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How to Assess NBA Playoff Races

Each year in the NBA there always seems to be an intense race for the last couple of playoff spots in each conference. Sometimes the fight is among very good teams, while other times it’s just lousy teams moving towards an inevitable, quick loss in the first round of the playoffs. Either way, these races are of interest to basketball handicappers. When teams are fighting for a playoff spot they will face more pressure than they have faced up to that point in the season. Their fans will be engaged, the media scrutiny will be high, and every game will matter more than ever before. Some teams thrive and shine under that pressure, while other teams just can’t handle it. Because the teams get more attention than they normally would they also get more attention from the public than normal. Increased betting volume means increased opportunities for value if you don’t agree with the sentiment of the public. Here are six factors to consider when looking at which NBA teams are more likely to shine and are good bets, and which ones seem poised to stumble:

Schedule – This one comes first because it is probably the most important. NBA teams can face very different schedules down the stretch, so one team can have a big advantage over the other if their schedule is easier. The schedules tend to see teams play in their division more down the stretch, so imbalance in divisions can lead to an imbalance in schedule. Playing the strongest teams may not be a particular advantage either – if they have their playoff position already secured then they may be preserving themselves for the postseason and may not play their best as a result. It’s not just the opponents to consider, but also where the games are played. Sometimes a team is forced to play a lot of road games during the season, and that can lead them to play more on their home court down the stretch.

Leadership – Leadership is a hard thing to assess because it’s not tangible. Unless you are in the locker room from day to day you have no way of knowing for sure how strong the leadership is. The more of a sense you can get, though, the better off you are going to be. There are a few signs of how strong leadership is. Does the team play well late in games when things are tight? Is there one player who consistently steps up on those situations, hitting the three-point shot, making the big dunk or gabbing the final rebound? Do they tend to bounce back very well after a bad performance (sign of good leadership) or are they prone to slumps and extended periods of substandard play (signs of bad leadership)? Does the basketball team play with discipline, or do players tend to look out more for themselves?

Other teams involved – This one is simple – in order to make the NBA playoffs a team has to perform better than the other teams fighting to make the playoffs. The teams will have similar records on the season, so you can’t rely on that. Instead, you need to compare the factors like their talent, schedule, and so on to see how the teams compare and if one has an edge as a result.

Performance under pressure – In order to see how teams are likely to perform under pressure you can look at how they have performed in the face of adversity during the season. Have they played strong when the schedule has been tough and they have played a lot of games in a short time, or did they weaken? Did they rebound well from bad losses, or did they continue to struggle? Did they play well through any trade rumors or off court issues, or did they let the distraction overcome them in the arena? Basically, do they seem like a tough team or not?

Trend of season performance – To make the playoffs when facing a tough race a professional basketball team typically needs to be playing their best hoop down the stretch – that makes them much easier to trust, anyway. That means that it is important to get a sense of whether a team has been on an upward or downward trend as the season has progressed. You can look at their hardwood record to give you an initial guide here, but you want to look beyond that to things like tempo-free stats, shooting percentage, and so on to see if a team is improving or weakening.

Health – When two teams have relatively equal strengths the team that is healthier – especially in key positions – is more likely to come out on top. You want to look both at the players who are out of action, and those who are playing hurt. Really, this goes beyond just health, too. Factors like depth, age, and roster balance are also similar considerations of equal importance. Weighing these factors will help you make winning NBA picks on point spreads during the basketball playoffs.

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