Jan 24 NBA Action: A Rare Opportunity in Wizards @ Blazers
We are backing the Portland Blazers +6 versus the Washington Wizards this evening. At 31-13, Portland sports the third best record in the league, and is second only to Golden State in the stacked Western Conference. The Blazers are also the third best team in the NBA on their home court (based on record).
However, the Blazers three-time (and counting) All-Star Power Forward, LaMarcus Aldridge, tore a ligament in his left tumb and is expected to miss the next six to eight weeks action. This is a big deal, especially as Aldridge's jumpshooting ability creates space in a way that is unparalleled in today's game. The following chart from FiveThirtyEight illustrates the ninth year pro's propensity to take and make long jumpers -- which tends to draw large bodies away the paint, creating space for Portland's star Point Guard, Damian Lillard, to operate.
As a result of Aldridge's absence, the Blazers find themselves in the fairly unique position of being branded underdogs at home. There has been only one other instance this season where this has been the case: on November 4, the Cavaliers entered Moda Center weighed down by bloated expectations. Portland easily covered the +2 point spread and collected a blowout win straight-up.
While we find the Blazers' unusual home dog status intriguing, the primary basis for our participation -- as always -- is that each component of our simulation and quant-based model points to substantial value with Portland. As the following table illustrates, all factors we weigh point to a Blazers victory outright.
Interestingly, the computers call for the Blazers to win outright by three or four points, even without Aldridge. Portland is the third best three-point shooting team in the league and the simulations expect the Blazers be prolific tonight from range. Portland's ability to stroke the long ball should offset their disadvantage on the glass and allow for the cover in spite of their shooting a lower overall percentage from the floor.
Importantly, unlike the computers, which simulated this contest assuming Aldridge would not go, the quant work does not consider personnel changes. As another crosscheck, such a blind factor might be adjusted, based on ESPN's Real Plus Minus statistic (RPM), for instance, to estimate the impact on the spread of Aldridge's absence.
LaMarcus' RPM of +2.69 suggests that the scoring differential is pushed 2.69 points in Portland's favor (per 100 offensive and defensive possessions played) when their premier big man is on the floor. Given that Portland averages 98.1 possessions per game at home and Washington averages 95.2 when travelling, Aldridge's injury might move the betting line on Portland by +5.2 points [+2.69 x (98.1 + 95.2) ÷ 100].
However, if healthy, Aldridge would not play all 193 expected possessions. Given that Coach Terry Stotts has used LaMarcus an average of 35.8 minutes per 48 minute game this year, the +5.2 point adjustment might be moderated down to +3.9 (+5.2 x 35.8 ÷ 48). Thus, Aldridge's injury might cost his team 3.9 spread points versus these Washington Wizards.
But, someone must play in Aldridge's place. Therefore, the impact of the gap fillers must also be considered to properly calibrate the appropriate change to the spread. Thomas Robinson is the Blazers true backup PF (Victor Claver and Dorrell Wright are natural Small Forwards). Robinson's RPM is -2.41. Assuming Robinson inherits all of Aldridge's time (which, admittedly, is an oversimplifcation, but one that we do not think materially skews the numbers), the Blazers' numerical advantage shrinks by another 3.5 points [-2.41 x (98.1+ 95.2) ÷100 x 35.8 ÷ 48 = -3.5].
Subtracting the positive value of Aldridge's play and adding the negative impact of Robinson as a replacement to our blind factor, starting spread estimate makes the Blazers 2.2 point underdogs (-5.2 +3.9 +3.5 = +2.2)...still a strong value versus the line at +5.5.
Thus, any (objective) way we slice it, Portland plus the points looks like the play. As a result, despite their shorthandedness, we are (albeit trepidaciously) capitalizing on this uncommon opportunity to receve points betting on the Blazers to cover at Moda Center. The Wizards have been solid of late, going 6-4 SU and 5-5 ATS in their last ten outings, however, Washington has proven soft when laying large spreads (i.e. 5-8 ATS this season as favorites of 6 points or more).