Betting preview for Monday's NBA games

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How great is this?

The Brooklyn Nets absolutely destroyed the Washington Wizards’ defense on Sunday. They averaged 1.306 points per possession, went 19-of-36 from beyond the arc and averaged an insane 1.232 points per play in the halfcourt. It was the second consecutive game in which they scored more than 140 points … and they lost!

The Nets lost to a Wizards team marred in a four-game losing streak in which they had averaged just 97.3 points every 100 possessions, and had been outscored by 18.3 points over those possessions.

According to StatMuse, Brooklyn’s offensive rating of 122.6 since the James Harden trade would be the best of all time if they can keep up that pace on offense. Unfortunately, their defensive rating of 119.9 over the same time span would be the worst of all time.

There seems to be no help coming for Brooklyn’s defense anytime soon, and they are now 5-4 SU, but 3-6 ATS since the Harden deal. In no way should bettors be comfortable laying points with this team until they show an iota of defensive effort.

On to the notes!

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

Updated injury reports can be found here.

Updated odds for every game can be found here.

Minnesota Timberwolves* at Cleveland Cavaliers*

The once formidable Cleveland offense has all but disappeared over the last two games. Against the Knicks, the Cavaliers were held to 0.90 points per possession; against the Timberwolves, the Cavaliers scored just 1.040 points per possession. Over both games they combined to commit 33 turnovers, and as a result they went 0-2 SU/ATS.

Now, they are back home on the second leg of a back-to-back against the Timberwolves team that held them to just 0.860 points per possession in the second half yesterday. It is a pretty clear bounce-back spot for Cleveland, but bettors are paying more for it. The Cavaliers closed as a 3.5-point favorite in Minnesota yesterday, but open as a 4.5-point favorite back home today. Is going from one empty gym to another worth a full point?

L.A. Lakers (-6, 220.5) at Atlanta Hawks

This is an extremely poor spot for Los Angeles. The Lakers are playing the last of a seven-game road trip that started 11 days ago in Milwaukee, and they are coming off of a slow-paced nail-biter in primetime against Boston on Saturday. Situationally, it is hard to make a case for Los Angeles. How the market will handle this number is going to be intriguing.

Atlanta has been treating bettors well. The Hawks are 5-2 SU/6-1 ATS in their last seven games, and have outscored their opponents by 5.7 points every 100 possessions. I am hesitant to buy into this recent uptick for Atlanta just based on the competition. Their five wins during this run have come against the Pistons, the short-handed Clippers, the Wizards and the Timberwolves (twice). Their two losses came to Milwaukee and Brooklyn, and in those losses they posted defensive ratings of 131.6 and 129.4, respectively. Is this Hawks team improving, or have they benefitted from a soft schedule?

I tend to think the latter, and it seems there is a discount on this line because of the market overvaluing this recent push from the Hawks. When Atlanta met Brooklyn on Jan. 27 they closed as a 6-point underdog at home. On Monday, they opened as a 6-point underdog against the Los Angeles Lakers, which won’t be missing any key role players. I don’t know about you, but I rate the Lakers as the better team than the Nets at this point. Yet, Los Angeles is laying an identical number here against the same opponent.

Charlotte Hornets at Miami Heat (-5, 222)

Jimmy Butler returned for Miami over the weekend, and all was right in South Beach when the Heat ended a five-game losing streak by beating Sacramento 105-104 on Saturday. The big takeaway is that Miami posted its best offensive rating in five games, but against one of the worst defensive teams in the league it’s hard to put much stock into an offensive turnaround here for Miami.

The Heat are clearly better with Butler, but there is a chance the positive impact of having Butler back will not be seen until a few games later. Butler reportedly lost 10 pounds as he dealt with COVID, so how healthy and impactful can he be? If that is the case, the market is potentially overreacting to his return by adjusting the power rating on Miami.

Charlotte will be a great test for this theory. The Hornets are a quality team, and they come in on a two-game win (and cover) streak. Over its last 12 games, Charlotte is 6-6 SU/9-3 ATS with a + 0.5 net rating. Not mind-blowing, but clearly a team being undervalued by the betting market.

Sacramento Kings at New Orleans Hornets (-3.5, 233)

Sacramento had its three-game winning streak snapped in South Beach on Saturday, but that didn’t end the cover streak for the Kings, which is now at four straight. The catalyst for Sacramento is an offense that has averaged 1.164 points per possession during this run and is currently ranked 10th. The problem for the Kings is a defense that has been one of the worst in the league.

Despite this fantastic offense, Sacramento ranks 28th in net rating this season (-6.0), due to a defense that is coughing up 119.0 points every 100 possessions. The defense has statistically improved over this four-game ATS streak (111.4), but that is likely due to the level of competition than anything else. Three of the four opponents Sacramento has faced rank 25th or lower in offensive rating, and Toronto, which ranks 15th in offense, dropped 1.242 points per possession. This defense can be had, and that is music to the ears of a Pelicans team that might be turning a corner on offense.

New Orleans went on a quick spurt late last week, beating Washington and Milwaukee before falling to Houston on Saturday. Over those three games, the Pelicans averaged 118.0 points every 100 possessions; a massive positive for the 18th-ranked offense in the league. A defense at the level of Sacramento will raise the floor of any opposing offense, so I expect the Pelicans’ offensive spark to continue to burn for one more night.

Keep an eye on the total here. I’ve documented Sacramento’s defensive struggles, but New Orleans owns the 18th-ranked defense that allows 115.2 points every 100 possessions. Do not be surprised if this total begins to move up as get closer to tip-off.

New York Knicks* at Chicago Bulls (-3.5, 218.5)

These two franchises both come into Monday off disappointing results in their last outings, but New York is the one that must rebound just over 24 hours. On Sunday, the Knickerbockers trailed the Clippers by just a single point at halftime, but were outscored by 13 points in the second half en route to a 129-115 loss at home. This is nothing new for New York, which now ranks 23rd in second half net rating this season (-2.8). Meanwhile, Chicago blew a five-point lead with 11.5 seconds left, finished by a Damian Lillard 3-pointer at the buzzer. It was the third consecutive loss for Chicago.

During this losing streak, the Bulls’ offense suddenly became a problem. Chicago managed just 0.825 and 0.989 points per possession in losses to the Lakers and Celtics, and on Monday they must face a solid Knicks defense that is ranked seventh in the league (108.8). However, it is a defense that has shown some cracks over the last four games. New York held Cleveland to 0.90 points per possession on Friday night, but over their last four games the Knicks have allowed a total of 1.160 points per possession. Three of their opponents rank within the top six in offensive efficiency, so it could just be a symptom of the schedule, but worth monitoring nonetheless.

This game will likely be about which team can control the tempo. New York ranks 30th in pace this season, but Chicago comes in as the second-ranked team in that category. The Knicks are a pretty terrible offensive team, so if they’re forced into a shootout it could result in a final similar to Sunday against Los Angeles.

Houston Rockets (-4.5, 224.5) at Oklahoma City Thunder

Do you know which team leads the league in net rating over the last five games? The Rockets, winners of five straight with a 4-1 ATS record, have outscored their opponents by 12.6 points every 100 possessions, and lead the league in net rating. It is all thanks to a defense that ranks seventh in efficiency, and has allowed just 1.0 point per possession during this win streak. In halfcourt situations the Rockets have thrived, allowing just 89.6 points every 100 plays. On Monday, they will face a Thunder team which should allow them to continue their dominant defensive ways.

Oklahoma City has been a solid selection for bettors at the window as of late, posting a 4-2-1 ATS record over its previous seven games. The Thunder’s offense has yet to really show any consistency, despite the positive returns. Over these six games Oklahoma City is averaging 1.087 points per possession, and on the season it ranks just 25th in offensive efficiency overall (106.7). On the surface, it looks like a matchup that suits Houston.

But bettors must be aware of the market they are buying into: Houston started this five-game run as a 3-point underdog at Detroit, and now they’re opening as a 4.5-point favorite on the road against Oklahoma City. It is clear the market has adjusted its rating on Houston, and if you are betting on the Rockets now it is at the top of the market.

Portland Trail Blazers at Milwaukee Bucks (-10, 235)

A few troubling trends are starting to develop for the Bucks, and I do not know if the market has really caught on. Over the last seven games, Milwaukee has allowed 116.3 points every 100 possessions, the 24th-ranked defensive rating over that stretch. A random seven-game blip should not be alarming, but this a Bucks team that now ranks 17th in defensive efficiency, according to Cleaning The Glass. However, the market does not seem to want to budge on how it rates this team.

Milwaukee is currently in the midst of a 4-4 SU/2-6 ATS slide, and the market continues to support them at the window. In their loss to Charlotte on Saturday, they opened laying 7.5-points and closed as 9-point favorites. The day prior to that they opened as 6.5-point favorites, but closed a half-point higher before losing outright to New Orleans. In those two games they gave up a total of 1.260 points per possession, and that’s a problem considering the Pelicans and Hornets rank 19th and 20th respectively on offense. Can you really trust them laying this kind of a number tonight?

Portland has still been operating at a high level on offense despite the injuries to C.J. McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic, and they can exploit a poor perimeter defense like Milwaukee’s. In the five games since losing McCollum, the Blazers have the seventh-best offensive rating in the league (115.5), and over that stretch Damian Lillard is averaging 34.8 points per game while shooting 49.5 percent from the floor and 41.7 percent from deep. I expect this number to start heading in Portland’s direction once widely available. 

Memphis Grizzlies at San Antonio Spurs (-3)

It might be time for me to change my tune on the Spurs, but I might be stubborn and keep my beliefs in place. I have been adamant that the defensive play we have seen from the Spurs has been a product of the schedule they have faced. Then, I bet against them when they faced Boston and Denver, and got sent home with my tail between my legs.

San Antonio held the Celtics to 1.093 points per possession, and won the game outright. Against Denver, not only did they shut them down on offense, limiting them to just 1.084 per possession, but they wrecked the Nuggets’ defense to the tune of 1.247 points per possession. Then, they met Memphis on Saturday, and got burned by hot shooting that allowed the Grizzlies to put up 1.286 points per possession. Could I have been right all along?

Memphis put together a fantastic shooting performance on Saturday, and that really skewed the numbers for San Antonio’s defense. It was also an outlier performance by Memphis, which currently shoots 34.3 percent from beyond the arc as a team. On Saturday they hit 15-of-31 3-point attempts (48.4 percent)! It is likely those shots will not fall with the same consistency, so the Grizzlies will have to exploit other areas of the floor against San Antonio, which they did to an extent. Memphis was solid inside in their first meeting, going 12-of-18 inside four feet, and they worked the mid-range area of the floor as usual, shooting 60.0 percent on 35 attempts.

Three-point shooting was not the only weapon for the Grizzlies on Saturday, but it was a very big piece, which should give bettors some trepidation here with this rematch. Oddsmakers hung the same number as last time, and that seems to be the proper number by my estimation.

Phoenix Suns at Dallas Mavericks (-1, 215)

Is there a lower “buy low” spot than this one here with Dallas? The Mavericks are 0-5 SU and ATS over its last five games with a league-worst -13.5 net rating. Their offense has not been near the level it was last year, but the defense has been an absolute joke. Dallas is giving up 1.221 points per possession during this losing streak, and the Mavs currently rank 20th in season-long defensive efficiency. There is no sign that this team is changing its stripes on defense, and coupled with a less efficient offense this could get ugly for Dallas.

Last season, Dallas overcome a below-average defense with a record-setting offense. This year, that offense is averaging just 109.0 points every 100 possessions, and they are dead-last in 3-point shooting (32.8 percent). This all showed against Phoenix on Saturday, when the Suns averaged 1.146 points per possession, got to the free throw line 31 times and Dallas managed just 1.072 per possession.

In that game Dallas closed as a small favorite, and the market has opened this rematch at a similar number. I’ve discussed not overreacting to cold streaks, but this stretch from Dallas is looking more like reality than a blip on the radar.

Detroit Pistons at Denver Nuggets* (-9.5, 221.5)

Denver bounced back from a disappointing road loss in San Antonio with a dominant victory on Sunday over the streaking Utah Jazz. The Nuggets averaged 1.309 points per possession and went 18-of-26 from beyond the arc, continuing this dominant offensive run. Denver is now 11-5 SU/9-7 ATS in the month of January, but more importantly they are 9-3 SU/8-4 ATS in their last 12 with a + 8.4 net rating. It seems that the market is finally respecting Denver here.

It is not like the Pistons have been chopped liver in certain situations. They are 3-2 ATS in their last five games with wins over the Lakers and 76ers, and they are 10-7-1 ATS as an underdog this season. However, it seems like a good chunk of their success, especially recently, has been about catching opponents in the right situation. The Lakers were coming off of a loss in primetime and were short-handed, the 76ers did not have Joel Embiid. There is no real tangible, statistical edge for Detroit to find here.

Still, this could be another poor spot for the Pistons’ opponent. Denver had a big revenge spot against Utah yesterday, and the Lakers are waiting on Thursday in a massive prime-time test for the Nuggets. Despite every number pointing toward the Denver side, it would not be surprising to see another Detroit cover.

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