That the New Orleans Hornets are improved and a contender this season is no surprise.  But the fact they sit ahead of the Spurs and Mavericks in the SW Division is a mild shock.

New Orleans Hornets
I was expecting New Orleans to do well this year, particularly ATS, although being in first place in the Southwest Division at the All-Star break, ahead of both Dallas and the Spurs, is a bit of a surprise. At 31-19 ATS, the Hornets were fourth-best in the NBA, and it was spread out consistently over the entire span of the half, in notable contrast to a similar upstart ATS leader of the first half, Orlando. Health is a concern for these guys, as lack of depth is one of their weaknesses. But their starting five is as talented and cohesive as any in the league.

The big question for the second half is how strongly the market will begin to inflate their lines. That is as much a psychological issue as any, as visions of the New Orleans teams of recent memory may be having a subtle effect on their current valuations. I’m not sure the market is ready to give the same kind of day-in, day-out elite-team line treatment it gives to the stalwart elites of recent years.

I suspect, however, that when all is said and done, the Hornets will be over .500 ATS in the second half as well, but only slightly so. Signs of this were already appearing at the end of the first half, which they closed out on a four-game winning streak, but covered the spread in only two of those games.

Again, however, if one or more of their starters goes out with an injury in the second half, the profile of this team could change quite significantly.

San Antonio Spurs
Although there were indications that the Spurs were slipping a bit from their awesome form of years past, they still of course won two-thirds of their games and came away with the sixth-best won/lost record in the NBA in the first half. As usual though, the market was right on top of how good they are, and had them valued very well, as they came in at only 24-26 ATS. And also as usual, they had a solid trend to the under, coming in at 20-31 O/U.

The Spurs are a steady and unusually predictable team, and the trends they exhibited in the first half are the same they have exhibited in recent years, and I do expect them to roughly continue that way throughout the season. I don’t actually see Tony Parker’s injury or return as too terribly important, since the Spurs are a well-tested machine, and have a bit of interchangeability as far as individual players are concerned.

When the playoffs roll around, things will be different. But for the duration of the regular season, I see more under trending and .500 ATS performance in store.

Dallas Mavericks
Dallas, very similar to San Antonio, is an elite team without any line value. Despite their awesome displays of on-court dominance in recent years, they have hovered around .500 ATS through it all, and this year, actually may have been even significantly overrated, as they sit as 21-29 ATS at the break, despite a won/lost record of 35-18. That is not likely to change any time soon, and it could get worse if the addition of Jason Kidd becomes a reality.

Kidd is a big name, and would no doubt, at least to start with, drive Dallas’ lines even higher. But I’m not at all sure this would be a good match. Dallas prefers to play a post-up, tough defense, half-court game, which is considerably at odds with Kidd’s known preferred open-court style of running an offense. And at 36, it’s not clear that raw talent would be able to make up at all for any lack of cohesion that may result when if becomes the floor general. I would not be surprised one bit to see Dallas start off the second half on a bad ATS run, and probably also on a run of unders, if they do wind up acquiring Kidd.

But regardless of what happens with the Kidd deal, there is not likely to be overall line value with Dallas, although there may be in spot situations.

Houston Rockets
Houston completes the triumvirate of winning, under-trending, defense-oriented, half-court style Southwest Division teams with little or no overall line value, along with the Spurs and Dallas. Following the familiar pattern, Houston was 32-20 SU, but only 27-24 ATS, and 21-30 O/U. Amazingly though, despite playing .615 ball in the first half, the Rockets still would not even make the playoffs if the season ended at the break.

The Rockets, anchored of course by Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, can be awesomely dominant when both are healthy and on their game. But they are also two of the most injury-prone stars in the NBA, and when one goes down, Houston usually suffers significantly. The supporting cast is a bit better in my opinion than in years past though, and I would not be at all surprised if Houston went on a run of dominance at some point, easily covering a number of spreads in a row. But there is always an aura of fragility to this version of the Rockets, and it’s always wise to keep general impressions of them up-to-date, as they can change more starkly than most in the NBA.

Memphis Grizzlies
Memphis is strictly in rebuilding mode heading into the second half; trading away Pau Gasol removed any doubts about that. They seem resigned to it, and reasonably satisfied with it in fact, happy to develop burgeoning talent Rudy Gay and a quite healthy number of other youngsters who could well form the nucleus of a contender in the future.

The Grizzlies weren’t even so bad ATS in the first half, weighing in at 24-28. Because they do have a good, future-oriented attitude through all of their losing, they could easily sneak up at any point and become a strong ATS team towards the end of the year, as often happens with the equivalents of Memphis in other years. In fact, I would predict that it is likely. I will be on the lookout for signs of it; if it looks like it is happening, Memphis could enter a stretch with significant value on their side of the lines, which may also linger in the market, depending on when and how it happens.