If the cliché “it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish” really is true, well, just call me the Mariano Rivera of the handicapping community. Like the great Yankees relief pitcher, I know how to close the deal. Check it out:
Last June in this space, I picked the Lakers to win the NBA Finals, turning a $600 investment into $300 of profit.
Then in January’s college football national championship game, I nailed Auburn over Oregon and the “under,” clearing $600. A few weeks later, I capped the NFL season with a 9-5 run in the conference championship games and Super Bowl, netting $1,062. Finally, I went 11-3 over the last two weeks of this year’s NCAA Tournament—including a perfect 6-0 that earned me $800 last week—and pocketed $1,419.
Hey, with results like that, maybe I should throw my hat in the ring to be UNLV’s next men’s basketball coach. After all, if Lon Kruger can parlay back-to-back one-and-done NCAA Tournament appearances into a seven-year contract from Oklahoma that will pay him more than $2 million annually, what’s a guy who actually finishes the job worth?
Speaking of finishing the job, the NBA’s regular season—which I swear lasts longer than a cheeseburger at a PETA convention—comes to a close next week. So let’s take a look at some basketball betting trends, then see if we can convert that information into a few more winning wagers as I attempt to build on a bankroll that now sits at an all-time high of $7,761. (Note that all point spreads are projected, and all statistics are as of April 4.)
BY THE NUMBERS: If you haven’t cashed in on the NBA’s most profitable squads during the regular season, fear not, as each of the top six point-spread teams (and nine of the top 11) are ticketed for the playoffs. That includes the Grizzlies, Bulls and 76ers, who are a combined 142-84-4 against the spread—a solid 62 percent success rate.
Even though the casual NBA fan couldn’t name more than two guys on its roster, Memphis has been particularly solid from a wagering perspective. Not only do the Grizzlies have a league-best 50-26-1 ATS record, but they’re just as profitable at home (25-12-1 ATS) as on the road (25-14); they’re outstanding as both a big favorite (10-3 ATS when laying six points or more) and a big underdog (19-6 ATS when getting four points or more); and they’ve been at their best when busy (41-16-1 ATS after one or no days of rest).
As great as Memphis has been over the course of the season, there’s no hotter moneymaker right now than the new-look Nuggets. Since Feb. 16—the last game before All-Stars Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony were dealt to the Knicks—Denver is 15-4 overall and 16-2-1 ATS.
In contrast to the Nuggets are the Magic, who cashed just twice in 15 games dating to March 4. Not surprisingly, Orlando is the only playoff team ranked in the bottom 10 of the point-spread standings (at 31-45-1 ATS the Magic are 29th out of 30 teams).
Some additional point-spread trends to ponder: The Hawks are 9-2 ATS as a small underdog (less than four points); the Knicks are 23-13-1 on the road and 26-10 as an underdog, but 4-10 in their last 14 as a favorite; the aging Celtics are 4-13 when playing on back-to-back days (something they won’t have to worry about in the playoffs), but 13-6-1 when playing after two or more days off; the Bulls are 13-4 as an underdog; the Lakers and Heat are just 15-23 at home, but 22-15-1 and 22-16-1, respectively, on the road; the Mavericks are the NBA’s top “over” team (44-33), while the Lakers are the top “under” team (46-30); the Spurs are 24-14 “over” the total on the road; and Orlando is 24-13-1 “under” the total at home.
THIS WEEK’S PICKS: $110 (to win $100): Wizards (+11) at Celtics, April 8 (second game of a back-to-back for Boston); Rockets (-7) vs. Clippers, April 9 (finale of a four-game, five-day road trip for the Clippers, who follow with a four-day break).
$55 (to win $50): Grizzlies (-11) vs. Kings, April 8 (Memphis 4-1 straight up and ATS in the last five meetings, and 7-1 ATS this season as a favorite of eight points or more); Mavericks (-8½) vs. Clippers, April 8 (Dallas fighting for the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference and has won 11 straight against the Clippers, cashing in six straight).
$44 (to win $40): Nuggets (+5) at Thunder, April 8 (Denver has covered 10 of 11 on the road).
$33 (to win $30): Celtics +3½ at Heat, April 10 (Boston 3-0 SU and ATS vs. Miami this season and 8-2 ATS as an underdog); Knicks-Pacers OVER the total, April 10 (New York has six straight “overs” entering the week; the “over” is 9-5 in Indiana’s last 14 home games, including a 119-117 win over Knicks).