The NBA less than two weeks ago released the schedule for the second half, and teams are going to be cramming games in to hopefully reach 72 regular-season games each – although Commissioner Adam Silver has admitted that not every club may get to that number. Each team was scheduled to play either 37 or 38 games across the 73 days that first-half schedule was set to run, but that didn’t happen due to numerous postponements.
The second half tips off Wednesday featuring Washington Wizards against the Memphis Grizzlies and the San Antonio Spurs against the Dallas Mavericks. All four of those clubs had multiple first-half games postponed. The Spurs and Grizzlies have the most games to be played in the second half, each with 40 games in a 68-day stretch. Thus, fatigue is going to be a huge factor. On the flip side, the Clippers will have to play only 34 games in a 67-day stretch.
The regular season is set to end May 16 and the play-in tournament, which will determine the No. 7 and 8 seeds in each conference, will start May 18. The playoffs open May 22.
Straight Up & ATS Records Don’t Always Jibe
Let’s start out with this fact: The teams with the best overall records straight up in the NBA don’t always have the best against the spread record. In fact, they usually don’t.
In the admittedly unusual 2019-20 regular season when 22 teams played eight regular-season games each at a neutral site, the Milwaukee Bucks finished with the best SU record at 56-17. The Bucks were 10th in cover percentage on the NBA odds at 52.4 (43-39-1 ATS). Oklahoma City was the ATS champion of 2019-20 at 48-31, a cover percentage of 60.8. The Thunder finished 44-28 SU.
Utah enters the second half of this season’s schedule with both the best SU (27-9) and ATS (21-6-1) records. That’s mainly because the Jazz got scorching hot for two months and while they were almost always favored, they were winning by double digits. On average, Utah has covered the spread by 2.9 points so far. Charlotte and New York are first in that category with a 3.6-point cover average.
Philadelphia, meanwhile, has the best record in the East but is just 13-11-2 ATS as far as sports betting goes. The Sixers play a lot of close games and usually lose on the road.
The key to finding the right team to back in the second half is obviously one that is healthy but has motivation to play every game hard – i.e. one fighting for a playoff spot. On the flip side, fade teams that really don’t care about the regular season and are just counting the day to the playoffs … or the draft lottery.
Teams To Back
The Phoenix Suns enter the break with the second-best ATS record at 20-10 at the best sports betting sites, and I expect no slowdown in the second half. They are healthy and hungry, having last reached the playoffs way back in the 2009-10 season. Chris Paul, Devin Booker & Co. have no reason to let off the gas because they still can catch Utah for the top seed in the Western Conference and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.
Sometimes, a midseason coaching change can do wonders for a disappointing team, and while it’s very early, the Atlanta Hawks firing Lloyd Pierce on Monday and replacing him with Nate McMillan has the team looking much better. Also consider the Hawks have had arguably their second-best player, De’Andre Hunter, for just 18 games, Bogdan Bogdanovic for 11 (he just returned from a long absence), Danilo Gallinari for 18 and Kris Dunn for zero.
The Hawks were 9-9 when Hunter went down injured and are 7-11 without him – and two of those wins just happened this week under McMillan. Hunter and Dunn both may return by late this month. Look for the Hawks to take off if they do get back.
Others: Cleveland, Indiana, Portland, Memphis once they get fully healthy.
Teams To Fade
The Los Angeles Lakers 100 percent don’t care about the regular season; they don’t need home-court advantage to win another title. LeBron James got just one game off in the first half, and I expect a handful of those in the second half, plus cutting down his minutes. The Lakers also won’t let the injured Anthony Davis return until he’s 100 percent and that could be at least a few more weeks. The Lakers were 16-16 ATS at top sportsbooks in the first half, and I expect them to be below .500 ATS in the second half. Oddsmakers always overvalue them as it is.
The Houston Rockets are absolutely terrible as it is – an NBA-worst 10-18 ATS – and I expect nothing to change in the second half. Yes, they will be better whenever Christian Wood returns from injury, but I also fully expect Victor Oladipo and PJ Tucker at a minimum to be traded. Maybe Eric Gordon, too. Management wants to lose to help with draft position.
Others: Orlando, Detroit, Minnesota as they are all angling (well, the front office of each is) to have one of the three-worst records for the best lottery shot at the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 draft.