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NBA: Winning Ugly

NBA: Winning Ugly

Winning Ugly
By Joe Nelson

It often takes some courage but this is the time of year when you can be very profitable backing some of the worst teams in the NBA. Value will be on these teams as oddsmakers know that many bettors simply won’t take teams that they don’t believe can win the game and you can profit with a lot of close losses from these teams.

Usually these teams are young, rebuilding squads that got off to poor starts to the season due to the changes in coaching or personnel. In the middle of the season these teams start to gel a bit and can be playing well before drifting into ‘tank’ mode for the final month of the season. You may lose badly in a blowout loss once in a while on these teams, but over the next several weeks they should be profitable investments.

Minnesota Timberwolves: Since Kevin Garnett’s departure the state of basketball in Minneapolis has gone downhill considerably and fan interest is at an all-time low. There are some intriguing young talents on the squad and after cycling through coaches and several questionable personnel moves the Wolves are now starting to show some positive signs. Maligned former GM Kevin McHale now has a more direct accountability as he has taken over as coach. His most current stint on the bench had a rocky start as he continued what eventually became a 13-game losing streak but in the last few weeks Minnesota has doubled its season win total and is starting to look like a team that can compete.

Minnesota is just 11-26 straight up on the season but is 7-3 SU since Christmas. Minnesota is also 8-2-1 against the spread in the last eleven games. There has only been one blowout loss in this span (118-96 vs. Orlando) and although all of the SU wins have come against losing teams Minnesota has played competitive games with San Antonio, Dallas, and Miami. When the schedule toughens the wins will become less frequent but there is a lot of positive energy and effort coming from the team right now. Randy Foye has particularly elevated his game, averaging 20.8 points per game in the last twelve contests and the new rotation McHale has found is working. Technical players will see that the Wolves are still just 6-12-1 ATS at home this season but note that they are 3-0-1 in the last four games as home favorites and Minnesota may emerge as one of the best of the bad teams.

Oklahoma City Thunder: A few weeks back there was growing talk that this team could match the ’72-73 Philadelphia 76ers mark of 9-73 but that is now unlikely to come even close to being threatened. The Thunder have three wins in 2009 to sit at seven currently and although few have noticed the Thunder are on an incredibly profitable 21-6 ATS run. It is somewhat unprecedented for a team to cover so many times without winning but consider how large some of the spreads have been against the Thunder. Staying close often meant staying within 8-10 points rather than 4-6 points and Oklahoma City has been an underdog in all but two games this season and every game since November 2nd. The greatest success has come on the road where Oklahoma City has only won SU twice as a franchise but is 14-5 ATS.

There is great talent on this roster as three recent early lottery picks start and with such a young team it has taken a lot of time to iron out some of the mistakes. The Thunder also felt compelled to make a coaching change and fair or not, the move has improved the team’s play in the short-term, going 6-21 under Scott Brooks after a 1-12 start to the year under P.J. Carlesimo. Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, and Russell Westbrook provide a talented nucleus of scorers and the defensive effort has shown some improvement in recent weeks although the Thunder have still struggled to close out games. Covering at a 65 percent clip through 40 games and even better numbers since Brooks took over the Thunder are still catching great underdog value and will often be worth a look as few public bettors will even consider playing a team with such a bad overall record.

Milwaukee Bucks: The Bucks actually have a good shot to make the playoffs but despite a very respectable first half of the season Milwaukee is getting very little attention. Hiring Coach Scott Skiles in the off-season signified a big change in philosophy for the team and the defense has improved which has led Milwaukee to be one of the best ATS teams in the league. Although neither is at their peak form with Richard Jefferson and Michael Redd the Bucks present a threat to opposing defenses and Andrew Bogut and Charlie Villanueva provide decent size. There have been growing rumblings about a major trade involving the Bucks and 1st round pick Joe Alexander as fellow rookie and defensive specialist Luc Richard Mbah a Moute has earned a starting spot and much more favor with the staff. Even though the Bucks have more wins than teams like Chicago, Indiana, and Philadelphia, Milwaukee often catches more value and has been a far more profitable team to back.

Although the Bucks are just 8-15 SU on the road they are 14-7-2 ATS away from home. The Bucks also have been a reliable home team at 11-7 SU and ATS and rarely does Milwaukee face incredibly steep lines as a home favorite. Milwaukee is one of the better free-throw shooting teams in the league which also helps to chip away at the number late in games. Milwaukee has much better defensive numbers than most teams with losing records and the ATS results have delivered steady profits for backers as a result. Milwaukee does not own a lot of blowout wins so be weary playing them as big favorites but in all road situations the Bucks have been strong while also going 3-2 as a home underdog. With the playoffs in reach Milwaukee should have plenty to play for and the Bucks can continue to quietly succeed.

Sacramento Kings: Not so long ago the Kings held one of the toughest home courts in the league but this year Sacramento is just 7-13 SU at home. The Kings are still 12-8 ATS in home games and there is reason to believe that the Kings will be a play-on team in coming weeks. Keep in mind Sacramento has played most of the season without Kevin Martin, the best player on the team and one of the top scorers in the NBA last season. He is not a household name as he has missed some time with injuries but he has averaged over 20 points per game the last two seasons and is hitting 24.4 per game in limited action this season. There have been slight line adjustments with his return but not nearly as significant as there would be for a higher profile player, even though Martin’s impact is arguably greater on this team. Martin has now been back for nine straight games and the Kings are 5-4 ATS with three SU wins in that span.

Sacramento was blown out against Orlando in the record setting night for the Magic but every other loss since Martin’s return has been within eight points including one OT loss. The Kings have some of the worst defensive numbers in the league but much of that is due to playing significant minutes with young players in the first half of the season. Rookie Jason Thompson starts and rookie Spencer Hawes sees significant minutes, both should improve having gained experience in the first half. The Kings now have a solid starting five and Francisco Garcia has emerged as a valuable sixth man. The Kings are going to be better than most expect in the second half and should easily surpass the ten wins currently compiled the rest of the way. The home court should still be respected at Arco and there will also be value on Sacramento in certain road contests. 

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