Beware the tanking NBA teams

Beware the tanking NBA teams

Beware the tanking NBA teams
By LARRY JOSEPHSON

The conventional wisdom goes something like this:

The NBA is a star league. Stars gets the calls, make the big money and win championships. Without a star (or two or three), you go nowhere.

Unless you’re Kevin McHale or Chris Wallace, it is career suicide to trade a star. Stars stay on one team until they grow tired of that city’s nightclub scene (see Shaquille O’Neal).

The only real way a dog team can get a star is by drafting one, and the only way to draft one is to be worse than just about every other team in the league.

That brings us to the time-honored NBA tradition of tanking games late in the season.

Losing games on purpose in order to improve your chances of getting the first or second pick in the draft lottery. While the Lakers, Magic, Cavaliers and Celtics battle at the top, every season another battle wages among the Baltic Avenue teams as they jostle for draft position.

Tanking has been part of the NBA fabric longer than the wrinkles in Hubie Brown’s face. Teams and the league deny it, but even casual fans know what goes down in the final month of an NBA season when teams have no chance at the playoffs.

At Belmont.com, oddsmaker Peter Childs says his business is fully aware of the tank factor.

“Absolutely we factor in teams that might have packed it in,” says Childs, “especially when those teams are playing on the road.”

But teams in the tank are never a lock.

“You have to be careful,” he points out. “Example, the Clippers. This team hadn’t covered a game on the road in weeks. They were blown out at Detroit and Toronto, losing by a combined 42 points. There was no question the team didn’t come to play in either game. So when they play the Celtics (in Boston) the line was all the way up to 15. But they competed in that game . . . and came up with a decent effort. So there will be (occasional) games where they play with energy and a desire to win.”

Sacramento is perceived as a team that has thrown in the towel. In mid January the Kings began a stretch in which they went 2-17 SU and more often than not, they appear to be dead men walking.

But, as Childs points out, even blind squirrels find the occasional acorn. In the last couple of weeks Sacramento took Cleveland into overtime at home and surprisingly blew out the Knicks in Madison Square Garden.

In Toronto, Canadian bloggers seem to be OK with tanking as they examine what’s left of the Raptors’ drainage-ditch season. Toronto began this week with nine losses in its last 10 games, going 1-9 ATS in that stretch. The cement is starting to harden on their position in last place in the Atlantic, and some fans see absolutely no reason for their team to put out maximum effort in the final dozen games. (Note: Nine of the Raptors’ final 12 are against teams with losing records.)

Thunder fans are salivating at the thought of Oklahoma star Blake Griffin joining Kevin Durant in the starting lineup. OKC could move things along a bit if it would lose a few. But the Thunder play hard every night and their 42-27-1 record ATS vs. a 20-51 mark SU points to a lot of late covers with fourth-period spurts.

Washington is a prime tanking candidate. But how do you tell the difference between a team that is tanking and a team that just plain sucks? The Wizards have lost seven of eight but they started the season 1-9.

And where should the money go with teams already thinking ahead to the draft?

Oddsmaker Peter Korner looks at it this way:

“Approaching games that include one or both teams that have been eliminated is a tough situation. Moreover, we’re dealing with the public’s perception of that factor as well. Personally, I think the players play hard no matter what. But we still have to look on the opposite side of the coin and adjust the line.

“Is one of the teams involved playing for a playoff spot? Those players may be playing harder and an adjustment is made. What if the eliminated team is playing a team that has already wrapped up a playoff spot and is resting key players to avoid injuries? So we’re dealing with a lot of factors at the end of the season.”

Going into the tank hardly guarantees success. Ask M.L. Carr, who coached the Celtics during the team’s Dark Ages. Carr basically threw himself on a sword in 1996-97, guiding Boston to a league-worst 15-67 record.

If there were awards for tanking, Carr would have been its MVP. Through a trade the Celtics actually had two chances to get the first pick and draft Tim Duncan. But the ping pong balls went San Antonio’s way and the future of incoming Boston coach Rick Pitino was sealed.

Tank, one would guess, at your own risk.

Blade
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