Zion the Lion...... And the NBA's Pointspread Leaders

Well, the New Orleans Pelicans appear to have addressed their Zion Williamson problem. Or at least their perceived problem. 
They had come under some criticism for holding down his playing time in the early games in the bubble. In the first two contests he was on the floor for a total of 29 minutes. And a lot was made of the proposition that his drawing power was a motivator for the NBA in devising its playoff qualification format, which would give the Pelicans a chance to make it if they could get to the ninth position and stay within four games of #8.
Whether that is altogether true or not is debatable. But there's no question that in a time that could best be described as uncertain, the league could use all the drawing cards it could get.
The truth is, Williamson was taking things at a steady pace after an injury. He was forced to spend some time outside the bubble (13 days, to be exact) over what was termed a "family emergency.' And there is a future to be considered. 
Oh, on top of that, the Pelicans has a bunch of teams they have to beat out to get that final playoff spot. We're talking about Sacramento, San Antonio, Phoenix and Portland. Then there's a two-game play-in series, which they would have to sweep. And the reward for surviving that is a likely first-round elimination at the hands of the Los Angeles Lakers. 
So truth be told, they couldn't be blamed for seeing the big picture first. 

Whether that's their priority or not, coach Alvin Gentry allowed Zion 47 minutes over Games 3 and 4, during which time he scored 47 points and helped to deliver the team's first victory in the bubble. 
That's a point a minute. And in this league, that's MVP-level stuff. 
With a pretty good surrounding cast, including All-Stars like Brandon Ingram and Jrue Hoiiday, things are looking up in the Big Easy. And at this time next year, we might be talking about this team in a whole new tone. 

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If there is a heavyweight champion of the pointspread, it's the Oklahoma City Thunder, who led the NBA with a 42-25 ATS record in their first 67 games. How did that happen?
Well, no one saw them coming, for one thing. This team lost Russell Westbrook and Paul George in the off-season, and that, in the opinion of many, took away all their possibilities. 
Some of the people who admire Billy Donovan expected that he might get the most out of the players on his roster. But not many figured on him becoming a genuine coach of the year candidate. Granted, he did get a genuine star player back in the Westbrook deal (Chris Paul), but there's more to his team establishing itself as a sudden contender. 
Donovan has often gone with three guards on the floor at once. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Dennis Schroder (recently out of the bubble upon the birth of a child) deserve props, and Schroder in particular has been an "instant offense" proposition off the bench. Of course, the muscle up front with Steven Adams has been recognized for some time, but with the long-range shooting of Danilo Galinari, they're more dangerous. Nerlens Noel is a shot-blocking demon in the middle, and has revived himself. Darius Bazley, a rookie who bypassed college to train on his own (with the help of a $1 million "internship" from New Balance) is rapidly improving. And who could have predicted contributions from Luguentz Dort, an undrafted rookie out of Arizona State? 
Yes, Donovan has had to do a lot of tweaking. 

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They are not very dependent on triples (only three teams have shot fewer). They don't rebound exceedingly well (18th overall, and 30th on the offensive end). And only two teams have put together fewer assists. 
Yet they have done enough to have third place in the West well within their sights. They don't cough up the ball. They commit the fewest fouls in the league. They have held opponents below 34% from three-point range. 
Yet those numbers don't tell the whole story. In the playoffs, mental toughness is about as important a factor as anything else. The Thunder have won sixteen games this season after being behind going into the fourth quarter, and that is not only tops in the NBA, it is two wins away from the league record since the shot clock was introduced. So it is safe to say these guys are very rarely out of a game. 
So not much was expected out of them, and they have clearly over-achieved. Perhaps it is safe to say that not enough people have come around to believing in them, and that would be reflected by a 26-10 record against the points as an underdog. In this business, that is called "sizzling." 
Who knows where they will wind up at the end of the seeding games. But if they can keep themselves in sixth place or higher, they can make themselves relevant. And with Andre Roberson back after an injury, they have the shudown guy on defense who can keep opposing offenses off-balance. 
Their relevance could continue, since they acquired four first-round picks over the next six seasons from Houston in the Westbrook-Paul deal. 
Between New Orleans and OKC, you might be looking at the future of the Western Conference starting to unfold. 

About the Author

Charles Jay is unlike most analysts associated with handicapping and the gaming industry, in that he also has had extensive experience in the so-called "mainstream" media as well.

He has been involved with professional sports industry for almost two decades, working in all capacities, as a matchmaker, booking agent, manager, and also as an editorial consultant on USA Network's "Tuesday Night Fights," which, for a time, carried "Charles Jay's Line" on upcoming fights. As a broadcaster, he has called world title fights around the world for various outlets, and has served as a color commentator for Sunshine Network and Prime Network.

His radio experience includes being the host of numerous programs, including "Sportswatch with Charles Jay" on KDWN in Las Vegas, "Total Action" on WAXY 790 in Miami, and "Charles Jay's Winning Edge", syndicated into 55 markets by the American Radio Networks, and he's done podcasts on all subjects related to sports, gaming and popular culture.

Working within the casino industry, he has a special events consultant for Casino Magic in Mississippi, as that venue established itself in the early 1990s as a hotbed of boxing activity in particular. Prior to this, he had been engaged as a casino gaming columnist for, among others, Casino Player, Card Player and Sports Form (now known as Gaming Today), specializing in blackjack. And later on, his investigative series on boxing, entitled "Operation Cleanup," won him much critical acclaim, including the 2003 "Dignity" Award, in the category of "Best Sports Writer," as bestowed by the Retired Boxers Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to rendering assistance to ex-fighters in need.

In 2006 he established a content services division of his company, which has eventually evolved in JayWords, and he is arguably the world's most prolific sports & gaming writer, with over 20,000 articles to his credit, the vast majority of which have been sports handicapping pieces. So you might say he has analyzed as many sporting events as anyone alive during this period. He has also brought some interest with his so-called "gimmick" odds on special events, including the Academy Awards, the NFL Draft, and the Super Bowl, for which he posted dozens and dozens of different odds propositions with various sportsbooks.

This renaissance man is a winner of the Retired Boxers Foundation's "Dignity Award" and a member of the Florida Boxing Hall of Fame; graduate of the University of Miami (Florida) who currently resides in the South Florida area.