While the sports world has been wrapped up in March Madness, there was another form of madness transpiring in the NBA. Over the weekend we saw the Los Angeles Lakers lose LeBron James to a high ankle sprain, and the Charlotte Hornets lose LaMelo Ball to a fractured wrist. While James is expected back at some point, it seems as if Ball is lost for the year. Both injuries have thrown the awards markets into chaos.
Ball’s injury is the latest to alter the betting market, as Anthony Edwards is now the odds-on favorite to win Rookie of the Year. We have seen this scenario unfold before. In the 2016-2017 season, Malcolm Brogdon won the award over Joel Embiid because Embiid played in just 31 games in an 82-game season. Last year, there was a push for Zion Williamson to win the award because of a big push near the end of the season, but a lack of games played held him back from winning it as well.
Ball has played in 41 games this season, and if the year is played to completion that is about 57% of a possible 72 contests. Embiid appeared in 38% of his team’s games his rookie season, and Zion in just 30% of the 64 games his team played in before the COVID hiatus. Ball clearly has a much larger sample size, and maybe that is still enough to win over the voters.
Updates 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
Boston Celtics* at Memphis Grizzlies (-1, 221.5)
All it took was the dreaded “team meeting” for Boston to wake up from its slump. According to Marcus Smart, after taking a loss to the Kings at home on Friday night, the Celtics met to discuss the underwhelming season. The team responded with a 112-96 win over Orlando on Sunday, which means, of course, the season is saved.
Boston’s offense averaging 1.271 points per possession against Orlando might steal headlines, but it was the defensive effort that turned my head. For the just the third time in 13 games, the Celtics allowed less than 1.1 points per possession in the win. Defensively, this team has been insanely inconsistent and had allowed 119.1 points per 100 possessions in the seven games prior to the win over Orlando. Last night, they allowed just 1.071 to the Magic. It is worth pointing out that Orlando had managed to put up an offensive rating of 101.7 in the five games prior to the loss to Boston – as of today, they rank 27th in offensive efficiency (106.4) – so it would behoove you to not take too much from the performance of the Celtics’ defense.
If the defensive turnaround for Boston is real, that does not bode well for Memphis. The Grizzlies’ offense has been brutal lately, averaging just 103.8 points every 100 possessions over their last six games (2-4 SU/3-3 ATS). Memphis is very reliant on short mid-range area of the floor, and it is not surprising to see that during this six-game slump they are shooting a collective 51-of-122 (41.8%) from that area of the floor. Having an offense that is reliant on floaters and runners to fall is not ideal, but Boston comes in with a defense that has struggled to keep team from inside 14 feet which could work for Memphis. The Celtics allow opponents to take 22.1% of their attempts from short mid-range, the fifth-most of any team in the league, and they rank 24th in field goal percentage allowed from four to 14 feet (44.1%). Statistically, this sets up for Memphis to get its offense back into gear.
The other factor to keep in mind here is the road woes of Boston. The Celtics dropped their latest road game in Cleveland making them 8-14 SU/7-15 ATS on the road this season and 1-8 SU and ATS in their last eight away from home. Oh, and that one win? A road game in Houston. Does that continue tonight, or does that team meeting push Boston to unprecedented heights?
The Co-Main Event
Atlanta Hawks at Los Angeles Clippers (-6.5, 224)
A win over the Lakers on Saturday improved the Hawks to 8-0 SU/7-1 ATS under interim coach Nate McMillan. Atlanta is an improved team since McMillan has taken over, but as I pointed out in the game notes on Saturday, its schedule has been extremely favorable. Five of their eight opponents rank 25th or lower in net rating, and they beat a Lakers team that lost LeBron James in the first half. This team is healthier, and playing better basketball, but how much should their power rating be improved because they have romped through a light schedule?
However, it is not like the Clippers have been a consistent powerhouse this season. They are coming off of a beatdown of Charlotte, but Los Angeles has not won consecutive games Feb. 15 against Miami. Since then they are 6-8 SU and ATS with perfectly balanced 0.0 net rating, and tonight there is no real statistical advantage for the Clippers. Atlanta might give up the fifth-most attempts at the rim this season, but Los Angeles takes the second-fewest shots within four feet. The Clippers thrive from deep, shooting a league-leading 42.0% from 3-point range, but the Hawks allow 34.8% to opponents this season. I believe the Hawks’ power rating is getting to be too high, but given the inconsistencies of their opponent today it is hard to lay a number like that.
Sacramento Kings (-4, 225) at Cleveland Cavaliers*
After building up some good will with consecutive wins and covers on the road, the Kings regressed to the inconsistent mess they have been all season by losing to the 76ers on Saturday. Losing to Philadelphia is not a massive shame, but getting blown out by a team without its top two players is. Sacramento’s defense was cooked for 1.326 points per possession and Philadelphia went a combined 30-of-47 (63.8%) at the rim and from 3-point range. Now, this team is laying points on the road for just the second time this season. Do you really trust them in this role?
Sure, it is Cleveland, but the Cavaliers have shown the ability to take advantage of overvalued teams. They beat Toronto on Sunday as a 7.5-point underdog and took care of business at home against Boston last week. The Cavaliers take the most shot attempts of any team in the league at the rim, and the Kings give up 67.7% within four feet. Cleveland also ranks 13th in offensive efficiency in transition (126.5), a category Sacramento ranks 29th in on defense. There is more to a matchup than those two categories, but it just goes to show that a bad defensive team like the Kings can always keep their opponent in the game.
Charlotte Hornets at San Antonio Spurs (-4, 226)
Charlotte was dealt a massive blow over the weekend when it lost Rookie of the Year favorite LaMelo Ball to a fractured wrist. It is salt in the wound for a team that is 0-3 SU and ATS with a -20.7 net rating on their current road trip. However, there is a chance the market is overreacting to the loss of Ball here. According to Cleaning The Glass, there is no real difference in the minutes with Ball on the floor and off.
When Ball plays, the Hornets are outscored by 2.0 points every 100 possessions; when he is off the floor they’re outscored by 2.1 points every 100 possessions. Terry Rozier is expected to play today despite dealing with a sore wrist, so this team is largely intact. San Antonio has been playing well lately, going 4-2 SU/5-1 ATS in its last six with a +2.5 net rating, but this number seems pretty inflated. Last Monday the Spurs were laying 1.5 in Detroit. Are the Hornets without LaMelo Ball really 3.5 points worse than the Pistons?
Toronto Raptors* (-8.5, 225.5) at Houston Rockets*
The Rockets might be in midst of an 0-20 SU/2-18 ATS slide, but it's not like things are going swimmingly for the Raptors. Toronto has dropped every game since the beginning of March, and are 3-5 ATS over that stretch after losing to Cleveland on Sunday. The team had to deal with absences of star plyers due to COVID-19 protocols, and they have had two games now with essentially a full roster. We have seen examples of teams needing time to work back to form after their rosters are gutted by COVID, so maybe Toronto is just another example of this. Either way, the market is at an all-time low with Houston’s power rating.
Imagine catching 8.5 points from a team that has not won in three weeks! Bettors should be keeping their eye on injury reports and social media if they’re betting Toronto in the coming days as well. Reports have surfaced that Miami and Philadelphia are in hot pursuit of Kyle Lowry, which would mean he could be pulled prior to any game over the next four days.
Oklahoma City Thunder* at Minnesota Timberwolves (-2, 224.5)
Since returning from the All-Star break, the Timberwolves are 3-3 SU/4-2 ATS with the second-best offensive rating in the league (117.4). That is not what Oklahoma City wants, as their once reliable defense has been gouged for 118.6 points every 100 possessions over the last six games. Minnesota seemed like a team to play on in the second half due to the building continuity with this team, and the offensive turnaround is evidence of that. Another cover today will build that case even more.
Utah Jazz (-9.5, 231) at Chicago Bulls*
The month of March brought with it a prolonged slump for the Jazz, and their failed cover against the Raptors on Friday brought their record to 1-6 ATS over their last seven games. Defensively, Utah has not been the same team. In March, the Jazz are giving up 116.0 points every 100 possessions and opponents are shooting 48.9% from the floor. Defense has not been a problem for Chicago, which has allowed just 103.7 points every 100 possessions over its last six games. However, four of their six opponents rank 20th or lower in offensive efficiency, and the one opponent they faced which is inside the top 10, Denver, torched them for 1.236 points per possession.
Indiana Pacers at Milwaukee Bucks (-5.5, 231.5)
It looks like Giannis Antetokounmpo is not going to play tonight for Milwaukee, and if the non-Giannis minutes for the Bucks are an indicator then this might get ugly for the Bucks. When Antetokounmpo sits, Milwaukee is outscored by 6.3 points every 100 possessions, and its defensive rating jumps 12.5 points! Those are all extremely poor numbers, but please do not forget their opponent today is Indiana. The Pacers finally got off their slide with back-to-back wins as an underdog over Miami, but this is still a team that is 3-8-1 ATS over its last 12 games with a -1.4 net rating. The market overreacted by making Indiana the favorite over Brooklyn last week when they did not have Kyrie.