It’s been a few weeks since I’ve offered some notes and quotes from around the NBA. The end of this hurried and abbreviated regular season is looming – the playoffs start next weekend. It’s time for a 1500 word tour around the league in an effort to identify some “bet-on” and “bet-against” teams between now and the beginning of the postseason.
The Minnesota Timberwolves enter the stretch run of the season on their longest losing streak since their 15 game skid to close out last year. Leading scorer and rebounder Kevin Love has no current timetable to return from his lingering concussion. Point guard Ricky Rubio has been out for months, and his replacement, Luke Ridnour, is dealing with a sprained right ankle that has caused him to miss their last six defeats.
Center Nikola Pekovic made it very clear what Minnesota’s biggest issue is right now: “We need some other players to step up.” But even with 20+ point efforts from JJ Barea, Michael Beasley and Anthony Randolph last Saturday against Oklahoma City, the T-wolves couldn’t snap their losing streak. They did notch a pointspread cover in that loss; only their second ATS victory in their last eleven ballgames.
Michael Beasley was equally frank with his assessment of their current status. "We're just out there trying to be scrappy. Kevin might not be here for the rest of the season. That's 26 points, sometimes 40 points and 20 boards. Everybody has to step up and we're trying to finish this season with a bang." For a team that lost 15 straight to close out the 2011 regular season and 23 out of 24 to close out the 2010 campaign, don’t expect any sort of dramatic turnaround from a franchise that is quite used to tanking at this late stage of the campaign.
While Minnesota is tanking, the lottery bound New Orleans Hornets are playing great basketball night after night. The Hornets posted their third straight win and fifth in seven games on Sunday, beating the Grizzlies by double digits as home underdogs. The Hornets are now 12-4 ATS in their last 16 games, going 8-8 SU, including impressive outright upsets over playoff contenders Memphis, Utah, Denver and the LA Clippers.
The ownership situation for the Hornets has finally been resolved with the league selling the team to New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson. And it’s clear that the players are relieved and excited by the possibilities to come, after playing the vast majority of this season in the equivalent of NBA purgatory. Center Jason Smith: “(We’re) looking forward to good things to come. It feels great to have an actual owner."
The Hornets also finally have their franchise player healthy and back on the floor. Eric Gordon – the centerpiece of the Chris Paul trade last December – has only been healthy for seven games all season. But Gordon is healthy now, and he poured in 25 points to spark their win over Utah last Thursday. Gordon: “I'm trying to help this team and I'm looking forward to what comes in the future. The future's bright here."
I’m not so sure the future is quite as bright for the Orlando Magic these days, with head coach Stan Van Gundy trying to prepare for the real possibility that franchise centerpiece Dwight Howard will be out for an extended period of time dealing with a herniated disk in his back. Howard has missed six games over the last two weeks. Orlando is just 2-4 SU and ATS in those six games, the only wins coming against lottery bound Cleveland and Detroit.
To make matters even worse, Orlando’s replacement at center for the injured Howard, Big Baby Davis, has a bad knee that is expected to force him to the sidelines as well. And forward Hedo Turkoglu – second on the team in minutes behind Howard – suffered a ‘facial fracture’ against the Knicks, sidelined indefinitely.
Beleaguered Van Gundy made it clear that he’s preparing for a potential postseason without Howard or Turkoglu in the lineup. "We're approaching it that the 13 (healthy) guys we have now are who we're going to have the rest of the season and in the playoffs.” Totals bettors should definitely note this Van Gundy quote: “We have found a way to play (offensively without Howard). Our challenge is defensively."
I’ve lived in Las Vegas since 1998, betting the NBA every year since I’ve been here. Just like I do every year, I keep my own NBA power ratings. But something unique has happened this year – I’ve run into the worst NBA team I’ve seen over the past 15 years, both from a power rating and from a ‘visual’ perspective. Ladies and gentlemen, your 2012 Charlotte Bobcats!
Any of the other 29 teams in the NBA can and will beat the Charlotte Bobcats on any night that they show up and play with energy and focus. Charlotte is running on fumes these days, patiently biding their time until this miserable season is finally over. The Bobcats have lost 16 straight games. They have virtually no homecourt advantage whatsoever, dropping nine straight in Charlotte by an average of more than 16 per game, including losses to lottery bound Detroit, Minnesota and Washington by a combined margin of 57 points!
Head coach Paul Silas is letting his son call the shots on many nights, a ‘paid head coach in training’ type of situation that you simply don’t see anywhere else in this league. And Silas has made so many excuses talking about the Bobcats personnel issues, ignoring their complete lack of energy or basketball savvy – the antithesis of New Orleans. Silas latest excuse following their 12 point home loss to an exhausted Celtics team closing out a ‘three games in three nights’ stretch: “One of the problems we have is we don't have post-up people. Gerald Henderson is our only guy and he really shoots a jumper over people and he makes it, but that's about all we have. So you have to play on the outside, run pick and roll a lot. That's the kind of thing we play for."
The Golden State Warriors are a lottery bound team still showing fight despite a barrage of injuries that has left head coach Mark Jackson with a very limited roster. Golden State traded away leading scorer Monta Ellis at the deadline. The key player acquired in the deal – center Andrew Bogut – is out for the year. Franchise centerpiece Stephen Curry has been sitting for more than a month with an ankle injury. Another trade deadline acquisition, Richard Jefferson, has a bum knee. And the latest Warrior to get hurt is their current leading scorer and rebounder, David Lee, likely out for the season with a strained groin.
Despite all the injuries and despite a real benefit to tanking – the Warriors will lose their lottery pick to Utah if they finish out of the Top 7 in the draft – we’ve seen a team starting three rookies (Jeremy Tyler, Klay Thompson and Charles Jenkins) play tough, hard-nosed basketball for weeks. The results don’t lie. Golden State has been a moneymaker for their supporters, 9-5 ATS in their last 14 games, despite notching only three SU wins during that span (just 4-16 SU since trading Ellis).
Klay Thompson has been the most impressive of the Warriors rookie contingent, taking advantage of his extended minutes. Thompson was one of four Warriors to reach 20 points in their competitive, spread covering loss at LA against the Clippers on Sunday. “We're undermanned and undersized, but we fought. There's no quit in us. We've been short-handed all year, so it's a learning experience, especially for us rookies."
The Los Angeles Lakers declined a trade that would have sent Andrew Bynum AND Pau Gasol to Orlando for Dwight Howard earlier in the year. It looks like LA GM Mitch Kupchak was right not to pull the trigger, because right now, Bynum is every bit as good as a healthy Howard. The numbers don’t lie. Since the All-Star break, their stats are indistinguishable, with Bynum averaging 21.3 points (58% shooting), 11.4 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game, compared to Howard’s 21.6 points (61% shooting), 13.2 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game.
With Kobe Bryant getting some much needed rest in anticipation for the postseason, Bynum has stepped up, leading LA to wins in all four games without Kobe. Bynum snared 30 rebounds in a win at San Antonio, and followed that up with a 30 point effort in a win over Denver. In Sunday’s TV showdown against the Mavs, Bynum finished with 23 points (despite a 9-24 shooting effort) and 16 boards; LA’s best player during crunch time.
Head coach Mike Brown, following the OT win over Dallas: “Andrew Bynum was a monster today, an absolute monster…. I enjoyed watching him more today than any other night because of his dominance, or presence, in that lane on both ends of the floor. Every rebound he got, he went and got." Bynum’s won quote following the win: “"It's great (my teammates) have confidence in me. Tonight I couldn't buy a basket, but we got it done somehow."