Thursday, February 23, 2006
Although, the Western Conference is so much better than the East, the best team in the NBA resides on top of the Central Division. The Detroit Pistons were the only team to get to the break with single-digit losses. The Pistons feature the most experienced and sturdy starting five, with Richard Hamilton, Chauncey Billups, Tayshaun Prince and Rasheed and Ben Wallace.
The only other team with a chance to represent the East in the title game is the Miami Heat, led by Shaquille O'Neal and Dwyane Wade. Anytime you have that combination, you're a threat. In addition, the Heat have shown they can win on the road. The LeBron James led Cleveland Cavaliers are the only other team in the conference to finish 10 games over .500 at the break.
The New Jersey Nets lead the Atlantic Division with a 29-23 mark. It looks like the Nets will be the third seed in the conference, while the Cavaliers will take the fourth spot. The top four places look like locks. The remainder of playoff teams will all be around the .500 mark. The exception is the eighth and final spot, which will probably be a team playing under .500. If the playoffs were to start now, the Philadelphia 76ers would get in with a record two games below .500.
The teams looking like outcasts include Boston, Toronto, New York, Chicago, Orlando, Atlanta and Charlotte. The Knicks, Hawks and Bobcats will continue to battle for the worst record in the league.
The Western Conference is loaded, especially the Southwest Division where the Dallas Mavericks and World Champion San Antonio are doing battle for the top spot. Both teams have been proven winners on the road, as both finished the break with 19 wins away from home. The Memphis Grizzlies are looking like a playoff team, as are the surprising New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets.
The Pacific Division is led by the Phoenix Suns, which continue to win games despite not having Amare Stoudemire for the entire season. The All-Star center is expected to return some time next month. Both Los Angeles teams are playing well, with the Clippers finally heading toward the playoffs with a legitimate club. The Lakers will need to have a hot second half to make the postseason.
The only team in the Northwest Division that looks like a playoff contender is the Denver Nuggets. The rest of the conference is made up of disappointments. Minnesota, Seattle and Portland seem to be out of reach, while Utah has a shot with a strong second half.
The Western Conference playoffs should be a blast, with several great matchups. If the regular season ended today, the matchup of No.1 versus No. 8 would be the Dallas Mavericks against the Kobe Bryant-led Lakers. Even the Mavericks would have to admit being a bit scared of that first round opponent.
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Wednesday, February 22, 2006
The New York Mets have power, speed, the deepest rotation in the National League East and closer Billy Wagner to apply the finishing touches.
That's more than enough to make the Mets, who won just 83 games last season and finished seven games behind Atlanta in the division, the 5/2 favorites to win the NL pennant. That's according to odds posted at the Palms sports book in Las Vegas.
If the 'chalk' holds up, fans in the Big Apple can get ready for another 'subway series'. The New York Yankees are 2/1 favorites to win the American League pennant at The Palms.
Mets general manager Omar Minaya has been the busiest wheeler-dealer in baseball this winter. The addition of left-handed power hitter Carlos Delgado, and proven contact-hitter Paul LoDuca, will serve the offense well.
Manager Willie Randolph is keeping his fingers crossed that ace Pedro Martinez stays healthy and that Tom Glavine duplicates the success he had after last season’s All-Star break.
Atlanta has won 14 straight NL-East titles, and there's certainly no reason to believe lightning can't strike again. The Braves wouldn't be 16/1 to win the World Series and 9/2 to win the pennant if they had a lockdown closer.
The Yankees are 2/1 choices to win the AL pennant at The Palms. New York is an aging team that didn't do much in the offseason to improve its starting rotation. But the Yankees still have one of the most potent offenses on the planet, despite Jorge Posada going downhill and Gary Sheffield being injury prone.
Skipper Joe Torre is counting on 42-year-old Randy Johnson and 37-year-old Mike Mussina to fill the two top spots in his rotation. Shawn Chacon, who looked like a different pitcher after coming to New York from Colorado, could be a solid 15-game winner at the back of the rotation if he continues to improve.
New York may be the baseball capital, but the Windy City isn't far behind. The defending champion Chicago White Sox are a close second choice to win the pennant at 5/2, while the Cubs are third choices in the NL at 4/1.
Since the Pale Hose didn't rest on their laurels in the offseason, they are in very good shape to repeat. The momentum from Chicago's 11-1 postseason run continued in the offseason when it acquired slugger Jim Thome and starter Javier Vazquez and resigned Paul Konerko.
Ever optimistic Cubs fans think this could be their year after Boston and the White Sox ended long championship droughts the past two seasons. There's no doubt Chicago can contend after last year's 79-win fourth place division finish if its starting pitchers stay healthy.
Defending NL champ Houston has so many questions still to be answered that it is listed at 8/1 to win the pennant and 22/1 to win the World Series.
The Astros still have Andy Pettitte and Roy Oswalt at the top of their rotation, but Roger Clemens may not be back until May 1, if ever. Houston didn't do much to improve an offense that finished near the bottom in 2005 in many offensive categories.
Boston, just one year removed from winning the title, isn't getting much respect. The Red Sox are 11/1 to win the World Series and 13/2 to capture the pennant.
The Red Sox are a team in transition and could be on the decline. Skipper Terry Francona has a good rotation on paper, but it has question marks. Josh Beckett, acquired when Florida conducted a winter fire sale, has dominant stuff and should emerge as the Red Sox' ace.
Toronto made almost as many offseason moves as the Mets and this could be the year it makes a bona fide run in the AL East. The Jays bolstered both the front of their rotation and the bullpen with the addition of A.J. Burnett and B.J Ryan.
Toronto now has a rotation topped by Roy Halladay, with Burnett, Josh Towers and lefties Ted Lilly and Gustavo Chacin that will help them compete with the Yankees and Red Sox. The Blue Jays opened at 40/1 to win the title, but that price soon dropped to 30/1.
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Monday, February 20, 2006
No. 13 Boston College was the only top-25 team to not play over the weekend and NINE of the 24 in action, fell. The highest ranked team to lose was No. 6 Texas, which lost at Oklahoma State on Sunday, 80-61. The nation's No. 8 through No. 11 teams also lost, as Tennessee, Pittsburgh, Florida and West Va all came up losers. Of the five losing teams among the nation's top-11, only 11th ranked West Va lost to a ranked opponent, losing to No. 1 U Conn on Saturday (81-75).
Maybe the weekend's biggest loser was No. 24 Bucknell, ranked for the first time in school history. The Bison played at Northern Iowa on Saturday, in the most anticipated game of ESPN's BracketBuster extravaganza. Bucknell blew chances to seal the game at the end of regulation and again near the end of the first overtime, before losing 65-61 in double-OT and ending its 12-game winning streak . However, the loss was not a league game, so Buknell remains one of the nation's few remaining teams still unbeaten in conference play.
Penn, of the Ivy League, was not as lucky. The Quakers had opened 7-0 in league play (winning by an average of 23.1 PPG) but lost at Columbia on Friday night, 59-57. The Lions won the game on a tip-in with just two seconds remaining. Penn won at Cornell 67-56 on Saturday but its loss on Friday leaves only FIVE Division I schools still unbeaten in conference play.
Last year only Pacific of the Big West (18-0) finished unbeaten in conference games, while two years ago, Austin Peay (16-0 in the OVC), Gonzaga (14-0 in the WCC) and ST Joe's (16-0 in the A-10) accomplished the feat. Joining Bucknell as schools still unbeaten in conference play this year, are Duke (13-0 in the ACC), George Washington (12-0 in the A-10), Gonzaga (11-0 in the WCC) and Memphis (10-0 in C-USA).No. 2 Duke, which should be No.1 later today when the new poll comes out, beat Miami-Florida on Sunday, 92-71. JJ Redick scored 30 points (his school-record 13th 30-plus game this year) and became the school's all-time leading scorer. He's
No. 2 in the nation this year in scoring, averaging 28.9 PPG, and is just 30 points behind the ACC's all-time career points leader, Dickie Hemric of Wake Forest.
No. 5 Gonzaga beat Loyola-Marymount on Saturday (79-70), as the nation's leading scorer, Adam Morrison (29.4 PPG), scored a career-high 44 points. It was Gonzaga's 13th straight win, tying them with No. 3 Memphis (which won at Tulane 105-65) for the second-longest current winning streak in the country. Memphis is 10-0 on the road this year, the only Division I school unbeaten in "true" road games. The nation's longest current winning streak belongs to No. 7 George Washington. The Colonials won at Richmond on Saturday (64-51), for their 14th straight win.
Just THREE schools entered the weekend winless in conference play. Texas State of the Southland Conference ended a 12-game losing streak and picked up its first conference win of the year (now 1-11) by easily winning at home over Texas-San Antonio, 81-57. The news was not as good for South Florida, as the Bulls extended their school-record losing streak to 14 games and dropped to 0-12 in the Big East, when they lost at home to Rutgers, 65-51. The Citadel, 0-13 in the Southern Conference, did not play over the weekend but hosts Furman tonight at 7:15 ET. The Bulldogs are nine-point underdogs with a total of 137. It's one of just 12 games on tonight's college 'board' and is surely far from the most interesting. Three games are on TV, the first two on ESPN and the final one on ESPN2.
No. 11 West Va (18-7) is at Syracuse (7:00 ET), where the Mountaineers are favored by one point with a total of 140. West Va won its first eight Big East games but is just 1-3 since. Syracuse opened 15-2 but then lost four straight games (three to top-10 opponents) and comes into this game 18-8 overall and 6-6 in the Big East.No. 19 Oklahoma is 17-6 (8-4) and visits Texas Tech (14-12 / 6-6) at 9:00 ET. Oklahoma won in Norman 60-48 (Jan 21) in the first meeting this year but Tech is 12-3 at home this season. However, the Red Raiders are 0-5 vs ranked opponents this year, losing by an average of 21.4 PPG. Oklahoma is favored by four points with a total of 130.
No. 5 Gonzaga travels to Malibu tonight at 12:00 midnight ET to take on Pepperdine. The Bulldogs own a current 13-game winning streak (wins have come by an average margin of 16.7 PPG) and have won 20 straight games in the WCC. The Waves, who have lost eight straight to Gonzaga, will have to play without their leading scorer, freshman Michael Gerrity (14.8). Gonzaga is favored by 11 1/2 points with a total of 151 1/2.
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Tuesday, February 14, 2006
One thing to keep in mind is that we are approaching the point where some teams are more motivated than others.
Some of the reasons for this include injuries, personnel, coaching and postseason races at stake. Take the New York Knicks, for example. On the surface, the Knicks are not a team one can look at and assume they are going to pack it in the rest of the season. The main reason is that their head coach, first-year coach Larry Brown, has a long track record of getting the most out of his players. This guy can teach defense, motivate players and he understands the dynamics on the court enough to make changes to try and fix problems.
He also has an NBA ring (just two years ago with the Pistons) and has taken many teams to the playoffs. He's an excellent NBA coach. Just last month he took a chance by putting rookie David Lee into the starting lineup and asked him to be a role player, boxing out on the boards and grabbing rebounds. And Lee excelled in this role, helping the team. However, there are a lot of problems with this team. The defense is awful, allowing opponents to shoot over 46%, fifth-worst in the league. Teams ranked worse than New York in that category include Toronto, Seattle, Atlanta and Charlotte. None of those teams are going to the playoffs.
In addition, the Knicks allow 101 PPG, third worst in the NBA. Brown is very good at teaching defense, of course, but there's only so much a coach can do. You need talent on the court! His best offensive force, Stephon Marbury, is out until after the All Star break with a bad shoulder. But the bottom line is, how is this team performing? The Knicks are 1-15 straight up and 4-12 against the spread the last 16 games! They have been overvalued all season and are really going in the tank of late. Their defense has been so bad they have been money-makers over the total, at 16-9 over at home and 16-9 over on the road. Sports bettors need to look at teams like this and keep tabs on whether they are likely to get better, remain the same, or even get worse.
The Seattle Sonics are kind of a mirror-image of the Knicks. They are underachievers without a defense. They are already on their second coach of the season and not playing any better. Seattle is 7-16 SU and 6-17 ATS the last 23 games! Are they likely to get better? Nothing short of bringing in a new coach to kick some butt is likely to change things. Also note that the ‘over’ is 20-5 in Seattle’s first 25 home games.
New Orleans is a team of young players and limited talent. However, it’s impressive how much rookie Chris Paul has meant to this team. He left his college team and they fell apart. And after joining New Orleans, the Hornets have played better than anyone expected. He appears to be a special player, one who makes the others around him much better, like a Tim Duncan or a Jason Kidd. The Hornets are 11-5 ATS the last 16 games! As long as Paul is healthy and in the lineup, this is a group that may continue to overachieve. This is why examining recent spread history is so important. Trying to figure out WHY these trends are taking place can help identify future wagering opportunities.
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Monday, February 13, 2006
Throw away those scouting reports on the Utah Jazz. Carlos Boozer, who last wore a Jazz uniform on Feb. 14, 2005, saw limited action over the weekend.
Boozer's return to the lineup could completely change the course of Utah's season. A healthy Boozer significantly boosts the Jazz' inside game, something that has been missing, especially over the last month.
Utah had failed to score 30 points in the paint four times in its last six games prior to Friday, going 1-3. That's been a season-long trend, as the Jazz are 3-9 when they fail to collect 30 points in the paint.
With or without Boozer, Utah always gives the Los Angeles Lakers a tough time. The Western Conference rivals conclude their season series Monday at the Staples Center.
The Jazz have won six of their last nine versus the Lakers - including two of three this season – and have cashed eight of nine. Utah upset Los Angeles in its first visit of the season as three-point dogs, 98-94, cashing for the fifth straight time on the road.
Six of the last seven series shootouts have been on the high side, while the teams have eclipsed the total in the last three meetings in Los Angeles.
Trends and angles for the remainder of the Monday menu appear below.
SPURS at CAVS
Cleveland was humbled by 26-points at San Antonio in the initial clash this season. The Cavaliers bounced back at home last year after a 19-point drubbing in Texas to lose by only two. The Spurs have won six of the last seven series encounters, dropping two of three spread decisions at Quicken Loans Arena.
BLAZERS at CATS
Portland trounced Charlotte as 9 1/2-point home favorites last season, 101-89, and escaped with a narrow win as five-point road favorites in the rematch, 80-77. Both meetings slipped below the closing total.
WIZARDS at HORNETS
Washington has lost five straight road meetings against New Orleans with four of the setbacks coming by nine points or more. The Hornets will be looking to avenge a loss at the MCI Center in the initial clash this season as 4 1/2-point dogs, 110-99. Gilbert Arenas scored 33 points on that occasion. Washington will be playing just its second road game since the first of February. The Wizards have come up short in four of their last six as road underdogs. Seven of the last 10 series tussles and four of five on the Hornets' court have zipped 'over'.
RAPTORS at T-WOLVES
Toronto swept two-games from Minnesota last season, winning at the Target Center as 8 1/2-point dogs, 100-91, and holding serve as seven-point home pups, 96-90. Four of the last five showdowns have been on the low side.
KNICKS at MAVS
Dallas isn't apt to take New York lightly after dropping the first meeting this season at The Garden, 117-115. The Mavericks have cashed five of seven versus the Knicks, though they failed to get the green at home last season as nine-point favorites while winning, 103-101. Dallas has won nine straight at home and cashed six of its last seven as home favorites. Four of five series challenges have bounced 'over'.
GRIZZLIES at WARRIORS
Memphis has won nine of 12 versus Golden State, including four of six on the road. The Grizzlies will be playing the finale of a seven-game trip. The Warriors head home after playing their last three on the highway. Golden State has won three of its last four in Oakland, though it is just 1-4 against the spread as home underdogs. Memphis prevailed as 5 1/2-point home favorites in the first clash of the season, 104-94. The teams have topped the total in the last four series battles.
Thursday, February 02, 2006
The Super Bowl has a number of variants not associated with your every day NFL game. Teams have two weeks of rest and time to prepare. Of course, the game is being played on a neutral field. It's no longer the case as it was back in the 80s and the early years of the 90s when it was simply a matter of putting one's money down on the team from the NFC Conference. The NFC does however hold a 21-18 SU and 20-16-3 ATS edge all time, and has covered the spread in the last three Super Bowls.
From a statistical view point, four key areas have more relevance to who will win than anything else. These area's are, time of possession, rushing yards, passing yards per attempt and turnovers. Let's take a look.
Teams that have possession of the football for more than 30 minutes are 29-10 SU and 27-9-3 ATS.
Teams who have more rushing yards are 32-7 SU and 28-8-3 ATS.
Teams that gain more yards per pass attempt are 34-5 SU and 29-7-3 ATS.
Teams that lose possession of the football by either fumbling or having it intercepted less often than their opponents are 37-2 SU and 31-5-3 ATS.
When any team has an advantage in at least three of the above four stats, it is 34-1 SU and 29-5 1 ATS. Super Bowl history shows us that a team had all four statistical edges just 22 times. The record during that period is 22-0 SU and 20-1-1 ATS.
That said, New England had the edge last year in all four stats yet were the only team not to cover the number.
It is often said that defense wins championships and those words still hold true more often than not. Over the last 20 years, the team winning the Super Bowl averages just under 31 points per game. Not often a team wins without scoring 21 points or more. The last team to do it was Pittsburgh back in Super Bowl IX when they defeated Minnesota 16-6.
This is only the fifth time in the last 21 years that a team is a less than a six-point favorite.
The total has been set by the sports books at around 47 points. There isn’t a surprise there, as the last 20 Super Bowl average posted totals have been set at 46.2 points.
Over the previous 39 Super Bowls there have been nine games played inside a dome. The average points scored in those nine games is 48.6. Posted totals have only been available over the last 20 years. During this period, 14 games have gone 'over' the total, including nine of the last 13.
Favorites in the Super Bowl have won the game 27 times out of the previous 39 tries and have a slight edge against the spread at 19-17 with three pushes. As in most cases, finding the straight up winner usually means the winner cover the number evidenced by the fact that Super Bowl winners are 31-5-3 ATS in the 39 previous Super Bowls. Two of those five non-covers have come in the last two years!
The Super Bowl has seen a lot of one sided affairs, with the average margin of victory being 13.7 points. The last two Super Bowls have been decided by a field goal.
For those who think the Steelers will cover the number, well there's possibly good news. The team that has the highest playoff seed is 1-7-2 ATS in the last 10 Super Bowls.
But don't despair if you like the Seahawks. The team with the better record going into the game is 27-9 SU.
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Wednesday, February 01, 2006
Five biggest surprise teams
Carolina is clearly this season's biggest surprise. Most pre-season pundits speculated that the Hurricanes would be lucky to challenge for a playoff spot. Rather, the Hurricanes have exceeded even their own expectations and are currently the top team in the entire league. The Hurricanes have been strong on the road and virtually unbeatable at home.
Many fans in Buffalo had to be feeling pessimistic heading into this season. The Sabres failed to make the playoffs in the 2003-2004 season. They lost a couple of their top players and didn't pick up any well known replacements. Yet, the Sabres occupy the seventh spot in the league, fourth in the Eastern Conference.
New York Rangers
The Rangers have underachieved for years. However, this year, with arguably less talent, they have been playing superbly. The Rangers are tied with Buffalo for the fourth spot in the East and appear to have playoffs in their future.
Boasting a lineup of veteran offensive stars along with rookie phenomenon Sidney Crosby, many felt that the Penguins would be highly competitive. That has hardly been the case. The Penguins have allowed more goals than any other team in hockey and sit in last place in the Eastern Conference.
Predators' fans expected their team to be improved. They didn't necessarily expect to be challenging for the top spot in the Western Conference though. The Predators have played 500 hockey on the road but have been dominant on home ice.
Ovechkin vs. Crosby
Comparisons will be made between Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, the two No.1 draft picks, for the rest of their respective careers. Crosby, being of North American descent, received significantly more 'hype' heading into the season and many were touting him as a 'lock' to win the Calder Trophy. However, Ovechkin has been the more impressive rookie thus far.
Through 50 games, 'Alexander the Great' has 34 goals and 31 assists. Crosby isn't too far behind in total points but has scored nine fewer goals. Through 52 games, 'Sid the Kid', has 25 goals and 30 assists. Checking in on their plus and minus ratings and we find Ovechkin at plus two and Crosby at minus eight.
Perhaps more important than the statistics is the fact that Ovechkin's team (Washington) has arguably less talent but is still outperforming Crosby's team (Pittsburgh) in the standings. Despite having played two less games, the Capitals have seven more points than the Penguins.
When it comes time to choosing the rookie of the year, a recent 'highlight-reel' goal may sway a number of voters to the Russian's side. While sliding on his back away from the net, Ovechkin was able to neatly put the puck in the perfect spot for a Capital score.
In roughly two weeks, hockey will begin at the Torino Winter Olympics. Canada is favored to win, followed by the Czech Republic and Sweden.
I'd lean to the favorite to take home the gold medal. However, at plus $1.45 there is little value to be found. Therefore, I likely won't make a 'futures' wager.
A list of the current Olympic odds is listed below.
Canada: plus $1.45
Czech Republic: plus $3.00
Sweden: plus $4.50
Russia: plus $5.50
USA: plus $9.00
Slovakia: plus $10.00
Finland: plus $14.00
Switzerland: plus $55.00
Latvia plus $150.00
Italy: plus $150.00
Germany: plus $250.00
Kazakhstan: plus $400.00
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