Several weeks ago, we wrote that we'd be laying off the Lakers and Celtics
until injured players returned and these veteran teams began to gel.
("NBA Minus, Plus, and About to Change
," December 9, here: http://spaces.covers.com/blog/gfoss59/NBA/12092012-NBA-plus-minus-and-about-to-change.html).We were also
looking for either the coaches, or veteran leaders, or both, to issue a little bit of a kick of a pants
into the rear ends of players like Dwight Howard, and even Rajon Rondo (little bit of a matador on defense this year) -- a cri de couer to "play like your hair's on fire."
Well, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol are back; Avery Bradley isn't; and Kobie Bryant, Doc Rivers, Kevin Garnett, and Mike D'Antoni have all placed their feet in the desired location to rally the laggards on their respective teams.
Accordingly, we dipped a toe in the water
and took the Lakers against Golden State, though not against the Knicks, last week -- and the Celtics against the Nets.
But is it safe to make a systematic ATS bet on either team in the coming weeks?
In a word, no, though we generally like each team to out-perform expectations heading into January. In other words, we're looking for reasons not to back them in any given game.
The Celtics-Nets game was a no-brainer. Boston was motivated by the Rondo-Humphries mini-brawl in their last meeting, and Brooklyn's general uppity-ness and physicality in recent meetings. Plus they were playing against a team in turmoil, witness the firing of excellent coach Avery Johnson. Tonight, the Celtics take on another uppity team, the Clippers
-- this one, with more substance than the Nets. Nevertheless, we like the Celtics +8 tonight. And, in general, expect them to overperform as big underdogs against hot teams, or teams like Miami and the Knicks who, let's face it, the Celtics hate.
This is also a motivational matchup for Rondo, who plays well against Chris Paul. (Especially in win-loss terms. Statistically, each of them often drags own the other's offensive stats -- and Paul generally emerges as a marginal winner. But with an eight point spread, that's an advantage Rondo.)
We're a lot more cautious when the Celts play a weaker team, especially at home. I.e., we're generally going against Boston when they're a prohibitive favorite.
Pretty much the same observation applies to the Lakers.
Different team, similar dynamic. The return of Steve Nash
fixes one problem, and makes the Lakers much better. But as we all saw last night, it doesn't fix Dwight Howard's back, his related motivation problem, or the team's weakness on defense.
"Zen, schmen," as a friend of ours who covers the NBA put it. "Kobie needs to get on Dwight Howard and stay on him."
"If that drives him out of LA, he was never 'in' to begin with."
Even when they were playing well in 2009-2010, the Laker's were a betting nightmare, the masters of winning games by 9 points with a 10 point spread. They're the New York Football Giants of basketball, team ennui -- playing up to but also down to the level of their opposition.
But if there is an opportunity to bet the Celtics and Lakers regularly, it will be for a few weeks in January,
before the spreads for each of these teams catches up and their large fan bases start overbetting them again.We like 'em both
at this point, with a little powder dry for the return of under-rated defensive stopper Bradley for Boston, and a little bit more fire, or better back masseuse, for Dwight Howard.