home games and 20 road games. Dallas has played 19 home games and 15 road games. Huge difference!

PACIFIC DIVISION
LA Clippers +4
LA Lakers +4
Sacramento -1
Phoenix -2
Golden State -5

A few stories here. The Lakers are supposedly having a sluggish season...yet they've registered at a respectable +4 despite playing a tough schedule. They have fewer games against the dregs of the league than anyone else, and they've played more road games than home games. We're likely to see a great race between the Lakers and Clippers from this point forward. And, we're looking at teams who currently grade out as 3rd and 4th best (tie) in the West in this stat.

Sacramento jumps off the page here. They're supposed to be a patsy, how can they be so close to zero? Well, 12 home games and 21 road games has a lot to do with that. This is a BIG deal! Sacramento is positioned to become a surprise team in the second half of the season as they've settled on more of a rotation (sorry Jimmer) just before a bunch of home games come up. We're not suggesting they're playoff caliber or anything crazy like that. They're probably better than people realize though, given this burdensome early schedule.

Golden State grades out very poorly here. That will surprise many of you. They've played 18 home games and 12 road games, yet have a losing record. It's only going to get worse when the schedule balances out. This stat of ours helps you balance out those schedules before the games are played. Mark Jackson is not having a successful year as the new coach. Too many starters don't know how to guard people.

WESTERN PLAYOFF PICTURE
Oklahoma City +11
San Antonio +10
LA Clippers +4
LA Lakers +4
Dallas +2
Houston +2
Denver +1
Memphis +1
Portland even

Only eight teams will make the playoffs in the West, and we currently have nine at dead even or better. A lot of drama left in the West this year in terms of who makes the playoffs and where everyone is seeded. Once again, the Western brackets will be great, while the East will likely be anticlimactic until the conference finals.

That wraps up today's look at one of our pet stats. The NBA resumes Tuesday with a nine game schedule. JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK will be very busy this week in both the pro's and the college's. Game day selections go up a few hours before first tip every day. You can sign up for longterm packages that take you through MARCH MADNESS or the NBA PLAYOFFS. Call 1-800-323-4453 for more details.

Back with you Tuesday to preview the Horizon League tournament. Yes...we have brackets in February! The first round in the Horizon kicks off the college postseason...and we'll do our best to preview every single conference tournament as it pops up. Note that the West Coast and Ohio Valley tournaments begin Wednesday, the Missouri Valley begins Thursday, and the Colonial, West Coast, Southern, and Mid-Atlantic Conferences all begin Friday. Visit the NOTEBOOK daily for previews.

FASTEN YOUR SEAT BELTS FANS...IT'S GOING TO BE A WILD AND PROFITABLE RIDE!

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