NBA players are back in the swing of things, about a week removed from the last day of the All-Star Break. With six weeks left in the regular season, players on contending teams know the importance of these games, and those on bad teams are still trying to impress.
While teams tank, players generally do not, as stats and film can be important factors when it comes to making money in free agency or with contract extensions. Don’t let tanking take up too much space in your mind when it comes to handicapping games down the stretch.
Let’s look at a few situational spots over the next few days and the thought process behind them:
Warriors at Mavericks: This game falls under what I call the “Rapid Revenge Theory.” Athletes have memories like elephants, but it’s easier to remember what happened in a recent game. The Mavs just beat the Warriors 107-101 on Sunday in the Bay Area, so the Warriors not only have rapid revenge in play but also a bad taste from losing at home.
It wasn’t even that the Warriors lost; it was the manner in which they lost. Golden State led by 21 in the third quarter and by 14 entering the fourth. Dallas outscored Golden State 33-13 in the final quarter to secure the six-point win. The Mavericks led for the first time with 3:21 left. You can bet that Steph Curry, who had 27 points but was 3-of-10 from 3, will be looking to get that game back. The Warriors were 11-of-39 from 3 overall.
The scheduling spot points you in the right direction, but you always want to handicap the game further, and there are some things about that last meeting that seem unlikely to carry over to the next one.
Kings at Spurs: San Antonio will play at home for the first time since Feb. 4. The Spurs are not having the season they envisioned, though a lot of metrics suggest they are one of the biggest underachievers we’ve seen in some time. With the rodeo in town, they played five straight road games prior to the All-Star break and three more coming out of it.
The first home game after a long trip is generally a fade spot, but these are pretty extreme circumstances. This is also the second game of a back-to-back for the Kings, who will be in New Orleans on Wednesday. I can’t help but feel like we’ll get a big effort from San Antonio here, especially because they’ll head right back out on the road for Saturday’s game, which I’ll cover shortly.
Cavaliers at 76ers: The upstart Cavs are the surprise of the season and have been able to avoid any major skids. The 76ers are expected to be at the top of the conference and anything less is a major failure. The Cavs can take that youthful exuberance into Friday, while the Sixers might have other things on their minds.
This is a sandwich spot for Philadelphia. Although the Knicks aren’t as good as last season, the Sixers play them on Wednesday to kick off an ESPN doubleheader. After the Cavs game on Friday, the boys from Philly fly down to Miami to face the Heat in a back-to-back.
The 76ers beat the Cavs by 10 on Feb. 12, so this is an opponent they could overlook in a favorite role. Cleveland has lost three in a row on the road, so J.B. Bickerstaff doesn’t have to say much to get his team up for this one. I think Cleveland is a live dog catching points here.
Knicks at Suns: As mentioned, the Knicks aren’t very good, but Friday night’s game against the Suns seems to be a decent spot for the road team. The first game of their trip is Wednesday against Philadelphia, but Friday is when the West Coast swing starts, and it comes against a Phoenix team in a lookahead spot.
The Suns have an NBA Finals rematch against Milwaukee on Sunday afternoon. They’ll be looking forward to that game and could overlook the Knicks, especially in a big favorite role. Phoenix rolled Milwaukee 131-107 at home on Feb. 10 to get some Finals revenge and will be looking to do the same on Sunday. As a result, the Knicks are pretty easy to overlook on Friday.
Spurs at Hornets: I teased this game earlier, and what an awful spot it is for the Spurs. After spending all kinds of time on the road, San Antonio stops at home for one game and then hits the NBA highway again. The Spurs still have a good shot at the play-in tournament, but I don’t think this game gets their juices flowing against an Eastern Conference foe. After the Hornets, San Antonio starts a seven-game homestand. I’m not sure we’ll get any sort of effort from the Spurs in a spot like this.