Betting preview for Friday's NBA games

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The Brooklyn Nets are the best team in the league, and there is no doubt about it anymore.

This doesn't mean they are a lock to win the title, but if you’re crafting power ratings then Brooklyn should be at the top. Last night, the Nets showed their depth off with a 121-109 win over the Celtics. Brooklyn averaged 1.26 points per possession and Kyrie Irving dropped 40 points on 15-of-23 shooting, but the contributions of Joe Harris, Landry Shamet and Jeff Green made all the difference. 

That trio combined for 41 points on 13-of-30 shooting while going 11-of-24 from deep. They made up for a quiet night from James Harden, and with their contributions Brooklyn is now 11-1 SU and ATS in its last 12 games. Remember, Kevin Durant is still at least a week away from returning from his hamstring injury. When he is back on the floor, the Nets become the deepest offense we have seen since those Warriors teams from a few seasons ago. Durant’s return is not what makes this team so scary, though: This team is actually improving on defense. 

The Nets have implemented a switch-all style of defense, and their communication on that end of the floor is improving every night. Their defensive rating of 112.0 over this 12-game run is 16th in the league, but it is much better than their season-long metric of 113.5 points allowed per 100 possessions. I have maintained that all Brooklyn needs to be on defense to win a title is below average. Well, the Nets are playing D at an average level right now, and improving on a nightly basis.

Updated odds for every game can be found here.

Updated injury reports can be found here.

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

The Main Event

Denver Nuggets (-3.5, 227.5) at Memphis Grizzlies

There might not be a unit playing better than the Grizzlies defense right now, and it has been a driving force behind Memphis' recent 4-2 SU/5-1 ATS run. Through those six games, the Grizzlies have allowed just 1.0 point per possession, 42.9% shooting from the floor and 28.8% from beyond the arc. Two of their opponents during this stretch (Houston and Washington) might rank lower than 21st in offensive efficiency, but they held the Clippers 1.022 points per possession in one of their two meetings and the Bucks managed just 1.048 prior to the All-Star break. This game against Denver will be the fourth time in seven games that Memphis must face a top-five offense, but it could be a short-handed crew yet again for the Nuggets.

Gary Harris is not going to play as he continues to recover from an adductor strain. Paul Millsap (who has not played since Valentine’s Day) and JaMychal Green are questionable to play as well. Denver still has its core of Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, and with those two on the floor the offense has not dropped off much.

The Nuggets have won and covered their last four while averaging 123.1 points every 100 possessions, and they have done it from all areas of the floor. Over this four-game stretch, they have shot 75-of-107 (70.9%) at the rim, and 42-of-100 (42.0%) from deep! Those numbers are no fluke either, as the Nuggets rank sixth in both rim shooting (67.1%) and 3-point shooting (39.1%) on the season. The Grizzlies own the 21st-ranked perimeter defense, as they allow 38.0% to opponents from beyond the arc. Specifically, Memphis gets killed from the corners, where opponents are shooting a blistering 43.5% on the season. Denver hits 46.0% from the corners as a team and will likely look to exploit that here against the Grizzlies. 

The real matchup to watch will be Memphis’ offense against Denver’s defense, and specifically the short mid-range area of the floor. The Grizzlies rank 20th in offensive efficiency on the season, averaging just 110.8 points every 100 possessions. Most of their offense is generated in the area between the rim and the free-throw line. They take 30.4% of their attempts from that range, and shoot 44.9% on those attempts. Memphis lives on floaters and runners as an offense, and Denver just so happens to give up just 41.3% from that area of the floor. If the Nuggets can somehow contain the barrage of floaters from the Grizzlies then they have a chance to extend their win and cover streak to five straight.

The Co-Main Event

Miami Heat* (-2.5, 221.5) at Chicago Bulls*

Miami is now 8-1 SU/7-2 ATS in its last nine games after the win over Orlando on Thursday, but its success stretches back a bit farther. Since Jan. 30, the Heat are 13-6 SU/9-10 ATS and their defense is giving up just 107.6 points every 100 possessions, the second-best mark in the league over that stretch. Last night, they suffocated a short-handed Magic team, limiting them to just 1.062 points per possession, 16-of-31 (51.6%) at the rim and 12-of-34 (35.3%) from deep. Miami has quietly been one of the better defenses in the league, but specifically around the rim, which is going to be key tonight against Chicago.

The Bulls generate a ton of their offense within four feet of the basket. They rank ninth in frequency of attempts at the rim, and are eighth in shooting (66.4%) within four feet. Zach LaVine (40%), Thaddeus Young (57%) and Wendell Carter (51%) all take a majority of their attempts within four feet, but they must do so against a Miami team that allows the third-fewest attempts at the rim. If they can’t get inside they can use a perimeter offense that hits 38.4% of its attempts from deep, but offense has not been as big of a problem for Chicago as defense has been. 

Last night, against a 76ers team that did not have Joel Embiid or Ben Simmons, the Bulls were torched for 1.311 points per possession in non-garbage time minutes. Chicago ranks 24th in defensive efficiency on the season, but the Bulls have even taken a step back from that mark recently, allowing 1.21 points per possession over their last three games. On the surface, a poor defense like Chicago’s might breathe a sigh of relief that the 22nd-ranked offense is in town, but that ignores the improvements Miami has made recently. The Heat are averaging 112.5 points per 100 possessions during this nine-game run they are on, an improvement on the 109.5 mark they have for the season.

In six of its previous seven games, Miami has posted an offensive rating of 114.4 or better! Has the market rightfully accounted for that improvement?

The Prelims

Indiana Pacers at Los Angeles Lakers (-4.5, 217.5)

Both Indiana and Los Angeles ended the first half on a down swing, but the swing for the Pacers has been moving south for quite a while now. Indiana is currently riding a 1-5 SU/0-6 ATS slide, and the Pacers are an astounding 8-15 SU/6-17 ATS since a Jan. 17 loss to the Clippers. Over those 23 games Indiana has a -3.3 net rating, due largely to an offense that manages just 109.9 points per 100 possessions. The odd thing has been the market’s stubborn respect for them despite minimal returns. They closed as a 6.5-point favorite over Cleveland, were catching just four points at Philadelphia and actually opened as a road favorite against New York.

Tonight, they take on a Lakers team that is short-handed up front yet again, as Marc Gasol will miss his third game due to health and safety protocols. A thin frontcourt is not what you want against a team like Indiana, but Los Angeles has maintained solid defensive play despite the lack of continuity with its roster. Since losing Anthony Davis to injury, the Lakers rank seventh in defensive efficiency (109.2), and should still be able to handle an inefficient offense like Indiana’s.

Cleveland Cavaliers at New Orleans Pelicans* (-8, 226.5)

How bad can this defense get for New Orleans? The Pelicans put forth another disgusting performance on that end of the floor last night, allowing the Timberwolves to average an insane 1.36 points per possession in a 135-105 blowout loss. Minnesota was able to generate open looks consistently from deep, and they shot 17-of-33 from 3-point range while averaging 1.19 points per play in the halfcourt. New Orleans is now on an 0-3 SU and ATS slide in which they have a defensive rating of 123.6.

Despite the consistent struggles of this Pelicans defense, the market continues to power rate them as a playoff team. Again tonight, New Orleans first showed as an eight-point favorite before the market drove the number down. Cleveland is a poor team in its own right, but the Cavaliers have covered five straight due to a defense that has shown some life (104.6 defensive rating). Still, this is all about New Orleans. How can bettors be comfortable laying these points when their defense continues to show zero signs of life or progress?

Philadelphia 76ers* (-5, 235.5) at Washington Wizards

Joel Embiid is back on the floor tonight after a brief time on the sideline due to contact tracing, and he gets a matchup that should allow him to thrive. Washington might be 8-4 SU/9-3 ATS in their last 12 games, but its defense is still just as poor inside as it has been all season. The Wizards’ defense ranks 24th in rim shooting this season, allowing 65.5% to opponents and that has shown up in an ugly way recently. Six of their previous seven opponents have shot 66.7% or better within four feet, and now they get Philadelphia which shoots at a 66.2% clip at the rim when Embiid is on the floor. Washington has no real option to defend the MVP favorite, so they must somehow find success against the league’s fifth-most efficient defense (109.9).

Orlando Magic* at San Antonio Spurs (-7, 220.5)

Orlando is really beat up right now. Terrence Ross, Evan Fournier, James Ennis and Cole Anthony all remain out due to various injuries, and none have a real timetable for a return. However, as we saw last night against Miami, these numbers can still get somewhat high. Tonight, they’re catching seven against a Spurs team that is averaging just 111.2 points every 100 possessions on offense. Yes, San Antonio is one of the better defenses in the league, but there are plenty of signs some statistical regression is coming for the Spurs. This seems like a really large number for a team that barely managed 1.108 points per possession against Dallas on Wednesday.

Houston Rockets* at Utah Jazz (-13.5, 226.5)

Let’s keep this simple: Houston is 0-14 SU/1-13 ATS since losing Christian Wood to injury, and over that stretch the Rockets have averaged just 100.6 points every 100 possessions. They have allowed 117.4 points per 100 over that same stretch. Yes, the point spread is insanely inflated here, but do you really want to ride this train with the Rockets?

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