Eastern Conference NBA action on Saturday afternoon as the lowly Atlanta Hawks head up to New England to take on the Boston Celtics at the TD Garden. The Celtics appear to have at least found some equilibrium following their dismal performance in February where the ended the month losing 6 of 8 SU/5 of 8 ATS. Since the first of March, the Celtis have won 5 of 7 SU although they’re only 3-3-1 ATS. Their signature victory was a dominating performance in a 128-95 win over the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena.
While this thumping of the NBA Champs got most of the headlines an equally impressive result took place the following night in Sacramento. The Kings had the perfect setup to spring an upset on the Celtics but Boston fought throughout for a 111-109 victory (and a pointspread ‘push’). Every team is going to get ‘up’ to take on the Golden State Warriors but the Celtics’ ability to take care of business in Sacto less than 24 hours later is definitely a positive for their much maligned chemistry.
This game is also a good litmus test for Boston’s ability to focus. They’ve got a much bigger game on this court against the Denver Nuggets on Monday night. It’s easy to dismiss the Hawks but they’ve been a surprisingly feisty team, at least from a pointspread perspective. Serious basketball handicappers constantly emphasize the upside potential of teams that the ‘public’ wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole. The Atlanta Hawks definitely fit this description. Atlanta is 28 games out of first place and 8.5 games out of the #8 spot in the Eastern Conference. They’ve been equally bad at home (13-21 SU) as on the road (11-24 SU).
Over the past few weeks, however, they’ve become a veritable ATM machine for savvy bettors. It’s not so much that the Hawks are playing better though I guess they are–at least marginally. It’s a case where their incremental improvement in play is running headlong into the built in pointspread value the Hawks bring as ‘distressed goods.’ Atlanta has covered 10 of their last 13 heading into this matchup and despite their miserable road record they’ve been a solid pointspread play away from home all season long checking in at 20-15 ATS (57.1%). To be fair, Boston has been an equally good home favorite (in fact they’ve got an identical 20-15 ATS mark at the TD Garden).
In terms of the playoffs, the Celtics are in something of a ‘holding pattern’. They realistically don’t have any challenge from below with the teams tied for sixth and seventh (Detroit and Brooklyn) 6.5 games back. They’ve still got a shot at moving up in the standings–they trail Indiana and Philadelphia by 2 games–but with every team in the East with the exception of Milwaukee just ‘treading water’ at the moment this doesn’t look like a spot where they’ll bring down ‘the hammer’. They’ll play at Philly on Wednesday and at Indiana the following Friday. In between they’ve got a couple of games against Eastern Conference also-rans.
This is an easy game for Boston to look past with a big marquee matchup against the #21 team in the West looming. As bad as the Hawks have been this year they could currently be undervalued against the pointspread. At any rate, we’ll take Atlanta plus double digits.