Betting preview for Friday's NBA games

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The reigning Eastern Conference champion Miami Heat are starting to find their form. Jimmy Butler recorded his first triple-double of the season, and the Heat won their fourth straight game by beating Houston 101-94 on the road. The win was just the second cover in the seven games since Butler has returned (2-1-4 ATS), but this was a solid buy-low spot for Miami whose market power rating had been slightly inflated due to Butler’s return.

Miami has started to show some evidence that the team that upset the Milwaukee Bucks and made it to the NBA Finals is still here. Over this winning streak -- and especially last night -- the Heat’s defense has been incredible. They held the Rockets to just 0.959 points per possession on Thursday, and their defensive rating of 100.3 is the best in the league. Their offense needs to improve, as they are averaging just 111.4 points every 100 possessions during this win streak, but it could be possible this is the beginning of Miami’s return to form.

Speaking of offense, Houston might be a play-against team until Christian Wood returns. The Rockets have now gone 0-4 SU and ATS since losing Wood to an ankle injury, and their offense is barely scraping by with 100.3 points every 100 possessions, the worst rating in the league. Three of those four games have gone under the total as well, with the lone over coming against a New Orleans team that dropped 130 points. Houston is 3-5 SU and ATS without Wood in the lineup and 6-2 to the under in those contests.

We've got a massive Friday slate to dive into, though, so let's begin!

Note: * indicates that team is on second leg of a back-to-back.

Updated injury reports can be found here.

Updated odds for every game can be found here.

Milwaukee Bucks at Utah Jazz (-1.5, 232.5)

This is the heavyweight matchup we all deserve on a Friday night. Utah rolls into this potential NBA Finals preview white-hot, with an 18-3 SU/17-4 ATS record since the beginning of January. Since getting beat up two weeks ago by Denver’s ridiculous shooting performance, the Jazz are 5-0 SU/4-1 ATS with a 14.4 net rating. They will host a Milwaukee team that is 5-1 SU and ATS since losing back-to-back games to Charlotte and New Orleans. The Bucks blew a 13-point lead in the second half on Wednesday, losing to Phoenix by a point and snapping a five-game win and cover run. So, how do we attack a game between two phenomenal teams?

Utah seems to have a distinct advantage when it comes to the matchup tonight. Milwaukee has improved defensively, ranking 12th in efficiency after being as low as 17th a couple of weeks ago. However, the inherent flaws with the Bucks’ defensive philosophy are still there, and they are flaws that burned them just last season in the second round against Miami.

The Bucks put an emphasis on protecting the rim on defense. It is why they rank third in opponent frequency of attempts within four feet (28.8 percent) and fourth in opponent shooting at the rim (59.5 percent). That emphasis on rim protection leads to Milwaukee allowing opponents to take perimeter shots, and that is reflected in their number. Bucks opponents are taking 38.2 percent of their attempts from beyond the arc (24th) and they are shooting 39.8 percent (27th). That is not how you want to play defensively against this Jazz team.

Utah takes 45.2 percent of their attempts as a team from beyond the arc, the most in the league by a decent margin. Despite the high volume of 3-point attempts, the Jazz still rank third in shooting percentage, (40.2 percent on 42.3 attempts per game). Teams in the past, most recently the Heat last season, have taken advantage of this philosophy by Milwaukee and made them pay for it. The Bucks can try to change the way they play, switching more frequently and not playing drop coverage as much, but how effective can a team be changing its philosophy for a single game?

Utah has been steadily laying 1.5 since the open last night, but I am fascinated to see how the market handles this game between two teams that have treated bettors well. If I am right about the matchup issues the Jazz present, this line should stay where it is, perhaps flashing to two frequently throughout the day. It’s also not a surprise to see this total jump a half-point to 233, but I wonder if this total does not drop throughout the day. Utah is a slow-paced team that averages about 98.62 possessions per game, and they have the second-best half-court defense in the league. I would expect them to try to slow this game down.

Minnesota Timberwolves at Charlotte Hornets (-4, 227.5)

The Hornets' train was derailed on Wednesday when they took a 130-114 loss at Memphis. Charlotte is now 13-6 ATS in its last 19 games, but does this loss to Memphis mean the value is gone on the Hornets?

Well, after getting burned on Wednesday the market has turned on Charlotte, driving this number down to Hornets -3.5 this morning, so bettors should get a more favorable number should they want to lay it. Minnesota has been really solid at the window, posting a 6-0-1 ATS mark over its last seven games with -0.6 net rating. There is no doubt the Timberwolves are playing better, and Karl-Anthony Towns is back in the fold, raising the ceiling of this team’s offense. However, the opponents have not been the most stellar competition: Cleveland twice, Oklahoma City twice, San Antonio and they needed a dunk with 0.4 seconds left to get a cover against Los Angeles. Like any team on a run like this, the time to play against them is on the horizon.

New York Knicks (-3.5, 217.5) at Washington Wizards

Bradley Beal is resting tonight, and the Wizards look like one of the most unappealing teams to bet on I have ever seen. According to Cleaning The Glass, Washington is 27th in net rating, getting outscored by 6.9 points every 100 possessions this season. They are at their most efficient when Beal is on the floor and Russell Westbrook is off the floor, as their net rating goes to -3.9 per 100 possessions. However, we get the Westbrook-led Wizards tonight, and that is a horrific sight. When Westbrook is on the floor and Beal is sitting Washington’s net rating nosedives to -13.3 over 100 possessions. Their offensive efficiency is what suffers the most, with the Wizards averaging just 100.6 points every 100 possessions in those lineups without Beal.

Now that offense must find a way to score consistently against a Knicks team that is giving up just 109.0 points every 100 possessions on the season. It might not be fair, but there seems to be strong theme developing here for Washington, and it is that they are better without Westbrook. They are 4-3 SU and ATS with him, and 2-13 SU/5-10 ATS without him this season.

San Antonio Spurs at Atlanta Hawks (-2, 228.5)

If San Antonio is going to cover this game, it needs to fix an offense that seems to be getting worse. On the season, the Spurs are 22nd in offensive efficiency, averaging 108.5 points every 100 possessions. Over their last five games that offensive rating has regressed to 103.2 per 100 and it has led to 3-2 SU/2-3 ATS dip with a four-game run to the under. Luckily, San Antonio will face a Hawks team that has had its own regression on defense.

Over the last five games Atlanta has allowed 118.4 points per 100 possessions, the 27th-ranked defense over that stretch. The Hawks have been killed by dribble-penetration, leading to all five opponents shooting 50 percent or better from the corners during this five-game stretch in which they are 1-4 SU/2-3 ATS. Can San Antonio exploit that?

The Spurs rank 20th in rim frequency this season and 26th in rim shooting (58.4 percent). Success at the rim usually correlates to success in the corners, or vice-versa. As a result of the struggles inside four feet, the Spurs take the second-fewest corner 3-pointers and they rank 18th in shooting from that area of the floor (38.8 percent). If the Spurs can’t exploit that Hawks weakness, they will likely have trouble covering that number.

New Orleans Pelicans at Dallas Mavericks (-2, 233.5)

New Orleans had its hot streak cooled on Wednesday with a loss at Chicago, which was the second leg of a back-to-back. Now the Pelicans face a Dallas team on the road that has been greatly overvalued by the betting market. The Mavericks might have won their last three games, but they are 0-3 ATS in those games and 1-10 ATS in their last 11 contests. Over those 11 games, Dallas has closed as the favorite eight times, covering that spot in Atlanta last week. The betting market continues to overvalue how good this team really is, so when does the adjustment on this power rating come?

The Pelicans have been solid of late (6-3 SU and ATS in their last nine), but they are coming off of a poor loss to the Bulls. Chicago ripped off 1.344 points per possession, a consistent issue for New Orleans despite the improved results. The Pelicans rank just 22nd in defensive efficiency over this nine-game run, allowing 115.6 points every 100 possessions. It is something that Dallas could exploit, which is why the market is moving in the Mavericks' favor again. 

Los Angeles Clippers (-6.5, 228) at Chicago Bulls

Is this a buy-low spot for a Los Angeles team that is the midst of a small lull? The Clippers are now 2-3 SU/1-4 ATS in their last five games, and they have failed to cover three straight. Their defense has been the culprit here, posting a 116.0 rating during this five game slide, but remember this team has been short-handed. Paul George remains out, but Patrick Beverley is back after missing extended time, so we should expect the defense to begin to improve.

Los Angeles has not missed a beat on offense, and during this slide it has the sixth-best offensive rating in the league (119.1). Chicago might be coming off of a win against New Orleans, but this is still a short-handed squad itself, with Larui Markkanen now sidelined for an extended amount of time and Wendell Carter still ailing. The Bulls are 3-6 SU and ATS in their last nine with an inefficient offense that is managing just 111.7 points every 100 possessions. Really though, this game is all about the number.

A month ago the Clippers were laying 12.5 at home against the Bulls, but now find themselves as just 6.5-point favorites. Have the Bulls improved that much since then, or are the Clippers being undervalued due to a poor stretch of play?  

Oklahoma City Thunder at Denver Nuggets (-12, 222.5)

A very strong trend is developing for these plucky Thunder. After consecutive covers in Los Angeles against the Lakers, the Thunder improved to 10-2-1 ATS on the road this season. They have covered five straight away from home, and are 6-1-1 ATS in their last eight in foreign venues. It could be that this team thrives when traveling, or it could be the market overvaluing how poor this team is. Just look at their last seven road games, where they have been catching 10.2 points per game!

Tonight is no different, as they open as 12-point underdogs to Denver. This is the same number they were catching in Los Angeles two nights ago. From a market power rating perspective alone there is value in this number, because the Nuggets and Lakers do not share the same power rating, and yet this number is the same against a common opponent.

Detroit Pistons* at Boston Celtics* (-8, 211.5)

As we wrote yesterday, Boston is a good home team, and it showed in their 120-106 win over Toronto. The Celtics are now 6-3 SU/7-2 ATS at TD Garden this season with the third-best defensive rating at home (106.4). Boston now turns around to host Detroit, looking to improve on its 3-1 SU and ATS record on back-to-backs this season. The respect the Pistons had from the market is all but gone after they were pasted by the lowly Pacers yesterday 111-95 at home, and that is apparent in the opening number of -8 for the Celtics.

Detroit is 3-7 SU/6-4 ATS in its last 10 games, but their offense is still struggling, averaging just 108.4 per 100 possessions over this stretch. Despite the success against the Lakers, this is still a team that struggles against good defenses, and it showed last night as they managed just 1.067 points per possession against Indiana. A slate of covers against Brooklyn and Los Angeles buoyed the market rating on this team, but it still is clear that the Pistons have a long way to go to consistently compete with the great teams of this league.

Memphis Grizzlies at Los Angeles Lakers (-7.5, 222.5)

Anthony Davis is questionable yet again with Achilles tendonitis, and the Lakers are in the midst of a 2-7 ATS slide over their last nine games. Their offense has been a problem, averaging only 110.3 points every 100 possessions and shooting just 32.3 percent from beyond the arc. It has been bad for Los Angeles, but this might be the buy-low spot we’ve been looking for.

Memphis comes into Friday 1-4 SU and ATS in its last five games with a -7.2 net rating, but the market has moved in its direction. Over these five games, the Grizzlies defense has been torched for 123.0 points every 100 possessions, and their perimeter defense has allowed 16.8 3-pointers per game! The Lakers offense could find its footing tonight against a struggling defense, while their own continues to thrive.

Los Angeles has been phenomenal on defense despite the recent struggles, posting the best defensive rating during this slide (106.2). Should they maintain their play on that end of the floor, and exploit a poor Grizzlies defense, this could be a dynamite spot for the Lakers. However, the market has them laying the lowest number (6.5) at home since the Nuggets game last week (5), and the Grizzlies are not just 1.5 points worse than Denver.

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