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As NBA returns, 3 games look pivotal

July 28, 2020 09:37 PM
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Jusuf Nurkic (center)
© Imagn

The NBA returns this week, and there is plenty to handicap with 31 games being played before the next edition of “Point Spread Weekly.” Three games in particular have plenty of intrigue with line moves, additions to lineups and matchup problems that will surely work against certain teams. In some cases, it might lead to value for bettors to pounce on.

 

Thursday: L.A. Clippers at L.A. Lakers (-4, 215.5)

 

After opening as a pick in almost every shop, the Lakers have emerged as sizable favorites in the last week. The Clippers’ Patrick Beverley, Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams had to leave Orlando, Fla., for various family emergencies, so their status for Thursday’s opener became questionable, leading to the line change. Williams has been handed a quarantine of 10 days since his return, and as of Tuesday night Harrell had yet to find his way back to Orlando. With Beverley as a “maybe,” according to coach Doc Rivers, it is pretty clear the Clippers’ depth, a massive strength, will be lacking Thursday night. However, all is not positive for the Lakers either. Anthony Davis took a finger to the eye in Saturday’s scrimmage against Orlando and has been designated “day-to-day” by coach Frank Vogel. It will obviously be a considerable loss for the Lakers if Davis cannot play. The Lakers have a + 7.3 net differential with Davis on the floor, but those include LeBron James minutes. If Davis and James are off the floor, that net rating plummets to -2.5 points every 100 possessions. Clearly the Lakers will be up against it if Davis is inactive. By all accounts, the Clippers will still have their duo of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, which would give them quite the advantage. I bet this game last weekend, taking the four points with the Clippers, and expect it to get below that number by tip-off.

 

Friday: Memphis at Portland (-2, 222.5)

 

This could be by far the most meaningful game in the first three days in the bubble. By means of winning percentage, Portland has an edge in the standings over New Orleans and Sacramento in the race for the final seed in the Western Conference. The Trail Blazers sit 3.5 games behind Memphis in the West, and a win would go a long way toward forcing a play-in with the Grizzlies. However, this matchup is fascinating for many reasons besides the playoff implications. Portland is seemingly at full strength with Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins back in the fold after recovering from injury. Portland ranked 27th in defensive rebounding as well as defensive efficiency, and Nurkic should immediately improve the Blazers’ issues on the glass, which led opponents to average a league-worst 15.5 second-chance points per game. Adding to the intrigue is the matchup between the teams. Taylor Jenkins, a longtime Mike Budenholzer disciple who was an assistant in Milwaukee last season, has done a great job implementing the Bucks’ defensive principles in Memphis. Those philosophies emphasize rim protection and allow opponents to take more 3-point attempts. It has led the Grizzlies to finishing the regular season as the seventh-best team in the league in terms of rim protection (61.4%) and the 18th-ranked perimeter defense (36.3%). Why does this matter? Portland is one of the worst offenses at the rim in the NBA. The Trail Blazers rank 26th in frequency of attempts within 4 feet and 30th in shooting at the rim (60.3%). In short, how Portland plays offense is how Memphis wants its opponents to play. There’s also the aspect of Nurkic returning after missing over a year with one of the most gruesome leg injuries we’ve seen. How effective can he be? Is the market overvaluing Portland based on the additions of Nurkic and Collins?

 

Saturday: Philadelphia (-6, 211.5) at Indiana

 

Indiana was dealt a serious blow last week when Domantas Sabonis left the bubble with a foot injury that will keep him off the floor for the rest of the season. He was the team’s second-leading scorer at 18.5 points per game, and Indiana outscored opponents by 4.3 points every 100 possessions with him on the floor. Victor Oladipo continues to be noncommittal about playing in the restart despite starting Indiana’s final scrimmage Tuesday. All of this noise has led to the market moving this line two points in Philadelphia’s favor. Should the 76ers be laying six points, though? Out of desperation and necessity, coach Brett Brown has changed his starting lineup. Shake Milton enters the fold for Philadelphia, and Ben Simmons will be shifting to power forward. This lineup has not played a single minute together this season, and Simmons has not seen a second at power forward. Milton’s presence should be a great addition for Simmons and Joel Embiid, though, as that gives Philadelphia three floor-spacing shooters in the starting lineup. With Milton on the floor this season, the 76ers have seen their shooting percentage at the rim jump by 5.7% and their 3-point shooting increase by 1.4%. These are obviously positive signs for Philadelphia, but it does not change the fact that the team will be breaking in a new unit Saturday. Embiid’s calf also is an issue. It caused him to miss the final scrimmage and has put his status for this contest in question. Should bettors be confident in laying an inflated number with a team like Philadelphia?

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