New Jersey Nets
The New Jersey Nets seem to have a bipolar disorder. Tied for the last spot in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, the Nets certainly have a lot to play for down the stretch. However, looking at the team's last dozen games, the Nets had lost eight of nine games before winning their last three. Of those eight loses, only two were by five points or less, while two of the others were by twenty points of more. In a thirty-two point loss to the Celtics, Vince Carter and Devin Harris were benched for the entirety of the second half, a coaching move basically unheard of in today's NBA, and obviously something you never want to see if you're taking the points. However, the Nets have now won three in a row, Vince Carter has played through nagging injuries all season, they are in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race, and boast a 27-23 record against the spread, ninth in the NBA. So what is the enterprising sports bettor to make of all of this?
Our advice is simple - Proceed With Caution. The Nets have performed well against the spread to this point, but that's mostly because the public vastly underrated Devin Harris and Brook Lopez heading into the season. They are both now known commodities. However, Vince Carter is still somewhat overlooked by the public (culminating his missing the All-Star Game for the first time in nearly a decade), as he continues to play at a very high level and has played 75 games or more for three seasons in a row - the "injury prone" tag is outdated. All said, we think the Nets are still a little better than the public perceives them to be. Additionally, the Nets are one of the few teams to perform better on the road (13-12) than at home (10-15), making for an interesting dynamic in the sports betting world. Conventional wisdom is that the home team is given a few points in the spread, and it's hard to say how much New Jersey's Home/Away differential is affecting the lines. Recently, on the road to face the terrible Washington Wizards, the game opened as a Pick 'Em before moving to Nets minus-1. The Nets won by almost thirty points. Is that really the kind of spread a playoff contender, who plays better on the road, should be getting playing at Washington, the worst team in the league? It seems like the books are hesitant to accept that the Nets really do play better on the road, so if you believe the trend will continue, value exists.
On the contrary, the biggest factor that makes New Jersey a scary team to bet on, and why we advise caution, is their coach, Lawrence Frank. Frank is a big "effort" guy, and quickly sours on players that he perceives as not giving their all or taking plays off - possibly a result of spending four years under Bob Knight at Indiana. He also tends to give up on games early, preferring to bench starters to make a point rather than attempt the comeback. For this reason, we highly recommend taking the moneyline rather than the points with the Nets, as they tend to either win the game or lose big, sporting the third most losses in the Eastern Conference by ten points or more (only Toronto and Washington, the two worst teams in the conference, have more.)
The return of Carlos Boozer is a situation that has more layers to it than is immediately apparent. Boozer is an extremely talented player whose presence should immediately help the Jazz, but what about the collateral damage his return may have on the psyches (not to mention minutes) of the players around him? The Jazz went 8-4 in the twelve games that both Boozer and Paul Millsap, his replacement, were healthy. Millsap, however, was a different player then, coming off the bench and fulfilling the duties of a role player. After averaging 17 points and 10 rebounds as a starter since Boozer's injury, you can bet that Millsap doesn't look at himself as role player any longer. So the question is, what will have the biggest impact when Boozer returns to the court - the additional talent, or the additional ego?
The first thing to realize is that Boozer and Millsap are remarkably similar players. Both had outstanding collegiate careers: Boozer lead Duke to an NCAA Championship, while Millsap lead the NCAA in rebounding for a record-setting three consecutive years at Louisiana Tech. Both are considered undersized forwards: Boozer is listed at 6-9, Millsap at 6-8. Both were drafted in the second round of the NBA draft due to those height concerns, and both have blossomed into outstanding NBA players. Now, both of them desire to be the starting Power Forward for the Utah Jazz. While Boozer will undoubtedly reclaim his starting spot, we think Jerry Sloan, the longest-tenured coach in the NBA, will handle the situation well. Millsap could possibly continue to start at the small forward spot, especially since Andrei Kirilenko is out of the lineup. However, if he does end up coming off the bench, we think there will be enough minutes to make Millsap happy and allow him to continue to contribute at a high level. In this case, we believe talent will trump ego.
Knees are the biggest concern for the Utah Jazz and those looking to wager money on them; specifically, those of Deron Williams and Andrei Kirilenko. Williams played (and played outstandingly well) Thursday and his injured knee is not expected to be an ongoing concern, while Kirilenko is simply hoping to return before the end of the season. Knee injuries are tough because they affect lateral movement, which is very important for a point guard like Williams and an active defender like Kirilenko. Be sure to keep up with our injury coverage for updates on the two.
All that said, we like Utah to improve their play when Boozer returns. The Jazz are a team loaded with talent and coached by one of the best in the business. Don't shy away from backing the Jazz in the second half as they look like a team primed to go on a nice run.
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