Jason’s record on his early NBA picks for 2013-14, up to February 18 inclusive:
For a while there, the Indiana Pacers looked like they were refreshed and ready to roll over the competition following the All-Star break. But Tuesday’s game against the short-handed Atlanta Hawks ended in a saw-off, as the Pacers took their foot off the gas and won 108-98 at the Fieldhouse. Atlanta scored the last eight points of the game to create the matador push.
Phooey. Now the Pacers (41-12 SU, 32-20-1 ATS) have gone 4-8-1 ATS in their past 13 games, and they have to play on zero days of rest Wednesday night when they visit the Minnesota Timberwolves (25-28 SU, 27-26 ATS), who were idle on Tuesday. At least the Wolves are having their own troubles at 2-6 SU and ATS in their last eight games going into the break.
King of Denial
So is this just a case of the NBA betting market just going to the Indiana well once too often? Or is there something fundamentally wrong with the Pacers lately? As always, the truth may lie somewhere in between. It’s simple enough to look at the advanced stats and say that Roy Hibbert (16.1 PER) and Lance Stephenson (15.7 PER) are overrated, but don’t forget, Player Efficiency Rating is lousy at judging defense. And the Pacers are all about defense.
So let’s look at Defensive Win Shares instead. Here, we see that Hibbert (3.9 DWS) and Stephenson (3.5 DWS) are doing their part on one of the finest defensive teams ever assembled. Going into the break, Indiana was allowing just 93.6 points per 100 possessions – more than four points fewer than the No. 2 Chicago Bulls, and nearly nine points better than the No. 12 Timberwolves (102.5 points allowed/100).
But those PER numbers are low for a reason. Indiana is just No. 19 in the league in offensive efficiency at 102.2 points per 100 possessions. That makes the Pacers the Bizarro Portland Trail Blazers, and you may have noticed that the Blazers are 5-8 ATS in their past 13 games after starting the season as one of the most profitable teams in NBA betting. Coincidence? I think not.
Also, as much as I hate to say it, Danny Granger (10.9 PER) is a shell of the All-Star forward that he was before he missed almost the entire 2012-13 season with patellar tendinosis. Granger has played 27 games this year, mostly off the bench, and while there have been occasional flashes of brilliance, those occasions have been far too rare. How much better would Indiana be if those 22.7 minutes per game went to Chris Copeland (17.1 PER)? Just sayin’.
The Timberwolves are 10th in the league in offensive efficiency at 104.6 points per 100 possessions, which means they’re above average at both ends of the court. So why are they three games below .500? I haven’t gotten to write much about the Wolves this year, but the basic narrative is that they’ve crushed worse teams and been crushed by better teams.
This narrative plays out when you look at how Minnesota has performed against the basketball betting lines. Against losing teams? 15-10 ATS. Against winning teams? 11-15 ATS. If that weren’t ominous enough for Wednesday’s matchup (8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN), the Wolves are also without SG Kevin Martin (16.7 PER), who broke his left thumb earlier this month and is out indefinitely. We’re still waiting for this game to open on the NBA odds board, but I’ll stick my neck out and recommend the UNDER, which is 2-1 in the three games Martin has missed thus far.
Special update: Indiana opened as a 3-point favorite with a total of 197.5.
NBA Pick: Take UNDER 197.5 (–104) at Marathon