Going Into The NBA Playoffs On A Hot Streak: How Much Does It Matter
By Eric Uribe
Come playoff time, momentum becomes a big topic, and for some, a principle reason to bet for or against a team. Then there’s others, like Clippers point guard Chris Paul, that think it’s all complete baloney.
Paul was quoted yesterday saying, “I’m sorry, but I’m just one of the people that believes the regular season has nothing to do with what starts tomorrow. Everybody gets a clean slate. Each game is a different game. So, I don’t really care about the regular season.”
That might be music to the reigning champions ears. The sky is seemingly falling in Cleveland as the Cavs enter the playoffs with a large dud. Cleveland has lost four in a row — which features an overtime loss after leading by 26 points in the fourth quarter — and have lost nine of their last 15. The cold streak knocked them down to the two seed in the East, relinquishing home-court advantage to Boston.
Is it time to hit the panic button in Believeland? Not if you ask LeBron James, who is attempting to earn his seventh straight Eastern Conference Finals trip.
“At the end of the day, I’m not going to harp on what happened in the regular season through injuries, through bad losses, through good wins, through whatever the case may be,” James said recently. “We have a good club going into the postseason. That’s all you can ask for.”
So there you have it, two superstars in Paul and James, saying momentum isn’t a thing. We should take their words as the gospel, right? Kinda.
Yes, they do have a point in a sense. Regular season outcomes don’t matter anymore besides who plays at home and who doesn’t. A game played in December has no bearing now. However, recent play isn’t all worthless.
How many times have we seen, across a multitude of sports, a team that ends the season on a hot streak makes a deep postseason run, if not win the whole thing? It happens a lot.
Now this shouldn’t be your end-all, be-all way of betting the next slew of games. No, it’s just another tool in your tool box.
With that said, let’s see how every team is faring entering the postseason. The following is each playoff team’s record in the last ten games, ranked from best to worst.
- Golden State: 9-1
- Toronto: 8-2
- Los Angeles: 8-2
- Boston: 7-3
- Utah: 7-3
- Chicago: 7-3
- Atlanta: 6-4
- Oklahoma City: 6-4
- Indiana: 6-4
- Portland: 6-4
- San Antonio: 5-5
- Washington: 5-5
- Los Angeles: 5-5
- Milwaukee: 5-5
- Cleveland: 4-6
- Memphis: 3-7
There’s some caveats with these records. For instance, some had little to play for and rested their starters. But you’re telling me the above stats don’t say anything about certain teams?
Take the Warriors for example. Ten games ago some believed they would lose grip of the Western Conference’s first seed with Kevin Durant sidelined. Yet, they began playing their best basketball of the season. Watch out for them!
Same goes for Chicago. For all intents and purposes, they’ve been in playoff mode for weeks now. The Bulls went from the outside looking in on the playoffs to the eighth seed, edging out Miami who finished with the same record. Their 7-3 mark tells you this team hit a different gear when the stakes were high.
Recent hot and cold streaks shouldn’t dictate where you spread your money around. Look, Cleveland aren’t getting bounced out of the first round, no matter how bad they played the last month. But you don’t think Indiana, who have won five in a row, will at least play them competitively? That’s where you should use recent records to help you judge how close an underdog can contend with a favorite.
Judging from the above marks, we believe streaking teams like Utah, Chicago, Indiana, and Oklahoma City are four teams that should be able to cover the spread more times than not in the first round — despite being heavy underdogs.