The NBA is back to work after a lengthy All Star Break and with a decent sized card on Friday there are quite a few teams playing in the second of back to back games here. That is the case with the Atlanta Hawks in this matchup which definitely won’t be the lead story on ‘Sportscenter’. The Atlanta Hawks are a bad team. They’re 19-39 on the season (pending the outcome of Friday’s game against Detroit) and 8 games out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. They were 5-9 SU/ATS heading into the All Star Break and there’s very little to suggest that they’re not going to ‘phone it in’ for the rest of the year.
The Hawks might be a bad team but the Phoenix Suns are an abomination. They might not finish with an all time bad record–there’s just not enough parity for Phoenix to be as bad as, say, the Dallas Mavericks in 1993 and 1994. Even so, this might be one of the least competitive teams I’ve seen in my lifetime as a sports handicapper. When I was first getting into sports betting the aforementioned Mavericks were the low water mark in the NBA. They finished the 1991-1992 season with a record of 22-60 and it seemed at the time that there was nowhere to go but up.
Unfortunately for Dallas basketball fans, the Mavs hadn’t even begun to hit ‘rock bottom’. They had a bunch of overpaid ballhogs in the twilight of their careers. They also had Roy Tarpley who was the best sixth man in the league. At least he was until he was banned from the NBA for life for repeatedly violating the league’s substance abuse policy. That might have been rock bottom as far as the struggles of the franchise but not in terms of wins and losses. Dallas started to rebuild by trading away the only capable players they had such as Rolando Blackman and Herb Williams. Eventually, they’d mercifully deal the classy Derek Harper to the New York Knicks where he would become an integral part of the team’s competitive Patrick Ewing/John Starks era lineup.
All of this translated to the 1992-1993 Mavs finishing with a 11-71. What’s lost in the footnotes of history is what a horrible team Dallas was against the spread. During the first half of the season at least they were an automatic go against night after night. Pointspreads couldn’t get high enough to compensate for the Mavs incompetence. That year Dallas scored an average of 100.4 PPG and allowed an average of 115.5 PPG. A -15 point per game differential just isn’t going to get it done straight up or against the spread. It reached the point that some Las Vegas sportsbooks wouldn’t post a number on Dallas games. I specifically remember the ticket writer at the Imperial Palace telling me that there was no line because it ‘wasn’t a competitive game’.
In the second half of the season, however, Dallas experienced a reversal–at least against the spread. Opponents quit taking them with any degree of seriousness, the team’s meager talent got used to playing together and first round pick Jim Jackson finally came to terms on a contract. When the smoke cleared, Dallas finished the season 34-46-2 ATS. Late in the year they became an automatic ‘play on’ team because they were showing some modest improvement and being dealt lines in the high teens every night.
It wouldn’t surprise me to see this Phoenix Suns team pull a similar turnaround. On the season, Phoenix is a reasonable 25-35 ATS but they limped into the All Star Break losing 16 straight SU going 5-11 ATS. Yet the linesmaker has so little respect for the Atlanta Hawks that they’re favored by just -2.5 points on their home court. When you look at the stats it makes perfect sense. Phoenix has been a horrible road team this year going 4-27 SU but are 12-19 ATS. Atlanta is 9-17 SU at State Farm Arena but their ATS record at home is worse than that. They’ve managed to go 8-18 versus the number on their home court. The pointspread for this game also suggests that on a neutral court Phoenix would be a slight favorite. Atlanta has been favored only four times this year going 1-3 SU/0-4 ATS. Phoenix will be rested while the Hawks played last night and they’re 1-6 ATS in the second of back to back games.
Phoenix has at least one very capable player in shooting guard Devin Booker. He’s the kind of player you can build a team around and he’s been playing out of his mind lately. In his last 10 games he’s averaging 26.5 PPG, 5.1 RPG and 6.0 APG. He’s figured out that the Suns’ best chance to win is for him to have the ball in his hands as often as possible. Even a team that is hoping to land a first round draft pick doesn’t want to lose 16 straight and this is a perfect opportunity for Phoenix to get a win.