Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Mad Props! Back To Basics

“Don’t make a habit of betting against greatness.”
- Me, yesterday 


Chance are, at one time or another, you have embarked on a quest to shed a few extra pounds. No, no, no ladies! Please don’t leave! I didn’t say you were fat, I was just… aw, c’mon!

Sigh.

For those of you still in attendance, if this has ever been you, it’s also likely that at some point you’ve received the single most maddening piece of “encouragement” imaginable on this front: “All you’ve got to do is eat well and exercise.”

You don’t say. Is that all?

While ignoring the box of Oreo cupcakes in the office break room, the possibility that your wife might whip up some bacon jam (seriously) or order goat cheese-stuffed, pancetta-wrapped dates (every bit as good as they sound), this is perfectly sound advice. At its core, a reduction in consumption, combined with increased physical exertion will result in weight loss and improved conditioning. Simple.

So what’s this got to do with one man’s mission to deliver the gospel of the prop bet to the world?

It’s time to get back to basics.

Not that it’s even remotely apparent based on the early returns, but I do in fact have a clue as to what I am doing here, and rules by which I abide the vast majority of the time. For starters, there is no need to get cute. A win is a win. They are every bit as sweet when you ride the obvious greatness of Kobe, LeBron or Chris Paul to payday, as when you get lucky with Nick Young, Darren Collison or an off night from Kevin Durant. In addition to aligning yourself with the best in the business, these plays have the potential to be as much fun as anything you’ll do with your clothes on, because if you're on board during one of those games (I had "Kobe over 35.5 points" on the night of 81), it is special. There's no bonus for showing off how freaking smart you are.

On a night when a red hot Carmelo Anthony (28+ in 7 of 11 games before last night; five games of 30+; 47% or better nine times), at home, with playoff position on the line – admittedly against an elite defense, but one against which he’s scored 25+ three times this season, and one more concerned with arriving at the postseason rested and in good health than anything else – hangs obscene 35-12-10 (Over 27 points or Over 9.5 rebounds + assists were available in the -120 range), you want to be on board. Conversely, there is no feeling more demoralizing than watching said torching and marveling, “wow, I’d sorta forgotten just how devastating ‘Melo is when he’s rolling,” while simultaneously praying for Landry Fields, your “contrarian value play,” to miraculously eclipse 8.5 points.

Keep it simple.

Align your interests with those of legitimately good, in-form players, who’ve got something to play for, against favorable matchups. Simple.

Thus, looking to right the ship with Wednesday’s 14-game (!!!) slate (these tend to be dangerous, as action abounds and options, some rather dubious in their quality) my focus is on the best of the best. Despite the late stage of the season, with few exceptions, a number of stars taking the floor tonight will do so with plenty to play for (with one exception – a schedule driven favorable matchup).

Never Not In Play – Though I’m Staying Away
Carmelo Anthony at New Jersey – You might recall that Carmelo is playing some decent ball. Thanks to last night’s victory and the Sixers’ loss in Indiana, the Knicks are a game clear of Philly for #7 in the East, with five remaining. Additionally, given the lack of travel and the fact that Wednesday’s 40-minute masterpiece on likely did more to energize ‘Melo than to fatigue him, there’s a case to be made that the whole “second of a back-to-back” thing is nullified.

HOWEVAH…

Despite his recent fantastic run, in two encounters with the Nets (who are allowing 19.5/48 to opposing small forwards) this season, once immediately prior to his late-January injury, once in Linsanity‘s latter stages, both times at MSG, Carmelo has managed just 11 points in each, on a combined 7-of-28 from the field. In two career outings at the Prudential Center (both last season; one with Denver, one as a Knick), while he’s averaged 31 per, only once has he surpassed 28 points. Additionally, despite the relatively strong case against the negative effects of the back-to-back, only once in his past six outings on zero days rest has he surpassed 21 points.

For Carmelo to continue his recent binge and hang 40 on the Nets would hardly be shocking, but there is enough at play to give pause.

Kevin Garnett at home v. Orlando – How much would you love to bet on KG in a matchup against Big Baby? If I had an assurance from Doc Rivers that Garnett is not in line for an evening of R&R on the sideline, I’m not sure I’d deem any line as being too high. With that said, this is Celtics’ ninth game in the past two weeks. Garnett has taken part in all nine, playing 33+ minutes six times and fewer than 30 (28 on April 8 v. Philly) just once. It would come as no surprise if he is in for a bit of rest.

Interestingly, tonight’s contest will speak volumes about the esteem in which the Celtics hold the Magic. All but assured the East’s #4 seed, Boston is looking ahead to an opening round matchup against either the Hawks or the Magic, each of whom enter Wednesday with a 36-25 record. Does Doc Rivers rest his veterans (and/or Rajon Rondo, who was banged up last night in New York) and tell Orlando “we’re totally cool with seeing you in Round 1” by gifting them the inside track on the #5 seed?

Russell Westbrook at Phoenix – Russ’s magic number has climbed steadily as the season has progressed, from 24.5/25.5 to ~30 in recent weeks. This line inflation is certainly justified, though it’s worth noting that on recent form (using the 13 games since his 45-6 in the classic OT win against the Wolves), this proposition – particularly against a surprisingly stout Phoenix D, which is allowing just 17.9 and 8.4 assists per 48 to opposing point guards and the NBA’s fourth fewest shots at the rim (Russ’s bread & butter)– is iffy at best.

While his raw scoring remains prolific (23.3 per game), Westbrook’s 42%/29.5% FG/3-pt and 5.4 assists per game (with four games of three or fewer) paint him as more Allen Iverson than Chris Paul. As with Iverson, actively betting against Russ remains a strategy for strong stomachs and dim wits, but similar struggles with consistency and efficiency make him far from a sure thing.

DeMarcus Cousins at home v. San Antonio – The Spurs have been unable to keep Boogie off the boards in any of the five games in which they’ve seen him (10+ rebounds every time) and have failed to keep his point/rebound tally under 30 in either of two meetings this season (17-13 January 20 in San Antonio; 25-11 on March 28 in Sacto). And those were contests in which they cared. On the third night of a back-to-back-to-back, one that has seen the Spurs cruise into the West’s top spot with easy wins against the Warriors and Lakers, is there much doubt that Pop strongly considers punting this one away?

A word of caution, however – after averaging an awesome 21 points and 10.7 rebounds in his first 20 post-All Star Game outings (12 of which ended with 29+ P/R), DMC has tailed off in his last seven game, seeing drops in minutes (29 per game), field goal percentage (41%), free throw percentage (50%) and scoring (13.7). This mark remains very much in play (on three of these occasions he’s gone for 29+), but has not been this big a gamble since Paul Westphal was gainfully employed.


If You’re Gonna Go Down…
Kevin Durant at Phoenix – In 13 games against the Suns over the past four seasons (averaging 26.7 per), he’s gone for 28+ seven times, though he’s managed the feat just twice in Phoenix. On the heels of an absolute clunker against the Clippers (24, on just 7-of-18, including 0-for-7 on 3s), and with his Thunder now looking up at the Spurs in the Western Conference standings, look for a fire in KD’s eye tonight.

THIS, and not torching your cash in the Landry Fields lotto, is a nice value proposition. Thanks to a recent mini-slump, Durant’s scoring lines have dipped by about a point from their March peak of 28.5/29. This is not totally without reason, as KD has made less than half of his shots and failed to crack 25 points in four of his last six. With that said, he remains Kevin fucking Durant, the league’s most effortless scorer, hopeful (once again) scoring champ.

Chris Paul at Denver – Never doubt a motivated Point God, particularly one fighting for a division title and playoff position, against not only the NBA’s second-fastest team, but one that ranks in the bottom ten in points allowed per possession and on average is surrendering 21.3 and 9 assists per 48 minutes to opposing point guards. For good measure, in three meetings this season CP has twice topped 30 points/assists (36-9 in LA; 25-7 in Denver), and has done so five times in 10 career trips to the Mile high City, with all coming in his last seven games.

“Special” is always in play with CP, but my gut tells me tonight will be “SPECIAL.” 


Enjoy the full slate! Until next time...


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