If the Detroit Pistons had known ditching Josh Smith would be this effective, they’d have done it years ago.
Normally when a NBA team dumps a one-time star at great expense, it’s a sign that they’ve hit rock bottom – with nowhere else to fall. Starting the season 5-23 under new coach/GM Stan van Gundy, there really was no point in thinking about winning now.
But here’s the strangest thing. With Smith now in Houston, where he’s arguably contributing even less than in Motown, the Pistons have become the league’s hottest team, reeling off seven straight wins going into Friday’s clash with the Atlanta Hawks, a victorious stretch which has seen them upend prime foes like San Antonio, Dallas and Cleveland while averaging 107.9 points per game and giving up 94.4.
Talk about addition by subtraction. Suddenly, with a reasonably favourable run through the second half of the regular season, the playoffs aren’t so improbable in the middling Eastern Conference. Stan, he’s the Man.
But the Hawks should provide a little reality check, and they’re a team – as we forecast - to watch. Now top of the East, winners of six successively, they’re an incredibly adept road opponent, claiming seven on the bounce, while averaging 106.6, and taking 12 of 17 this term.
That’s why Atlanta are 1.69 to cool off the Pistons – in a game that is worth a punt on going over 208.5 total points. And although, it’s too late to get good value on them for the Southeast Division crown with their price cut to at 1.80, expect them to be a safe bet in the months ahead.
New York State of Play
At the opposite end of the scale lie the Knicks, or ‘The Slumping New York Knicks’, as they’ve now been renamed.
Dropping 14 defeats in a row to take possession of the NBA’s worst record, there’s no relief in sight now that trading away JR Smith and Iman Shumpert has signalled game over, and with Carmelo Anthony likely to take the safe option of a surgical repair.
They head to London next week to face the Milwaukee Bucks, who have proven surprisingly resilient since losing Jabari Parker. All signs are for the Knicks to get dropped by double-digits and their fall to accelerate.