by Chris Arena, www.sportsinsights.com
The Celtics are a difficult team to analyze right now--especially from a gambling standpoint. Usually when a major player, like Kevin Garnett, becomes injured, I like to look at his replacement and project how much of a downgrade he will be, and then apply that to the team's success as a whole.
Well, I don't know that there can be a bigger downgrade than Kevin Garnett to Brian Scalabrine/Glen "Big Baby" Davis, yet the Celtics seem almost entirely unaffected. Sure, they lost a close game to the Clippers after convincing wins at Phoenix and Denver, but that game was the last of a lengthy six-game road trip, so I don't consider the upset all that surprising.
To further add to the confusion, Paul Pierce dislocated his thumb in Wednesday's game and may miss some time in order to heal, or, at the very least, play through the injury with decreased effectiveness. The puzzle we need to solve is this: Are the Celtics more or less affected by these injuries in reality than the sportsbooks and the public believe them to be, as lines are set and moved in the sports betting marketplace?
There's no better way to predict the future than examining the past, so let's take a look at how the Celtics were valued coming off of KG's injury. In their first game post-KG, the Celtics were 1.5 point underdogs at Phoenix and won the game outright by 20 points. In the second game post-KG, Boston were 1 point road favorites and beat Denver by 38 points.
In their third game post-KG, the C's lost by two despite being 10 point road favorites at the LA Clippers. What would these lines have looked like without KG's injury? Well, earlier in the year they were 8-point home favorites vs. Phoenix, 10-point home favorites vs. Denver, and had not played the Clippers previously.
It is generally thought that the being home is worth about three points, and whether you buy it or not it's the best guess I've got and so I'm going to use it. Following that logic, the Celtics' "adjusted" lines look like this (actual lines in parenthesis):
With KG: -5 (-8)
Without KG: -1.5 (+1.5)
With KG: -7 (-10)
Without KG: -4 (-1)
vs LA Clippers
With KG: N/A
Without KG: -13 (-10)
Looking at those numbers, it seems that KG's injury was worth about 3 points to the sportsbooks. However, it appears that the 3 point "bonus" was scrapped for the game against the Clippers, as I can't imagine that line would have been much higher than 15 or so earlier in the year with Boston at home (their biggest line this year: -17 vs. Sacramento).
It seems clear that Garnett's injury was overrated by the books, and it makes sense, seeing as Boston is a well-coached team with excellent veteran leadership and a vastly underrated "no-name" point guard in Rajon Rondo.
Then, just when the books "caught on" and refused to lower Boston's line against the Clippers, the Celtics go out and lose by two, and I actually believe this foretells Boston being a value bet once again. The loss to the Clippers was a classic let-down game at the conclusion of a long road trip, so I have no problem throwing that one out the window.
Brian Scalabrine will miss at least two games, which is a moderate loss but he is a player Boston is accustomed to playing without. Pierce's dislocated thumb is a little worrisome, but I expect him to play through it and adjust by driving more and shooting less. On the plus side (well, I guess this may be debatable), Stephon Marbury is probable to play for Boston on Friday and, despite his many flaws, he is a very talented basketball player.
Taking everything into account, when the sportsbooks start to give Boston softer lines again, as I expect them to, I would be inclined to take Boston.
The Detroit Pistons are spiraling downward as their players' ages and tempers are both running high. The Chauncey Billups for Allen Iverson trade has produced a clear winner (hint: not Detroit) and the Pistons' overcrowded backcourt has caused some bitterness from Richard Hamilton, a man known as a team player and general non-malcontent. Sophomore Rodney Stuckey seems to have lost his mojo in addition to losing his shot attempts playing alongside AI.
Four of their five best players are more than 30 years old. Rasheed Wallace, despite being one of those players over 30, still acts like a teenager on the court and is close to hitting the technical foul threshold of 16, after which a one-game suspension is assessed for each additional "T".
Add it all together and what do you get? A team on an eight-game losing streak and just 5-17 against the spread since January 10.
At this point, Detroit, much like Iverson, gets by more on reputation than actual on-court play. They are a team of shooters without passers (highest assist average on the team: Allen Iverson!) and followers without leaders.
Rookie coach Michael Curry is obviously overwhelmed with the situation and can't decide what to do with the backcourt trio. He knows Stuckey is the most important player on the team, but can't figure out how to break the news to Iverson and Hamilton. He also seems stuck trying to play the same style of basketball that Detroit won with while he was an assistant in 2008, but which no longer fits the teams ever-aging personnel - basketball players decline much more drastically on defense than offense as they reach their thirties.
It seems to me that their best bet at reviving any playoffs hopes is ditching the halfcourt game and trying a guard-heavy run-and-gun offense that better fits their personnel. Antonio McDyess has been phenomenal for the Pistons relative to what should be expected of a 34-year-old with bad knees, but he should not be starting for this team.
By moving Tayshaun Prince to power forward, the Pistons could start a lineup of Stuckey, Iverson, Hamilton, Prince and Wallace, which seems absolutely ideal for a run-and-gun approach. In addition to every single position being manned by above-average shooters, Iverson and Prince are also much better defenders in transition than in the halfcourt, and transitional defense is the name of the game in the run-and-gun style of play.
I haven't heard any rumbling that such a move is imminent--or even likely--but I have to imagine that Coach Curry is aware of the strengths, and more importantly the weaknesses, of his current lineup and would be willing to adjust in order put an end to their recent horrific play. That said, Detroit's Over/Under lines have hovered at about 180-190 all season and they would easily blow that number out of the water if they start running.
Watch this team closely in the coming days and weeks, and if you see signs that Curry is willing to open up the offense, start hitting the over hard as the starting five mentioned above has the potential to score 110 points per game easily.
As always, your feedback is much appreciated! Please comment if you feel compelled, and I can be reached personally at Chris@SportsInsights.com.