First, let me extend my condolences to those of you who were on the Sacramento Kings last night.
For those who are unaware, the Kings led the Hornets at home 123-115 with 1:13 left in the fourth quarter but proceeded to give up a 12-3 run in the final minute, losing on a Malik Monk and-one with 1.4 seconds left. The loss is bad enough, but the way it went down was absolutely brutal.
After Harrison Barnes gave Sacramento the eight-point lead with a thunderous dunk over Miles Bridges, the Kings fell apart. On the ensuing possession LaMelo Ball was called for a flagrant foul, but De’Aaron Fox missed both free throws. On their next play, Marvin Bagley was blocked by Ball, and the Hornets went down and hit a 3-point shot to make it a five-point deficit. Sacramento would go on to miss two more free throws before Barnes fouled Rozier on a 3-point attempt. Rozier would make all three to cut it to a 123-121 lead for the Kings. After giving up a floater to Fox, the Hornets would hit another 3-pointer, this one from P.J. Washington, making it a one-point game yet again. One possession later, Buddy Hield would split a pair of free throws, making Sacramento 1-of-6 from the charity stripe in the final minute, and giving Charlotte an opportunity to take it on Monk’s final shot.
Sacramento is now 1-10 SU and ATS over its last 11 games with -8.5 net rating. The Kings remain the worst defensive team in the league, and through this slide they are giving up 122.6 points every 100 possessions. Yet, the market has an odd respect for them. Last night, they closed as a 3.5-point favorite over Charlotte, and three games ago opened as a favorite on the road in New York. The game prior to that, the line moved in their direction, closing 5.5 against Brooklyn in a game they lost 127-118 on the road. The offensive talent is there for the Kings, but until the market realizes how bad this defense is Sacramento remains a play-against team.
Updated injury reports can be found here.
Updated odds for every game can be found here.
*Indicates team is on second leg of back-to-back
The Main Event
Utah Jazz (-7.5, 234.5) at New Orleans Pelicans
This seems to be quite the mismatch on paper. New Orleans is 29th in defensive efficiency this season, allowing 118.1 points every 100 possessions. Most of their issues stem from a perimeter defense that is one of the worst we’ve ever seen. When opponents face the Pelicans they take 42.7 percent of their attempts from beyond the arc, the second-highest mark in the league, and they are hitting at an insane rate. New Orleans gives up an identical 39.9 percent to shooters from anywhere beyond the arc, and to non-corner 3-point shooters. According to NBA.com, the Pelicans are allowing the second-most wide-open attempts (Closest defender six feet away) from deep on the season, and tonight they take on a team that generates open looks better than anyone.
Utah gets a wide-open 3-point attempt 25.5 percent of the time, according to NBA.com. They shoot 42.7 percent on those attempts, second only to the Los Angeles Clippers this season. It seems pretty clear that the Jazz will be able to operate their offense the way they want against New Orleans, and it’s not just the perimeter defense that is killing the Pelicans either. Opponents are shooting 67.5 percent at the rim this season against them, the 28th-best mark in the league. Utah does not attack the hoop often, but so much of their offense is generated by the drive-and-kick. If the Pelicans have trouble containing the dribble penetration of the Jazz than this mismatch gets even more lopsided.
It’s not all bleak for New Orleans though, as they do have the seventh-most efficient offense in the league, averaging 116.6 points every 100 possessions. Their offense is predicated on scoring inside. They rank second in frequency of attempts within four feet of the basket (41.2 percent) where they shoot 63.9 percent. The problem with that strategy is that their opponent happens to be the second-best defense in the league in terms of efficiency (107.1), and the eighth-best when it comes to rim protection (61.6 percent). I tend to buy too much into numbers at times, but this seems to be quite a lopsided matchup on paper.
The number opened Jazz -7.5 but found its way to 6.5 last night before settling in at Utah -7 at most shops as of this morning. Personally, I believe this number should be right around 8.5 so I laid 6.5 Sunday evening. The market has moved the total up a half-point to 235.5 and I am fascinated how this will playout. Theoretically, Utah has all of the pieces to slow down New Orleans’ offense, but if they can exploit their defense the way I believe they can, then we could a blowout that still pushes this game over the total.
The Co-Main Event
Brooklyn Nets (-3.5, 234.5) at San Antonio Spurs
San Antonio has been a team that has perplexed me, to say the least. As of today, the Spurs rank fifth in defensive efficiency, allowing just 109.7 points every 100 possessions. I did not project San Antonio to be particularly good defensively this season, and some numbers paint a troubling picture that could mean some regression is on the horizon. For example, the Spurs currently rank fourth in opponent rim shooting, allowing just 60.2 percent within four feet. However, opponents are able to get to the rim at will, taking 36.7 percent of their attempts in that area of the floor, the fourth-highest rate in the league. That showed itself in the win over New Orleans on Saturday. The Pelicans took 28 attempts within four feet of the basket, shot 67.9 percent and drew 11 shooting fouls. Those are not great numbers for one of the best rim defenses in the league. How does this matchup with Brooklyn, a team that might not take a bunch of attempts at the rim (32.6 percent), but shoots at a very high clip (66.4 percent).
It’s not just the rim defense to watch for the Spurs either. They are relatively poor along the perimeter, allowing 37.9 percent on all 3-point attempts and 37.4 percent on non-corner attempts. The Nets rank second and first in those categories respectively in shooting, and they take a bunch of shots (39.5 percent). Brooklyn is also going to test the transition defense of San Antonio as well. The Spurs have been incredible in transition on defennse this season, ranking first in both points added per 100 possessions (+0.2) and overall efficiency (109.0). The Nets rank eighth and seventh in those categories on offense.
Having said all of this, it might not be fair to judge San Antonio’s defense tonight. Remember, Derrick White, Rudy Gay and Devin Vassell will all miss this game due to health and safety protocols, and Keldon Johnson is questionable. With so many key role players out, the Spurs could look terrible, but still be the defensive team they are statistically. Speaking of injuries, Kyrie Irving should be back on the floor for Brooklyn tonight, but monitor injury reports and social media just in case.
Dallas Mavericks (-7, 226.5) at Orlando Magic
Dallas bounced back from a loss to Philadelphia by beating short-handed Brooklyn on Saturday and is now on a nice little 7-2 SU run. The Mavericks are only 5-4 ATS over this nine-game surge, but more recently 3-1 ATS in their previous four. Shockingly, the Mavericks offense has fallen off over this four-game spurt, averaging just 109.6 points every 100 possessions. The difference has been a defense that has posted a 104.1 efficiency rating while allowing just 30.8 percent from beyond the arc. This could be a sign of improvement from Dallas on defense, or the benefit of playing some struggling offenses. Regardless, they get a poor offensive opponent on the road tonight in Orlando. The Magic are 0-3 SU and ATS in their last three, and are back to their old ways, averaging just 98.0 points every 100 possessions. The opening number seemed pretty high, and the market responded as such a drove it down a point. The total is the real mover here, opening at 226.5 and getting as low as 221.5 this morning.
Charlotte Hornets* at Portland Trail Blazers (-6.5, 235.5)
Stuck in a four-game losing streak in which they are 1-3 ATS, the Trail Blazers will play host to a Hornets team coming off of that dramatic win in Sacramento. Portland is learning what life is like when you only have one player to rely on when it comes to creation on offense. The Trail Blazers are averaging 105.9 points every 100 possessions over this losing streak, and Damian Lillard is stuck in a rut. After averaging 31.9 points on 45.9 percent shooting from the floor and 39.1 percent from deep immediately after losing CJ McCollum to injury, Lillard has fallen to 29.8 points on just 42.4 percent shooting from the floor (35.4 percent from deep). As long as McCollum, along with Jusuf Nurkic, remains out this team goes how Lillard goes, and that makes them a difficult handicap. Having said that, I’m confident that they’re not 6.5 points better than Charlotte. Gordon Hayward will likely return after missing the Sacramento game, and the Hornets are good enough offensively to take advantage of a defense that is allowing 119.6 points every 100 possessions during this losing streak.
Indiana Pacers at Philadelphia 76ers (-5, 223.5)
On the surface, this looks like a fantastic matchup, but injuries have thrown the handicapping process for a whirl. Malcolm Brogdon is on the injury report as questionable for Indiana, and both Tobias Harris and Joel Embiid are questionable for Philadelphia. If both teams were at full strength, I find myself gravitated toward the 76ers. I am ready to admit I was wrong on Indiana. I bet against them more often than on them, and over their last 20 games they continue to show how mediocre they are. Since Jan. 17 they are 7-13 SU/6-14 ATS with a -2.8 net rating. In the month of February they are 4-8 SU and ATS, and are currently in the midst of an 0-3 SU and ATS slide. Their offense has been a massive issue, averaging just 109.9 points every 100 possessions this month, bringing them down to 18th in overall efficiency on the season. The market also tends to overvalue them as well, making them a prime candidate to regularly play against