Betting preview for Friday's NBA games

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Last night was a great lesson for bettors when it comes to perception.

Charlotte went into its meeting with Brooklyn riding high on a 4-1 SU/5-0 ATS run, but the Hornets were smacked down 111-89 in a loss that was never close. Meanwhile, Orlando took its young, rag-tag group to New Orleans where the short-handed Pelicans were 5.5-point favorites despite missing Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball. Lo and behold, the Magic won and covered their fourth straight contest since the trade deadline.

The market’s perception of Charlotte created a number that was too short given the quality of competition it was facing in Brooklyn. On the other hand, the inflated perception of New Orleans, alongside the poor rating of Orlando, caused a number much too high for a beat-up team. Perception burned the market last night, and when it comes to Orlando specifically, it will continue to do so until bettors realize this team is not as poor as they perceive it to be.

Updated odds for every game can be found here.

Updated injury reports for every game can be found here.

*Indicates team is on the second leg of a back-to-back

The Main Event

Milwaukee Bucks (-3.5, 237.5) at Portland Trail Blazers

Milwaukee capped off March with a win and cover against the Los Angeles Lakers, which snapped a 1-3 SU/0-4 ATS slide. Quietly, the Bucks have been in relatively poor form the past month, posting a 9-4 SU/4-9 ATS record with a + 3.0 net rating over the past 31 days. It is pretty clear the betting market is too high on this team, and now they enter into a matchup that could present some problems for their struggling perimeter defense.

In three games since the trade deadline, Portland is averaging 121.4 points every 100 possessions and shooting 42.3% from deep. Jusuf Nurkic is back in the lineup, and Norm Powell has averaged 16.3 points and shot 58.3% from deep since donning a Trail Blazers uniform. Prior to the additions of Nurkic and Powell to the lineup, Portland would have been a problem for Milwaukee, but they are even more so now that their personnel has improved.

The Trail Blazers take the second-most 3-point attempts per game, and as a team they shoot 38.2% from long range. Where they really work their magic is above the break, where they take 35.9% of their attempts and shoot 39.5% as a team.  Powell fits perfectly in Portland, and they will be a nightmare for Milwaukee which gives up the fourth-most non-corner attempts and allows 37.0% to those shooters. Will they be able to contain the Trail Blazers’ offense? Keep in mind, the Bucks have allowed 114.5 points per 100 possessions to their previous five opponents!

That is not to say the Bucks can’t do the exact same thing to the Trail Blazers’ defense. Portland has been absolutely lifeless when it comes to keeping teams out of the restricted area. The Trail Blazers give up the third-most attempts at the rim this season, and rank 20th in opponent shooting (64.7%). Milwaukee is the second-ranked rim shooting team in the league (68.2%) and with Giannis Antetokounmpo on the floor they take well over a third of their shots at the hoop. How in the world is Portland turning him away?

With both teams holding the ability to exploit the other’s defense the betting market has bet up an already massive total to 239.5 at most shops. If you need a game to watch tonight, this is going to be the one.

The Co-Main Event

Dallas Mavericks (-5.5, 213.5) at New York Knicks

New York has dropped its last two games, and in both of those losses it has shown that its style of play is not sustainable. In those two contests alone, the Knicks were limited to just 1.005 points per possession, and since the beginning of March their offensive rating of 107.9 is 23rd in the league. Imagine having the eighth-most efficient defense in the league, but still getting outscored by 1.5 points every 100 possessions because your offense is so mundane! How is that style going to work against Dallas, which comes in averaging 116.9 points every 100 possessions over its previous 14 games?

The Mavericks, like many teams in this league, thrive from the perimeter -- and that is an area that has been troublesome for the Knicks’ defense. New York allows opponents to take 38.9% of their attempts from deep, and against an offense that shoots 40.5% of their shots from beyond the arc that is not a recipe for success. If Dallas has a solid shooting night, which is likely for a team hitting at a 38.1% clip over the past month, will the Knicks be able to score efficiently enough to keep up with the Mavericks?

One could argue that Dallas’ defense, which gives up 114.2 points every 100 possessions in non-garbage time minutes, is a unit that the Knicks could score on, but against the Timberwolves’ 27th-ranked defense they managed just 1.063 points per possession.

The Prelims

Golden State Warriors* at Toronto Raptors (-3, 226.5)

Kyle Lowry is out for the next week, and if the Raptors’ loss to the Thunder on Wednesday is a glimpse of what is to come then it is about to get ugly for Toronto. The Raptors managed just 1.031 points per possession, went 13-of-27 at the rim and shot just 33.3% on 45 3-point attempts. To make matters worse, their defense gave up an offensive rating of 113.1 to one of the worst offenses in the league. Golden State has had its issues on offense, but with Steph Curry back in the fold it has been able to operate much more efficiently on offense; specifically from deep, where they have hit 29-of-71 (40.4%) of their 3-pointers.

Houston Rockets at Boston Celtics (-11.5, 223.5)

Houston almost blew the cover against Brooklyn by allowing another late run, but a 3-pointer in the waning seconds helped them cover their second game in three tries. Tonight, they get another large number, but this time its against a Boston team that has yet to show any consistency. The Celtics are 0-2 SU and ATS in their last two games, and in both they used late rallies to make blowouts look closer than they really were. In the first half of the losses to New Orleans and Dallas, Boston posted a -30.6 net rating and allowed 1.306 points per possession. However, in the second half of those games their net rating improved to + 18.6 and they allowed just 0.962 points per possession! There is no way bettors should trust a team that is this fickle on defense.

Charlotte Hornets* at Indiana Pacers (-4, 223)

Nobody loves the Hornets more than I do, but the market’s perception of this team was very much inflated when they closed as a 2.5-point underdog to Brooklyn last night. Tonight, they’re in a much better spot against a Pacers team that is 1-4 ATS in its last five games, 6-15 ATS at home and 11-16 ATS as a favorite. To put it simply, this Indiana team is overvalued, and that has been true all season long. Bettors might overreact to that blowout, but they shouldn't: Indiana’s offense continues to be an inefficient mess that has averaged just 110.2 points every 100 possessions over its past 34 games, a stretch over which the Pacers are 10-23-1 ATS. Yet the market is moving in that direction ...

Minnesota Timberwolves at Memphis Grizzlies (-6.5, 232)

The Grizzlies put together a solid defensive performance against the Jazz on Wednesday, and it is easy to expect another one here against the Timberwolves. Minnesota has averaged just 104.6 points every 100 possessions in their last seven games, and four of those games have come against teams ranked lower than 15th in defensive efficiency. Memphis will likely be able to stifle them tonight as well, but do you trust them on offense? The Grizzlies have posted a negative net rating since the All-Star break due to an offense that is ranked 17th in efficiency and averaging just 108.8 points every 100 possessions. Their offensive performances have been very boom-or-bust, so this is not a team I'd lay 6.5 points with.

Atlanta Hawks* (-2, 223.5) at New Orleans Pelicans*

Injuries at front-and-center here for New Orleans. Ingram, Ball and Zion all missed the Pelicans' overtime loss to the Magic last night. Which of them will be on the floor tonight? Without those three on the floor New Orleans, managed just 0.973 points per possession; that is not an offense I want to lay points with. The Hawks had a double-overtime game in San Antonio last night, so this is not the best spot for them either. Simply put, there are a plethora of games I would rather bet my taxed income on.

Chicago Bulls at Utah Jazz (-13.5, 228.5)

Utah overcame its plane scare and stole a win from Memphis on Wednesday, and now they must host a Chicago team that has disappointed since the trade deadline. The acquisition of Nikola Vucevic was supposed to jump-start this offense, but instead the Bulls are managing just 108.4 points every 100 possessions since his acquisition. To be fair, Zach LaVine has missed time (and Coby White as well), so this team has been largely incomplete lately. Both players are questionable tonight, so it is hard to feel confident in the underdog if its starting backcourt is sidelined.

Oklahoma City Thunder at Phoenix Suns (-12.5, 220)

Oklahoma City grabbed a win against Toronto without Kyle Lowry on Wednesday, but how do they matchup with a team as good defensively as Phoenix? The Suns continue to win games, but their rating might be near its peak. Over the last five games, Phoenix is 4-1 SU but 2-3 ATS failing to cover big numbers against Chicago, Charlotte and Orlando. Is the market doing the same thing here tonight?

Los Angeles Lakers at Sacramento Kings (-4.5, 223.5)

It looks like Andre Drummond will be out due to that toe injury suffered against Milwaukee, and Wes Matthews is questionable as well. Los Angeles is on a four-game run to the under, and is 1-7 to the under since losing LeBron James. The Lakers offense has been held to under a point per possessions since James’ injury, but that could improve against the 30th-ranked defense in the league.

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