Jason’s record on his early NBA picks for 2013-14, up to February 6 inclusive:
What goes up, must come down. So it is when you bet on the NBA. Take the Portland Trail Blazers (35-14 SU, 26-23 ATS), for example. They were much better than expected coming out of the gate, starting the 2013-14 season at 20-4 SU and 18-6 ATS. But then everybody started thinking Portland was awesome sauce. Instead, the Blazers have cooled off a bit at 15-10 SU – still quite good in the Western Conference, but they’re lighting money on fire at 8-17 ATS.
Is this the fate for the Indiana Pacers (38-10 SU, 31-17 ATS)? They’re still the most profitable team in NBA betting, but the Pacers have hit a speed bump at 5-3 SU and 3-5 ATS in their last eight games. Old men in suits holding five telephones at once are screaming “SELL!” But there are some differences between Portland and Indiana that have to be examined before Friday’s matchup (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN). The Pacers are 6-point favorites on the early basketball lines with a total of 195, down from 197 at the open.
You Better You Bet
Forget about the NBA betting market for a second. The Pacers are outperforming the Blazers by a wide margin on the basketball court – let’s turn to our favorite efficiency stats, points scored and allowed per 100 possessions:
Indiana: No. 19 offense (102.3 points/100), No. 1 defense (93.9 points allowed/100)
Portland: No. 2 offense (109.5), No. 20 defense (105.3)
Portland’s offense has slipped to second overall behind the Miami Heat (109.5), which denies me the chance to draw a clean comparison between this game and Super Bowl XLVIII between the No. 1 defense of the Seattle Seahawks and the No. 1 offense of the Denver Broncos. But look at the differential in those 100 possessions. The Pacers are at plus-8.4, and the Blazers are at plus-4.2. Let’s see, carry the one… Indiana’s twice as good!
Neutral Juice Hotel
That’s a semi-ironic tilde-bang, in case you’re not down with the hippest Interwebz lingo from the late ‘90s (h/t Bryan Alvarez). The Pacers might not crush Portland 43-8 on Friday, but that massive plus-8.4 point differential suggests that Indiana has much more room for error than Portland in a neutral betting market.
Of course, there are no neutral betting markets. Casual fans love offense, partly because they can see it – ball goes in basket, points go on scoreboard, reward systems fire in the brain. Except for the occasional massive swat into the fifth row, you don’t get the same pleasure from watching good defense. As a result, although Portland and Indiana are both small-market teams, you get a lot more people praising LaMarcus Aldridge (22.9 PER, 2.2 Defensive Win Shares) than Paul George (21.1 PER, 4.1 DWS). Having a name like “Paul George” doesn’t help, either.
That said, it’s entirely possible the Pacers have hit their apex and should be considered fade candidates against teams that are a bit more robust than Portland. When you break down the ATS stats, Indiana is 5-5 ATS this year as a favorite of fewer than six points. That includes recent road losses to the Phoenix Suns (+5.5) and the Denver Nuggets (+2). You’re on notice, Indy.
As for Friday, though, I’m content to keep fading the Blazers. I do recommend waiting until closer to tip-off, just in case Lance Stephenson (15.9 PER) is ruled out after falling hard on his back Tuesday against the Atlanta Hawks. Stephenson is a very good player on his way to becoming a great player, but he’s not an All-Star yet, no matter how many triple-doubles he’s got. Indiana would have even more betting value if he sat this one out.
NBA Pick: Take the Pacers –5.5 at 5Dimes