Strange things are happening at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. The Detroit Pistons and Orlando Magic are both beating the NBA odds, check inside for all the details.
Jason’s record as of Jan. 13: 23-23-1 ATS, 2-4 Totals
At some point, the Eastern Conference will stop sucking. It has to happen; the NBA has anti-competitive measures in place to ensure that the worst teams end up with the best young talent. That’s why so many Eastern teams went into the tank last year – and why they’re at it again this year.
Or so we thought. All of a sudden, some of the worst teams in the East have become profitable NBA picks. Let’s see what’s behind these stunning turnarounds as we take a tour of the lower regions of the Eastern standings.
We expected Stan Van Gundy to turn the Detroit Pistons around eventually. We just didn’t think it would happen mid-season. The Pistons (14-25 SU, 16-23 ATS) are 9-3 SU and 8-4 ATS on NBA odds since waiving Josh Smith (14.2 PER) over the holidays. They’ve even gone on the road and beaten the likes of the San Antonio Spurs (–8), the Dallas Mavericks (–9), and the Toronto Raptors (–6).
Getting rid of Smith definitely helps balance out Detroit’s frontcourt. Smith was horribly miscast as a small forward next to Andre Drummond (20.1 PER) and Greg Monroe (20.1 PER). That spot is now taken by Kyle Singler (9.8 PER), who can at least hit 3-pointers at a 41.4 percent clip. Detroit is also happy to have Jodie Meeks (15.0 PER) back at full health, spacing the floor with his 39.1-percent shooting from downtown. Don’t be surprised if the Pistons make the playoffs this spring.
For that matter, the Orlando Magic (15-27 SU, 24-18 ATS) have a decent shot at the postseason. Don’t let that recent six-game losing streak fool you – the Magic are 8-4 ATS in their last 12 games, and they’re coming off back-to-back upset victories over the Chicago Bulls (–11.5 at home) and the Houston Rockets (–9.5 away).
As Grantland’s Zach Lowe has pointed out, the Magic have finally decided that Victor Oladipo (15.4 PER) shouldn’t be playing point guard. More of those minutes have been going to rookie Elfrid Payton (11.3 PER) lately, and while Payton is still figuring out how to shoot, he’s dishing out 7.3 assists per 36 minutes. Oladipo is converting many of those passes at the 2-spot; he was 11-of-17 for 33 points in Monday’s win over the Bulls, and 12-of-19 for 32 points against the Rockets. It’s all about balance.
Fortunately for those of us interested in fading the truly awful teams in the East, the Boston Celtics (13-24 SU, 18-19 ATS) are obliging us by dumping contracts left and right. They’re 4-10 SU and 6-8 ATS since trading Rajon Rondo (15.3 PER for Boston) to the Mavericks. That started off a chain reaction of trades for the C’s. Brandan Wright (24.1 PER), who was part of the Rondo trade, was eventually flipped to the Phoenix Suns for a first-round pick. Jameer Nelson (9.7 PER), another ex-Mav, was sent to the Denver Nuggets for Nate Robinson, who was quickly waived.
But wait, there’s more. Jeff Green (14.4 PER), Boston’s leading scorer at 19.1 points per 36 minutes, was sent packing in a three-way deal involving the Memphis Grizzlies and the New Orleans Pelicans. The Celtics received Tayshaun Prince (10.6 PER), Austin Rivers (10.1 PER) and a first-rounder in return – but don’t worry, tank lovers, both Prince and Rivers are expected to be shipped elsewhere soon. What’s left of the C’s roster lost 105-91 to the Atlanta Hawks (–5.5 away) on Wednesday. There’s plenty of promising young talent left behind, but it should be a good long while before Boston is a viable NBA pick again. Maybe another lottery pick or two from now.