Jason’s record on his early NBA picks for 2013-14, up to April 2 inclusive:
Don’t blame the San Antonio Spurs for taking the drama out of the Western Conference. Sure, they’ve won 19 games in a row at 15-4 ATS to put a stranglehold on the No. 1 seed. But cast your eyes a little farther down the standings, where you’ve got three teams tied at 44-31. Barring a collapse by the 46-29 Golden State Warriors, only two of these three teams will make the playoffs. So who’s got the right stuff on the Left Coast?
The Mavericks (40-35 ATS) are in seventh place as we go to press, but all seven of their remaining games are against Western opponents, and five of those games will be on the road. Now the good news: the Los Angeles Lakers, Sacramento Kings and Utah Jazz are all on the agenda. But Dallas first needs to snap out of this weird 3-4 SU and 2-5 ATS funk. Four of those seven games went into overtime; the Mavs went 1-3 SU and ATS, which is partly why they’re in this pickle.
John Hollinger gives the Mavs a 63.5-percent chance of making the playoffs this year, behind the Grizzlies (85.5 percent) and ahead of the Suns. All three teams are quite healthy at this point. If you think the team with the best player has the best chance, that would be Dallas, where Dirk Nowitzki (23.5 PER) is operating at nearly an MVP level – and Brandan Wright (23.7 PER) continues to play like a stealth MVP. Wright is going to get a very nice contract from someone. Somewhere. In summertime.
What is it that gives the Grizzlies (33-40-2 ATS) a better chance than the other guys of making the playoffs? Could be those seven remaining games; four of them are at home, including the Philadelphia 76ers and the slumping Denver Nuggets. Memphis also gets in a road game against the Lakers. Again, though, the Grizz can’t be looking too far ahead. They just finished off a five-game Western road trip at 2-3 SU and 0-5 ATS. Tensions are high.
The Grizzlies are no doubt the most defensively gifted team of the three in question. They’ve got the No. 8-ranked defense on the efficiency charts at 101.9 points allowed per 100 possessions, ahead of No. 13 Phoenix (103.7) and No. 22 Dallas (106.0). Marc Gasol (17.6 PER) and Zach Randolph (18.4 PER) are about as imposing a frontcourt duo as you get in today’s “small ball” NBA. How does that line go again? Defense wins championships?
It’s kind of unfair that the Suns (48-26-1 ATS) are the third wheel in this discussion. They’re easily the most profitable team in NBA betting this year. They also have a better point differential (plus-2.7) than Dallas (plus-2.3) or Memphis (plus-1.3). Not to mention a better Simple Rating System score, a better Offensive Rating, and higher Free Throw and 3-Point Attempt rates. And the Suns have just gotten Eric Bledsoe (19.1 PER) back after a 33-game absence. They’re 8-4 SU and 7-5 ATS with their starting backcourt intact.
Alas, the Suns also have by far the most difficult schedule down the stretch. Like Dallas, five of their seven games are away games, and the Kings are on the menu, as are the New Orleans Pelicans. But that’s about as good as it gets for Phoenix. The Suns have to play both the Spurs and the Oklahoma City Thunder, the top two teams in the NBA standings. They could be eliminated before they even get to play Dallas on April 12. Oh well. Every investment plan has to end sometime.