In Sunday's game notes, I mentioned the Clippers’ inability to defend the rim, and how that might work against them in their game with New Orleans. Lo and behold, the Pelicans torched them inside with a 26-of-31 (83.9%!) performance at the rim and 72 points in the paint. Los Angeles ranks in the bottom half of the league in many metrics tied to interior defense, and every bit of that showed up last night. Just look at the lack of resistance Zion Williamson faced last night.
Now, Serge Ibaka was lost to injury after playing just eight minutes, but with him on the floor this season the Clippers still allow opponents to shoot 65.8% at the rim. We’re now at the point of the season where these defensive issues are no longer just anomalies. I have brought up the tracking numbers for Los Angeles, but at some point, poor defense is just poor defense. Last night, the 22nd-ranked defense gave up 1.324 points per possession and got lit up in the paint. There is no other way to spin it.
The Clippers are now 1-4 SU and ATS in their last five games, and have not covered consecutive contests since Feb. 15 in a game against Miami. There has been a part of me that sees the statistical profile of this team, especially on offense, and believes there is more than meets the eye. However, Los Angeles has shown us nothing tangible to believe it can put it all together when it matters.
Updated injury reports can be found here.
Updated odds for every game can be found here.
*Indicates team is on the second leg of a back-to-back.
The Main Event
New York Knicks at Brooklyn Nets (-7.5, 225)
Brooklyn maintained their winning ways against Detroit on Saturday, escaping with a 100-95 victory to improve to 12-1 SU/11-2 ATS in its last 13 games. Bettors really saw an adjustment on the power rating for the Nets in that contest, as they closed laying 11.5 points against a Pistons team they lost to back on Feb. 9 as a 5.5-point favorite. Tonight, they will face a Knicks team that is a fantastic regression candidate and showed so a few days ago against Milwaukee when they were blown out 134-101 on the road. New York did bounce back from that loss by beating up on Oklahoma City on Saturday, limiting the Thunder to 0.978 points per possession and 8-of-27 from beyond the arc, but will they be able to contain an offense at the level of Brooklyn’s?
The initial concern for New York tonight will start on the perimeter, where Brooklyn generates most of its offense. The Nets take 39.3% of their attempts from deep, and shoot 41.1% as a team. Knicks opponents are taking 39.7% of their attempts from beyond the arc, the fifth-most in the league, but shooting just 33.4% on those attempts (best in the NBA). New York also happens to give up the third-most wide-open looks from deep this season, and Milwaukee took advantage of that by going 13-of-30 (43.3%) in the non-garbage time minutes of their win. It seems likely that Brooklyn, with three high-volume 40% shooters and a few others over 38%, will be able to exploit those issues as well.
This is not to say that the defense that the Nets play cannot be exploited. After all, they come into Monday with the 23rd-ranked defense, allowing 113.8 points every 100 possessions. Quietly though, Brooklyn has improved on that end of the floor. Over these past 13 games, the Nets are giving up just 111.0 points every 100 possessions, the 15th-best defensive rating in the NBA over that stretch and a rating just 1.5 points worse than the Knicks’ over that span. They held a poor Pistons offense to just 1.011 points per possession, so could they put forth a similar effort against a New York team just one spot higher in offensive efficiency?
The Co-Main Event
Memphis Grizzlies* at Phoenix Suns (-7, 228)
The Suns were a team I had circled to watch in the second half of the season, because I wanted to see if their defense would hold up as one of the best in NBA. We are just two games in, but Phoenix allowed Portland and Indiana to score 243 total points, average 1.191 points per possession and shoot 43.7% from deep combined. Two games is obviously an insanely small sample size, but that is something to monitor going into this game against the Grizzlies. Memphis has started to show some more consistency on the offensive end of the floor, averaging 112.8 points every 100 possessions over the last eight games while shooting 37.6% from deep. Those numbers are not eye-popping, but for a team that is 19th in offensive efficiency and 25th in shooting it is a solid step forward. If the defensive regression for Phoenix is real, there is a chance Memphis can have a solid night offensively.
The Grizzlies, like the Suns, are also a fantastic defensive team statistically. They currently rank eighth in defensive efficiency, giving up an average of 110.4 points every 100 possessions. Much of their success on defense comes from protecting the rim, where they are ninth in opponent shooting (61.9%). However, where Memphis grades below average, along the perimeter and in mid-range, are areas of the floor in which Phoenix thrives. The Suns take 37.6% of their attempts from deep and shoot 38.6% on those shots. They are the best mid-range shooting team in the league (48.5%) and take the ninth-most attempts from that area. The Grizzlies rank 24th and 27th in opponent 3-point shooting and mid-range shooting respectively.
Just look at yesterday, when Oklahoma City when a combined 32-of-55 (58.2%) from both areas of the floor. Could we have a sneaky shootout on our hands in Phoenix tonight, or will the top-10 defenses find their form, and make this a rock fight?
Los Angeles Clippers* (-1.5, 227.5) at Dallas Mavericks
After another disappointing performance on defense, the Clippers must rebound to face a Mavericks team finding its stride on offense. Since Feb. 3, Dallas has the fourth-best offense in the league, averaging 118.6 points every 100 possessions while shooting 47.7% from the floor and 38.2% on 40.1 3-pointers per game. Luka Doncic has been the catalyst for the Mavericks, averaging 29.6 points, 8.9 assists and 7.6 rebounds per game on 49.3% shooting (41.5% from deep). It seems like another poor matchup for Los Angeles on paper, but the hope for them here lies in how Dallas plays offense.
The Clippers are a team that struggles inside on defense, but the Mavericks are a team that takes just 29.6% of their attempts within four feet, that is the fifth-lowest rate in the league. Dallas generates all of its offensive pressure from deep, where Los Angeles ranks 13th defensively allowing 37.4% shooting to opponents. Should the Clippers hold up along the perimeter, they should have enough on offense to exploit the 26th-ranked defense in the league (114.8).
Keep an eye on the injury report today, as Serge Ibaka played just eight minutes last night and is in danger of missing this game, along with Patrick Beverley and potentially Terance Mann. No Ibaka means more minutes for Ivica Zubac, and Dallas killed a slow Denver frontcourt with a barrage of pick-and-pops the other night. The same could happen with Zubac playing big minutes.
Sacramento Kings at Charlotte Hornets (-2.5, 240)
Coming off of a 114-104 win over the Raptors, the Hornets are now 4-1 SU/3-2 ATS in its past five games and have outscored their opponents by 7.3 points every 100 possessions. Their offense is averaging 116.5 points every 100 possessions during this winning streak, which is not something the lowly Sacramento Kings want to hear. Sacramento is the worst defense in the league, allowing opponents to score 120.1 points every 100 possessions. Their biggest problem is a perimeter defense that allows opponents to shoot 39.3% from deep. Charlotte lives on the perimeter on offense, and since the beginning of February is the fourth-best shooting team in the league at 40.7%. The market opening Charlotte as just a 2.5-point favorite is low given the matchup advantages in favor of the home team.
Milwaukee Bucks (-8.5, 239) at Washington Wizards
Over the weekend Milwaukee closed as a 13-point favorite over Washington after Bradley Beal was ruled out due to injury. Russell Westbrook shouldered the load with a 42-point triple-double on 16-of-32 shooting, and the Wizards would cover in a 125-119 loss. Today, Beal is expected to be on the floor, and we see a 4.5-point adjustment on the line. Beal’s presence alters the power rating for Washington without a doubt, but by that much? Then you look at the last matchup and some peculiar things stick out. For example, a Bucks team that takes 33.6% of its attempts at the rim, took only 16 against a team that ranks 24th in defending the rim (65.4%). How about Milwaukee taking 38 mid-range attempts in the first game (41% of their shots) despite being a team that takes just 28% of their attempts from that area of the floor? It will be interesting to see how the Bucks’ performance changes with some tweaks to the game plan. By the way, injury report is not clean for Washington either, as Davis Bertans and Raul Neto are both questionable.
Indiana Pacers at Denver Nuggets (-5, 226.5)
Indiana broke its 0-7 ATS slide in a big way over the weekend, beating Phoenix 122-111 as a seven-point underdog with its best offensive performance in nearly a month. The 1.178 points they averaged per possession was the highest mark they’ve posted since a 134-128 overtime win over Minnesota on Feb. 17. Now, they will attempt to make it two straight against a Denver team struggling to find consistency on defense. On Saturday night, the Nuggets were killed by the Mavericks pick-and-pop sets, giving up 1.341 points per possession and allowing Dallas to go 14-of-37 from beyond the arc. The Pacers do not have the shooting threats in the frontcourt that the Mavericks do, but what they do have is an offense that will pound you at the rim. Indiana takes the most attempts at the rim of any team in the league (42.5%), and against a Denver team that ranks 30th in opponent shooting at the cup (69.5%) that is trouble. That is not to say that the Nuggets have their own areas to exploit. Indiana is the 25th-ranked perimeter defense in the league, allowing opponents to shoot 38.4% from deep. Denver happens to rank sixth in that category on offense (38.9%).
Los Angeles Lakers (-2.5, 222.5) at Golden State Warriors*
Golden State had its own 0-4 SU and ATS slump to break out of yesterday and did so with a massive outright win over Utah. The Warriors offense emerged like a phoenix from the ashes of its corpse, averaging 1.26 points per possession against the second-best defense in the league. Does Andrew Wiggins have another 28 point performance on 12-of-16 shooting left in him for Los Angeles? This Lakers team is well rested, playing just their second game since the All-Star break tonight, and their defense looked fresh on Friday. They held Indiana to just 0.99 points per possession and outscored them 34-21 in the final quarter to come back for the win and cover. Their offense is still a problem obviously – they managed just 1.061 points per possession against Indiana – so it is right to wonder if that continues against a solid defense like Golden State’s.