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October 25, 2014

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A Vegas look at the NBA: This season’s best bets

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ASSOCIATED PRESS

San Antonio Spurs’ Manu Ginobili (20), of Argentina, talks to teammates Gary Neal (14), Stephen Jackson (3) and Tim Duncan during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Friday, April 6, 2012, in San Antonio. San Antonio won 128-103.

The average sports bettor treats the NBA regular season something like an old piece of furniture sitting in the garage this time of year.

It’s just there. Casual gamblers give the NBA virtually no attention after the NCAA Tournament tips off every March.

Yes, there are still three weeks of regular season action left after the final verse of “One Shining Moment” is played on CBS to conclude college basketball. But by then, bettors realize things in the NBA are as messy as one of those houses in “Hoarders.”

NBA playoff schedule lasts about this long

Some teams are so far out of the playoff race that they are intentionally trying to lose games to improve their chances in the draft lottery. Even the best teams tend to put themselves at disadvantages on certain nights by arbitrarily deciding to rest star players in preparation for the BASEketball-like state of the modern-day playoffs.

Add injuries into the equation and it’s all enough to make bettors more likely to wager on the German Handball League than the NBA.

Most bettors are willing to come back for the excitement of the postseason, however, which creates a problem. By not betting or following the league for a month, gamblers put themselves at a major disadvantage at the start of the playoffs.

That’s where Talking Points comes in. Over the next couple of weeks leading up to the April 28 start of the NBA Playoffs, we’ll look around the association and try to refamiliarize everyone with what’s going on through a number of topics.

Let’s start easy. Below are the five teams who have fared the best against the spread this season going into Friday night’s games. All of these five have covered at least 54 percent of the time, meaning bettors would have a nice profit if they threw money on these teams every night.

Three of the five teams should come as no surprise. The two others, well, let’s just say someone who doesn’t keep up with this stuff wouldn’t believe it. Numbers come from the sports-betting database at Covers.com.

1. San Antonio Spurs (34-20-3 ATS, 41-16 straight-up)

Some things, like the Spurs defying oddsmakers’ projections, never change. Coach Gregg Popovich’s bunch hasn’t posted a losing season against the spread in six years. The perception of San Antonio always seems to undermine reality. Lately, people have called the Spurs too old to compete. It’s true that their centerpieces — Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker — started in the NBA long before Apple unveiled the iPod, but they’ve worked their way around the age factor. Incredible depth — Popovich sometimes plays 11 players for as many as 15 minutes in a game — and a couple young frontcourt bodies, Kawhi Leonard and DeJuan Blair, have the Spurs profitable once again.

2. Chicago Bulls (35-21 ATS, 45-14 straight-up)

Like the Spurs, depth is the reason the Bulls are rewarding those who continue to support them at the betting window. Chicago has soared despite last year’s NBA MVP, Derrick Rose, missing 23 games. The Bulls have gone 13-10 against the number when Rose is out of the lineup. With him, they’re the best bet in the league at 21-11.

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Kevin Durant receives a pass during a USA Basketball men's national team exhibition game Saturday in Las Vegas.

3. Golden State Warriors (31-27 ATS, 22-36 straight-up)

Those who were accusing the Warriors of tanking last month should feel awfully foolish. Since trading Monta Ellis to the Milwaukee Bucks in mid-March, Golden State has gone 12-8 against the spread. The Warriors went on a five-game winning streak versus the number to start April. Four of those games were on the road, where the Warriors have been at their best. Despite a losing home record, the Warriors have gone 18-11 against the spread as visitors.

4. Oklahoma City Thunder (32-26 ATS, 42-16 straight-up)

The Thunder spent the first four months of the season battling for both the NBA’s best record and most profitable mark against the spread. A disappointing April has made both pursuits significantly tougher. Oklahoma City has gone 3-4 straight-up and against the spread over the last two weeks. Perhaps tiring legs are to blame — though that seems like a reach on a team led by young stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook — as the Thunder’s scoring pace has slowed down and five of seven April games have gone under the total.

5. Toronto Raptors (32-26-1 ATS, 20-39 straight-up)

Quick: Ask a random friend to name as many players on the Toronto Raptors as he or she can. We’ll set the over/under at 1.5. This exercise could help explain why sports books have undervalued Toronto this season. Fans find it hard to drool over a nucleus of Andrea Bargnani, Jose Calderon and DeMar DeRozan. That’s not praise for Toronto’s Not-So-Big Three. But, then again, there are teams with worse. The Raptors are competitive when healthy — Bargnani is out for the rest of the year after already missing much of the season — and have gone 8-3 as an underdog of more than 10 points.

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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