Welcome back! I didn’t forget about you. The powers that be at VSiN were nice enough to give me some time off before the postseason marathon begins, but after some time to decompress, we are back in the saddle.
It's not the greatest slate tonight, as there are four double-digit favorites in the NBA tonight and three other franchises laying at least 7.5 points. It does not make for much drama, but the point spread is the great equalizer and each game carries weight as these teams jostle for seeding. There are a few games worth monitoring, so let’s dive in.
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
New Orleans Pelicans at Golden State Warriors (-5, 229.5)
It is winning time for Golden State, and it has answered that call. The Warriors come into Friday night on a 4-0 SU/ATS run over the last four games and a 6-1 SU/ATS record over the last seven contests. That streak could be in jeopardy tonight should Steve Kerr follow through on his plan to rest his starters here, but Memphis’ win over Sacramento on Thursday could cause him to play everybody as those two duke it out for the eighth seed.
Should we get Golden State at full strength, New Orleans will have to prepare for one the best defenses in the league. One might think offense has been the catalyst for the Warriors’ seven-game run, but it has been a defense that has limited opponents to 102.1 points per 100 possessions and 28.7% on 36.3 3-point attempts per game. Golden State had success in defending New Orleans in their two-game series 10 days ago, limiting the Pelicans to a 103.3 offensive rating in the split set.
Offense has been a problem for New Orleans in the second half of the season overall though, not just in meetings with Golden State. Since the All-Star break, this offense is 21st in the NBA with an average of 110.6 points per 100 possessions. New Orleans has zero shooting threats, and since the break they are 28th in shooting offense in the league (33.3% on 29.1 attempts per game). Brandon Ingram might be on the floor tonight, but he will not do much to fix an offense that has had these issues for 34 games.
Having said that, as the Pelicans tumbled down the ranking on offense their defense rose. New Orleans brings the seventh-best defense in the league since the All-Star break, allowing just 110.1 points per 100 possessions. The change has been strong along the perimeter, especially in the corners where opponents are shooting just 34.7% since the break, the sixth-best rate in the league. Should Steph Curry take the floor tonight, New Orleans will be worked along the perimeter. With Curry on the floor, the Warriors take 42.3% of their attempts from deep with 10.8% of their attempts coming from the corners and 31.5% from above the break.
New Orleans allowed Golden State to hit 40.6% of its 91 3-point attempts in the two-game series, but was able to earn a split thanks to a decent shooting night in one of those contests. If the Pelicans give up another performance like that again, can bettors trust their poor perimeter shooting to show up?
This all changes if Curry and Draymond Green do not play tonight. Golden State is -11.4 in the possessions without either player on the floor; not a team I want to bet on.
The Co-Main Event
Sacramento Kings* at Memphis Grizzlies* (-8.5, 228.5)
Memphis eliminated Sacramento with a win last night, which locked in the bottom three teams in the Western Conference’s play-in bracket. However, the Grizzlies still have a lot on the line in their final two games, so do not think for a second that this team is due for a letdown of any sort. Memphis was able to obliterate Sacramento’s interior defense on Thursday night, going a combined 33-of-55 (60.0%) within 14 feet of the basket. The Kings allow the sixth-most attempts within four feet of the basket and rank 20th in frequency of opponent attempts from short mid-range. They rank 28th in opponent shooting from both areas of the floor as well, so there is really no indication that the Grizzlies ability to score in the paint is going to be altered in this rematch.
Having said that, Sacramento balanced out that poor defensive showing by exploiting Memphis’ weak perimeter defense. The Kings went 17-of-41 (41.5%) from beyond the arc last night, something that is not surprising given the Grizzlies’ 21st-ranked perimeter defense (37.7%). With both teams exploiting the other’s defensive weakness, it would not be surprising to see a similar game between the two today.
Thursday’s game was very slow, coming out to 96 possessions for each team. That is pretty surprising given that these two franchises rank inside the top 10 in terms of pace, so I would expect a quicker and more open game from them today. The betting market has dropped this total from 228.5 to 226.5, but there should be some buyback on the over throughout the day.
Los Angeles Clippers* (-11.5, 226.5) at Houston Rockets
The Rockets have been the best kept secret in the NBA recently. After a two-point loss in Los Angeles on Wednesday night, the Rockets improved to 4-0 ATS in their last four games, and since April 23 this team is 7-4 ATS. Despite injuries, short-handed rosters and poor defense, this Houston team has shown some fight down the stretch, and the betting market has not caught up to it yet. This might be another opportunity for Houston to cover a big number, especially if the Clippers decide to give their star players a night off.
Los Angeles has a full-game lead over Denver for the third seed in the Western Conference, and it wraps the regular season up on Sunday in Oklahoma City. There is a reality in which they rest their starters and still wrap up the third seed due to the quality of their opponents. If that is the case, then Houston is very live to cover this number, and it is why we have seen this line dip from 11.5 to 10.5 at most shops.
Cleveland Cavaliers at Washington Wizards (-7.5, 225.5)
Bradley Beal is still out with a hamstring injury today, and Washington has yet to clinch its spot in the Eastern Conference play-in tournament. The Wizards are 1-9 SU in the 10 games without Beal this season, but the Cavaliers present an opportunity to break that trend. Cleveland beat a short-handed, unenthusiastic Boston team on Wednesday, but this team is still 2-14 SU/3-12-1 ATS with a -12.0 net rating over its last 16 games. Getting the win is very likely for Washington, obviously, but the cover is a different story. The Wizards are outscored by 6.1 points every 100 possessions when Russell Westbrook is flying solo, putting them on par with this season's Minnesota Timberwolves. Is that a team bettors want to lay 7.5 points with? I would say no, but the market is already up to Washington -8 at almost every shop.
Denver Nuggets* (-9.5, 220.5) at Detroit Pistons
Michael Porter Jr. and Monte Morris will be back in the lineup tonight after resting yesterday in Minnesota, and that will be huge for a Denver team still nipping at the heels of Los Angeles in the race for the third seed in the Western Conference. The Nuggets are still performing admirably despite all of the injuries this team has been dealt, but May has brought along a 4-3 SU/3-4 ATS slump in which they are outscoring opponents by just 3.1 points every 100 possessions.
However, they took care of business against Minnesota yesterday, and a Detroit team that is 3-8 ATS in its last 11 games will likely not offer much resistance. The Pistons have been in full tank-mode for a while now, and tonight the likes of Isaiah Stewart, Frank Jackson, Mason Plumlee, Wayne Ellington, Cory Joseph and Hamidou Diallo are some sort of questionable or out tonight. The young Pistons have quite a bit of upside on defense, so maybe that is why we have seen this number move in favor of Detroit.
Orlando Magic* at Philadelphia 76ers* (-13.5, 219.5)
For the second consecutive game, the 76ers were held to 1.0 point per possession and less 100 points, and for the second consecutive game they lost. Now, they hold just a one-game lead over Brooklyn for the top seed in the Eastern Conference, but Orlando is the perfect “get right” opponent for Philadelphia. The Magic might have covered a couple of games against teams like Detroit, Memphis and Cleveland a couple weeks ago, but since April 16 this team is 3-12 SU/4-11 ATS with a -14.2 net rating. This point spread is inflated due to Orlando's power rating, so bettors should n't rush to lay the wood with Philadelphia.
Utah Jazz (-13.5, 221.5) at Oklahoma City Thunder
Another inflated point spread for the Thunder, but the tank is so strong with this team that they can't even stay within numbers that are too high. Oklahoma City is 0-4 ATS in its last four games despite catching an average of 11.25 points per game. That is likely why we’ve seen the betting market bet this up to as high as 15 in some shops. Really, though, this is all about the win total for the Thunder. A loss tonight clinches the under 22.5 and cements its status as the worst beat in NBA win total history.