What’s the Most Improbable Trend of the 2019-20 NBA Season?
Can you tell a lucky streak from a bettable trend? And what should you do when you spot one? Case in point: the Orlando Magic, pre-Covid-19.
As you know, streaks are a part of the betting world.
Teams casually win a few games a row against the spread. Consecutive unders cash. Underdogs tend to string together moneyline wins. You know the drill.
However, when the over goes 22-30 and then hits 12-straight times in one team’s games, it’s important to take notice.
That’s exactly what happened before the NBA went on its Covid-19 hiatus. Due to a stylistic change, the Orlando Magic were involved in the craziest trend of the basketball season, and went 8-4 straight-up as a result.
A Stylistic Change
At the beginning of the run, the Magic were 22-31 and failed to establish a clear direction. That led to veteran head coach Steve Clifford’s change in philosophy. The defensive-oriented tactician abandoned his principles and adapted to the new-age run-and-gun style. His roster benefited from it (as did anyone who bet the over).
The Magic rank 26th in pace (98.7) overall this season, but in the 12 games before the hiatus, they ranked 12th in the NBA (101.29). The consequences of this up-tempo style have been simple and evident: more shots for both Orlando and their opponents have led to higher point totals.
In the 53 games before this streak, the Magic scored just 44.3 points in the paint per game, one of the worst marks in the NBA. During the streak, they’ve attacked the rim and scored 52.7 points in the paint per contest (T-6th most). Playing with an increased tempo has led to some more efficient opportunities.
Their increased focus on getting better looks has resulted in a 48.6% field goal percentage during the streak (2nd best) and it’s clear that the team’s core thrived. Nikola Vucevic (21.8 points on 52.1% shooting), Terrence Ross (20.7 points on 46.4% shooting), Evan Fournier (20.2 points on 52.3% shooting), Aaron Gordon (17.3 points on 48.6% shooting) and Markelle Fultz (13.7 points on 52.2% shooting) all averaged double-figures in points during the 12-game span, and all lit it up from the field.
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Moving forward, it’s essential that all five of those players continue to produce offensively, and there’s no reason to assume that their production will fall off to a major degree.
Over the 12-game streak, the Magic recorded 29.1 assists per game (2nd most) while their opponents posted 27.8 per game (3rd most). As you might imagine, those are two massive numbers. For context, in the 53 games before the streak, Orlando recorded 22.9 assists per contest while their opponents posted 23.7 per contest. The Magic have taken care of the ball all season, but they’ve combined their ability to facilitate effectively with an ability to limit turnovers. Orlando turned the ball over just 12.2 times per contest in the 12-game stretch (3rd-best), which was extremely impressive after the midseason offensive scheme change.
Further, the Magic ranked 2nd in potential assists (53.4) third in assist points created (73.4) and were the best team in the entire NBA in assist to pass percentage (10.4). This team was passing the rock with effectiveness and efficiency.
But, it came with a price, as most positive things do.
Before the All-Star break, Orlando ranked seventh in Defensive Rating (107.4), but during this 12-game stretch, their defensive ability fell off the map. The Magic ranked 27th in Defensive Rating over that span, and their opponents converted a ridiculous 14.8 three-pointers (most) on 36.9 three-point attempts per game (5th-most) for a 40.0% rate (3rd highest).
That’s one of the tradeoffs that playing at a quicker pace requires, but as mentioned above, Orlando went 8-4 straight-up (9-3 ATS) since making the change to a more up-and-down style.
Currently holding the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference, the Magic (30-35) are just a half game behind the seventh-seeded Brooklyn Nets, who will most likely not have either Kyrie Irving or Kevin Durant available if/when the regular season resumes in late July.
The Washington Wizards (24-40) will still be in the mix, but if Orlando continues to push the pace and play to the advantage of their athletic roster, they should be able to make the playoffs.
Although that will likely set up a date with the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors or Boston Celtics, remember that these will essentially be home games for the Magic, who will not have to feel completely out of place under the proposed bubble at Walt Disney World.
While taking a shot on them to win anything more than a few games in their opening-round series would probably not be a great idea, one thing is for certain: you’re going to want to keep hammering the over until Orlando’s spell fades away.
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