NBA sleepwalkers: Fading elite playoff-bound teams
Like the blue-hair retirees that ridicule the laws of driving, veteran NBA clubs will set the cruise control 10 miles under the speed limit and coast into playoffs the final three weeks of the season.
Coaches start to whittle down minutes for a multitude of reasons: Rest for wounded regulars that have played through injury, experience for young reserves that could be called upon during the postseason, conditioning for grizzled vets that have been preserving legs at the end of the bench.
The boys out in Boston recently said they wanted the top spot in the East, but they must be having a senior moment in their old age because that’s not realistic. They trail the Bulls by two games and seven of Chicago’s final nine come against teams with losing records. The C’s still have to go on the road and play at San Antonio, Miami and Chicago.
Doc Rivers told the media two weeks ago that while obtaining the No. 1 seed was an objective, his top priority was health.
Rajon Rondo has been a below average point guard the last month while playing through a variety of ailments. He’s also logging a career high in minutes. Rondo said he wouldn’t mind playing less now that Delonte West has returned and can run the point. Rivers confirmed he would be “decreasing” Rondo’s minutes going forward.
When the O’Neal twin towers resurrect we will likely see Big Baby’s minutes scaled back. And Rivers is still acclimating guys like Jeff Green, Troy Murphy, Carlos Arroyo and Sasha Pavlovic to the complex defense so more action for them equates to less for the regulars.
The Celtics went 5-8 overall and 4-9 at the wagering window the final three weeks of last season. They lost outright to Houston and Washington as 11-point favorites at home. After dropping back-to-back games at the Garden against the Grizzlies and Bobcats last week, Rivers said his squad looked “bored with the regular season.”
Boston has the fifth-oldest team in the NBA and what might come as a surprise, the Heat have the oldest. Miami is sixth in average age with minutes played weighted in.
LeBron James and Dwyane Wade rank in the top 20 in minutes per game. Wade recently said he wouldn’t mind playing time for bench players being extended down the stretch. It’s been painfully obvious every member of that team outside of the Big Three could use some work.
The lead for the No. 1 seed in the West is five games. San Antonio has a four-game cushion over the Bulls for the overall best record. The Spurs have nine games left, five are at home and two of those come against Sacramento and Utah. It’s basically a done deal and Gregg Popovich will start to protect his assets.
Tim Duncan is already hobbled and Pop won’t throw him on the floor 30 minutes a night even if he returns before the playoffs. Last year, a healthy Duncan sat the final game of the season and averaged just 27.7 minutes over last five he played. San Antonio is 0-3 since he rolled the ankle.
From March 29 on during the last six seasons, the Spurs are 42-29 straight up but just 26-35 against the spread. Eight of those losses came as 7-point chalk or higher.
Starters for these teams aren’t going to be limited every game so don’t fade them from here on out. There’s a fine line between rest and maintaining rhythm.
But tread cautiously when throwing down on these squads down the stretch my friends. Unfortunately, we bettors don’t receive a daily memo from the coaches regarding the rotation. We can only hope intentions leak through the media so Google News and, of course, Covers.com should be your best handicapping tools going forward.
THIS WEEK’S SITUATIONAL BETS
Cavaliers at Bobcats (Wednesday, March 30): Baron Davis said that when the Cavs welcome back LeBron James on Tuesday night there will be confidence, motivation, passion and not “a lot of smiles.” Cleveland will undoubtedl