Betting preview for Friday's NBA games

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I thought that Thursday was a good example of the philosophy I usually preach ad nauseam: Buy low, sell high.

The Los Angeles Clippers were playing without Paul George, Kawhi Leonard and Patrick Beverley for a second consecutive game, this time in South Beach. The market was so disgusted with their loss to Atlanta on Tuesday night in which they scored only 99 points and averaged 1.021 points per possession that Los Angeles opened up as a 5.5-point dog against Miami.

A Miami team that went into Thursday night 2-5 SU/2-4-1 ATS in its last seven games with a -8.9 rating! A Miami team that was still missing Jimmy Butler, but would get back Tyler Herro for this meeting with Los Angeles. Why would a bettor want to lay that kind of a number with that team?

Sure enough, the market corrected itself, buying back on Los Angeles, which closed as a 2-point ‘dog at most shops and won 109-105 to drop Miami to 2-6 SU/2-5-1 ATS in its last eight games.

That was not the only example, either.

Phoenix was in the midst of a pretty bad 1-5 SU/ATS slide in which it had only managed 1.053 points per possession. Golden State had just covered back-to-back 8.5-point spreads against Minnesota. The oddsmakers adjust the power rating and open the Warriors as a 1-point favorite or a pick-em against Phoenix. Market buys it back, Suns close laying a bucket and win while covering.

Houston had won and covered three straight going into Thursday night as well, and was hosting a beat-up Portland team in the middle of a tough stretch. The Rockets, a team that had been favored just four other times this season, opened as 4.5-point favorites! The market made the correction, and the game closed on 3 with the game falling right on that number.

This is not to say you just want to blindly bet on teams that are at their lowest points, but it helps to have your own power ratings. A bettor should not adjust an NBA team’s power rating after a few losses, but the market does not have the luxury of being as steadfast with the influence of perception by the public. We do, and we can take advantage.

Here are my NBA daily notes for a big Friday slate of games:

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

Updated injury reports can be found here.

Atlanta Hawks (-5.5, 232.5) at Washington Wizards

On Wednesday, My Guys In The Desert host Tim Murray asked me about my thoughts on Washington’s matchup with New Orleans. In short, I told him it would be Washington or pass, and that I would probably be more prone to pass on the Wizards. I ended up passing, and wow was that a good idea. The Wizards managed just 1.095 points per possession, gave 1.277 to the Pelicans and lost 124-106. Washington has now dropped its last three games since returning from its COVID hiatus, and over those three games they have a -18.4 net rating! Washington is toast, right? Fade away? Probably not.

The Wizards are getting some much-needed reinforcements tonight, which changes the equation for this team. Davis Bertans, Rui Hachimura and Moe Wagner are all going to play for the first time since Jan. 11, the last game before the team’s nearly two-week hiatus. Bertans and Hachimuara specifically will help with an offense that has managed just 0.97 points per possession over this awful three-game slide.

Oddsmakers hung up Atlanta as a 5.5-point favorite at the open, but the news of Washington’s team filling out caused an adjustment of about 1.5 points to the line. The Hawks are playing well right now, riding a 4-2 SU/5-1 ATS wave over their last six games, but their defense is giving up 1.098 points per possession over this stretch. Now that Bradley Beal is no longer a one-man show, maybe the Wizards will be able to find their legs offensively.

Betting Trends

  • Atlanta is 7-4 SU/ATS on one day of rest this season
  • Washington is 5-1 to the over when playing at home; 6-3 to the over against Eastern Conference opponents.

L.A. Clippers* at Orlando Magic (-2, 212.5)

In two games without three of their best players, the Los Angeles Clippers have put together performances that are on opposite sides of the spectrum.

Against Atlanta, the Clippers averaged an inefficient 1.021 points per possession, shot 30.8 percent from deep and 54.8 percent at the rim. Against Miami, they came out and managed just 0.731 points per possession in the first quarter and trailed 33-19 heading into the second. Over the next two quarters they would outscore Miami 69-36, hit nine 3-point attempts in the third and use a 20-2 run to come away with an outright win. So, which team is going to show up tonight?

It would be foolish to tell you that I know. Personally, these two performances are too extreme for me to feel comfortable in judging how to bet this game, but I do have a hard time with Orlando being perceived as a better team, even without Leonard, Beverley and George on the floor. Remember, if we’re rolling with the premise that these are essentially neutral courts this season, the oddsmakers are telling you just that. The market moving this even more in the direction is surprising as well.

Orlando has been bad in January (4-10 SU/5-9 ATS with a -7.9 net rating). Their offense has been the worst in the league over this stretch, averaging just 1.040 points per possession and shooting a league-worst 42.3 percent from the field. Pair that with a defense that is giving up 1.118 points per possession, and it is not a team I want to lay points with, regardless of the opposition.

Betting Trends

  • Orlando is 1-5 ATS against Western Conference foes this season.
  • Los Angeles is 6-3 SU/ATS away from home this season.

Indiana Pacers (-3, 220.5) at Charlotte Hornets

How about this market correction? Two days ago, the Hornets opened at home as a 1.5-point favorites over this Pacers team, and now the market opener is Pacers as 3-point favorites. This is right where the number should be, at least according to my ratings, so there’s no real edge from a side perspective.

Charlotte has hit some tough times. The Hornets are 1-6 SU/3-4 ATS in their last seven games, thanks in large part to a defense that has regressed to give up 1.136 points per possession. In the first of this two-game series, Indiana blitzed that defense for 1.211 points per possession. The Pacers shot 16-for-40 from beyond the arc, which went a long way toward their 116-106 victory.

Three-point shooting tends to be somewhat random on a game-to-game basis, but there were some indicators on Wednesday that alluded to Indiana potentially underperforming against Charlotte. The Pacers took 39 shots within four feet, but hit only 61.5 percent of them. Despite that they managed 1.022 points per play in the halfcourt and dominated in transition with 1.625 points per play on offense. If the rim shooting evens out and they perform as well as they did in all other areas of the floor, we could see another strong showing from Indiana.

Sacramento Kings at Toronto Raptors (-5.5, 230.5)

Two games isn’t a large enough sample size to judge whether a team has truly turned things around, so don’t buy into this two-game run from Sacramento. They won and covered against some low-level teams in New York and Orlando, but still had their respective struggles. Against New York, their offense managed just 1.096 points per possession, but they got by due to an anemic Knicks offense that only scored 1.0 point per possession. In Orlando, they exploited a poor defense to the tune of 1.266 points per possession while giving up 1.117 themselves.

Now, they’re in Tampa taking on a Toronto team that is much better than their previous opponents. The Raptors have their own issues, and have largely been overrated by the market (they are 6-12 ATS on the season). Even their usually reliable defense has allowed 1.208 points per possession in their last two games. That is somewhat worrisome as the Kings come in with the 11th ranked offense, according to Cleaning The Glass (112.5).

Ultimately, I’m wrestling with the decline of Toronto here. My numbers say that this is just over a 6-point spread, but I do have some trepidation in the play of the Raptors as of late. We know the offense will continue to be average at best as they continue to struggle in the halfcourt, but is this decline defensively real?

Milwaukee Bucks (-6.5, 229.5) at New Orleans Pelicans

How overrated by the market are the Pelicans? Today will go a long way toward determining the answer to this question. The Pelicans got to feast on a shorthanded Wizards team last time out, snapping an 0-3 SU/ATS slide. New Orleans ripped off 1.277 points per possession, 1.107 in the halfcourt and shot 40.5 percent on 42 3-point attempts. However, the Pelicans team we know ranks 19th or lower in all three of those categories. Safe to say their success was a symptom of the opponent they were facing.

Milwaukee is a worse team than it was last year. It is a point that I have made time and again this season, and in certain spots it has been profitable to play against them. Specifically, they are worse defensively. The Bucks rank 12th in defensive efficiency, which seems solid, but when you dive in there are some troubling numbers. Milwaukee is giving up 97.3 points every 100 plays in halfcourt sets (22nd in the league), and allowing 39.6 percent to opposing shooters, the second-worst rate in the league. It is not a defense I feel comfortable backing as a big favorite.

Ultimately, this leads to my conflict with this game. On one side, there is a team that has been hounded by the market despite poor ATS results (New Orleans); on the other, is a team I am lower on than a majority of NBA pundits and handicappers. Having said that, my inclination when I saw the open of Milwaukee as a 6.5-point favorite I believe it was too low. I made this just over a 7.5-point spread, and the market has corrected itself. Today, I’ll learn if I’m right in my read on these teams.

Betting Trends

  • New Orleans is 10-1 to the over in its last 11 games played.
  • New Orleans is 3-10 ATS this season on one day of rest.

Cleveland Cavaliers (PK, 206) at New York Knicks

When a team goes on a run, positive or negative, it is important to figure out why the results are falling that way. Cleveland is one of those teams. The Cavaliers are 4-2 SU/5-1 ATS in their last six games, and it is not just some random hot streak. What change took place to get them here? Well, they got healthy.

This run for the Cavaliers coincides with the return of Collin Sexton to the lineup after he missed time with an ankle injury. On the season, Cleveland is 8-5 ATS when Sexton plays, and in the five games without him they went 2-3 SU/ATS with an abysmal 98.9 offensive rating. Since his return, Cleveland has been covering numbers, and its offensive rating has skyrocketed to 114.1 points every 100 possessions. This run seems to be real because the market has not caught up with how much better this team is when healthy.

On the other hand, the Knicks are in an unfavorable spot. They are back home after a four-game road trip which went somewhat poorly (1-3 SU/2-2 ATS), and their offense continues to flounder. They rank 28th in offensive efficiency this season (105.7) and they have been held to under 100 points in three of five games.

This game comes to down my personal ratings. As I have mentioned, these teams are playing on neutral courts. Cleveland is the better team here, according to my numbers. The market has started to correct this, and the Cavaliers are now the favorite by a single point. I made it just over two points, and expect to get there by close.

Brooklyn Nets (-8, 229.5) at Oklahoma City Thunder

When you watch this game today, make sure you focus on the Nets’ pick-and-roll defense. Namely, how DeAndre Jordan operates in that defense. It is nauseating. Jordan is a statue, stuck in the paint no matter the ball-handler. Trae Young consistently burned the Nets’ drop coverage on those pick-and-rolls, using the space Jordan was giving him to put up floaters and mid-range shots. The way Brooklyn defends these is the core reason why its defense has been so bad.

Brooklyn has plummeted to 22nd in defensive rating this season, allowing 112.2 points every 100 possessions on the season. Over their last 16 games they’ve allowed a 114.7 defensive rating. It is why the over is 14-2 during that stretch. It is why this Brooklyn team has been a flop in the betting market, posting an 8-12 ATS record and a 5-11 ATS mark when laying points.

It’s a simple handicap, but I just don’t want to lay points with Brooklyn. Their defensive play has been horrendous and it leads to opposing teams staying within large numbers like the one we have here. Oklahoma City has thrived in the underdog role, going 10-6-1 ATS in their games this year, all of which they were catching points in.

Philadelphia 76ers (-7.5, 226.5) at Minnesota Timberwolves

The status of Joel Embiid makes this game a hard one to handicap, and a hard one to write up. As I’ve noted in the past, Embiid’s presence makes all the difference in the world. Without him on the floor this season the 76ers have a -10.8 net rating! Against a team like Minnesota that might not matter as much, but this number is troubling.

Usually we see the market take a tentative approach with the line shaded slightly lower for the team that has the star player in question. If that’s the case here, and Philadelphia is a 7.5-point favorite at the open, what does that mean if he is confirmed to be active?

Overall, this is one of those NBA games that is easy to scratch off. The Timberwolves are in the midst of a freefall, creating inflated numbers on the other side. The other team is dealing with injury concerns. Too easy to just walk away.

Denver Nuggets (-4, 225.5) at San Antonio Spurs

This is the litmus test for my “Denver is better than the market thinks it is” theory (DIBTTMTII). That acronym is not that catchy, but making money is and that is what Denver has been doing as of late. The Nuggets have covered five straight and six of seven while going 6-1 SU. They have allowed just 1.043 points per possession over that stretch while their offense rips off 1.135 points every time they have the ball.

San Antonio got the outright win over Boston last time out, but I will stick to my guns that this team is slightly overvalued, especially when it comes to how well it has been playing on defense. I cannot buy a team, that is largely the same from a season ago when it finished 23rd in defensive efficiency, is now the ninth-best unit in the league. It’s a soft schedule for the Spurs, and lower power rating that it should be for the Nuggets. That means a play for me.

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