It feels like we’ve reached the dog days of the NBA schedule. The All-Star break will give teams a chance to gear up for the stretch run later this month, but it has to feel like “Groundhog Day” for a lot of teams. The rhythm and repetition of the schedule can be a good thing, but it can also be a bad thing, especially with most teams around the 50-game mark.
The schedule is always a factor when handicapping the NBA, and I believe these angles are magnified in the period between Christmas and the All-Star break, so this is a great time to utilize those scheduling angles.
I have five games that fit the bill this week, but I just want to remind readers that these are not sole justifications for a play. They are a way to narrow down the card and serve as a starting point. Sometimes the spots won’t line up properly, for example, if there’s an injury or the game leading into this one turns into a blowout.
Here are the five I have my eye on.
Miami Heat at San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs are a much better team than their 19-32 record, which is not a scheduling angle. It’s a fact. They are -0.1 in point differential and their Pythagorean winning percentage suggests that they are closer to a .500 team. San Antonio is a team I’m looking to back in general, not just in favorable spots.
However, this is the first of two good spots for the Spurs this week. This is a pretty tough spot for the Heat. Dating to last Wednesday, this will be their sixth game in nine days, including a triple-overtime loss to Toronto last Saturday. Furthermore, Monday’s game against Boston fed into Tuesday’s game against Toronto, and traveling to Canada is tough right now based on COVID-19 protocols, especially in a back-to-back with a late arrival.
Miami plays back-to-back games after this one against division opponents (at Charlotte and Washington) and finally gets a couple of days off after that. The Heat have been playing really well and should be laying a road price here, but the Spurs are in a much better spot.
Atlanta Hawks at Toronto Raptors
The Hawks are in a similar travel spot as the Heat. Atlanta is in a back-to-back with travel to the Great White North. This one comes after playing Phoenix on TNT in a huge game for the Hawks on their home floor.
This would be a bad spot without the COVID concerns going to Ontario, but something else to consider is that the Raptors are not allowed to have fans in attendance right now. For a tired team in a back-to-back, an empty arena is not going to provide any sort of spark or energy. At least the Raptors are used to it. It will be a much different kind of feeling for the Hawks.
This is a Rapid Revenge Theory game for the Hawks, in that they just lost at home to the Raptors on Monday. Sometimes you’ll have competing situational spots and have to decide which one matters more. To me, the Hawks’ travel spot in a back-to-back is bad enough to be the more important situation.
Houston Rockets at San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs make another appearance here because of what happens after Friday’s game against the Rockets. The annual rodeo road trip will help the Spurs rack up some frequent flyer miles with four games in six days before the All-Star break. After the teams get back to business, the Spurs are on the road for three more games.
This Feb. 4 home game will be the last for the Spurs until March 3. They’ll go almost four weeks without playing a home game. As mentioned, I think the Spurs are a positive regression team, so I’d be looking to back them anyway, but I assume they’d really like a convincing victory given the circumstances.
Milwaukee Bucks at Portland Trail Blazers
I recently wrote about how a team typically puts its best foot forward in the first game of a road trip. While I generally believe that to be true, this may not be the best spot for the Bucks. The trip starts in Portland but also features the “L.A. Double” against the Clippers on Sunday and the Lakers on Tuesday. Milwaukee ends the trip against Phoenix on Feb. 10 in a rematch of last year’s NBA Finals.
The Bucks could very well overlook Portland here and could be in a good revenge spot on Valentine’s Day when the Trail Blazers visit Wisconsin. Perhaps the Bucks take care of business, but the upcoming games may simply take more of their attention, even with three full days off before this game. Given that Milwaukee will be a road favorite, a win but a non-cover wouldn’t be a stunner.
Brooklyn Nets at Denver Nuggets
This is the final game of a five-game trip for the Nets and it will be played under suboptimal conditions. This is what I call the “Altitude Double,” as the Nets will have just played Utah on Friday and then have a 2:30 p.m. local time tip in Denver. This means effectively four road games in 5½ days for the Nets, with the last two at elevation. They also host Boston when they go home on Tuesday in a game that certainly means more against an Eastern Conference opponent.
This is a Rapid Revenge spot for the Nets, who lost to the Nuggets by six at home on Jan. 26, so there is that consideration. However, with the Nets’ recent injury problems, this game in Denver looks to be a very difficult one.