Betting preview for Saturday's NBA games

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After taking a few days off for you to get ready for March Madness, we are back! It’s a sneaky good card today, and it starts early on the West Coast. Before we dive into the day's games, let’s take a quick look at the biggest story of the day yesterday in the NBA: the Boston Celtics.

Brad Stevens had to quell the ridiculous rumors about his interest in the Indiana job yesterday, but Boston followed that up with a home loss to the worst defensive team in the league. The Celtics managed just 1.032 points per possession against a team that gives up 119.4 points every 100 possessions on the season. In half-court situations, Boston put up just 0.909 points per play, an issue that has plagued them all season long. The loss is the Celtics' third straight both SU and ATS, and they are now just seven losses from clinching the under on their win total.

Boston has a massive trade exception to use before the deadline, and has been tied to players like Harrison Barnes by media reports. However, the more this team plays, the more I personally believe there is no move they can make, outside of acquiring LeBron James, that will fix what ails them.

Updated injury reports can be found here.

Updated odds for every game can be found here.

Atlanta Hawks at Los Angeles Lakers (-4, 223.5)

Life for Atlanta has been good under interim coach Nate McMillan. The Hawks are in the midst of a 7-0 SU/5-1-1 ATS run that has put them in control of the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference. Atlanta has been firing on all cylinders during this run, ranking fifth in offensive efficiency (118.0), fourth in defensive efficiency (105.9) and second in net rating (+ 12.1) over this seven-game stretch.

However, Los Angeles will be the first real test for this Hawks team that has been taking advantage of a soft schedule. Five of their seven opponents during this win streak rank 25th or lower in net rating on the season, and five rank 20th or lower in offensive efficiency! Atlanta is getting healthier, and playing better basketball, but the market seems to be overvaluing a run of wins against lesser competition.

Los Angeles has won and covered all four games since returning from the All-Star break, and their defense has led the way by limiting their opponents to 104.4 points per 100 possessions. This unit against Atlanta’s resurgent offense will be the matchup of the game. The Hawks have taken at least 40% of their attempts from deep in five of the seven games during this win streak, and they have shot 39.6% as a team. The Lakers allow opponents to take just 34.6% of their attempts from deep and rank 11th in perimeter defense (35.8% allowed). If Los Angeles cuts off the perimeter today, like they have done all season, they should be able to limit the newfound offense of Atlanta.

The story here is the power rating on Atlanta. The market has clearly come around on the Hawks and adjusted the power rating as such. But, the market has also been pretty low on the Lakers lately. They closed as just a 1.5-point favorite against the Warriors five nights ago, and were laying just a half-point more than Denver was at home against the Hornets. Given the light schedule of Atlanta, and the form of Los Angeles, it seems like a solid buy-low spot on the home team.

The Co-Main Event

Sacramento Kings* at Philadelphia 76ers (-7, 234.5)

Look out world, the Kings are red-hot! After an outright win in Beantown last night, Sacramento has won and covered two straight games! There is a modicum of sarcasm in my excitement, but for a Kings team that has failed to close out games it is a big deal that they were able to do so in consecutive games. Now, they must do it on consecutive nights against a Philadelphia team that is 2-1 SU/ATS since losing Joel Embiid. The Kings might actually have a shot to make it three straight when you look at the details of these three games for the 76ers without Embiid. 

The first thing that sticks out about Philadelphia without Embiid is their defense. On the season, when Embiid is off the floor, the 76ers allow opponents to take 34.0% of their attempts within four feet of the basket and shoot 65.0% in that area of the floor. That weakness has shown up over the last three games, as San Antonio, New York and Milwaukee have combined to go 61-of-83 (73.5%) at the rim. The percentage alone is troublesome, but its also a problem with Sacramento coming to town.

The Kings are still the 11th-most efficient offense in the league, and much of that is due to their success around the rim and in the painted area. Sacramento ranks 16th in rim frequency and second in short mid-range frequency while shooting 67.7% and 44.9% respectively in both areas of the floor. The numbers without Embiid tell us that the Kings should be able to have success on offense today.

Offensively, the 76ers have struggled in their previous two games as well, averaging just 94.4 points every 100 possessions. Sacramento comes in as the 30th-rakned defense in the league, allowing 119.4 points every 100 possessions. An opponent at that level will obviously raise the floor of Philadelphia’s offense, this is still not a unit that bettors should have the utmost confidence in. 

The Prelims

Golden State Warriors* at Memphis Grizzlies* (-6, 222.5)

Memphis has officially fallen on hard times, dropping to 1-4 SU/2-3 ATS in its previous five games after a loss to Golden State which was without Steph Curry on Friday. A team that averages just 96.5 points, and is outscored by 9.6 points every 100 possessions, without Curry on the floor mustered 1.115 per possession while dropping 116 points. Andrew Wiggins led the way with 40 points on 14-of-24 shooting, but can Golden State count on a similar performance for consecutive nights? Memphis is still performing well defensively during this slide (110.8 defensive rating), but their offense has vanished.

Over the past five games the Grizzlies are scoring just 103.8 points every 100 possessions. Their inconsistent shooting has bottomed out yet again, and the team has hit just 31.2% of their 3-point attempts during this slide. The short mid-range shot, which this team relies on, has fallen at a 36.7% clip or worse in each game but one. Golden State might have issues without Curry on offense, but on defense they still thrive without their star. With Curry off the floor, the Warriors allow just 106.1 points every 100 possessions, and opponents shoot just 39.8% from the floater area of the floor. If Memphis can crack that defense they might have a chance to cover, but that’s a much larger number than I expected to market to hang.

Charlotte Hornets at Los Angeles Clippers (-9.5, 232.5)

As much as I love the Hornets, this West Coast trip seemed like one in which bettors should be looking play against them, and sure enough they are 0-2 SU and ATS with a -16.5 net rating. Their defense has been decimated, giving up 118.9 points per 100 possessions and their offense has been stymied to a 102.5 offensive rating. The betting market has finally adjusted on Charlotte, and it's clear in the number today.

Against the Nuggets, the Hornets were catching just 6.5 points. Against Los Angeles, they were a seven-point underdog. Today, they open as a 9.5-point underdog to a Clippers team that is power rated very similarly to their two previous opponents. This is still a poor statistical matchup for Charlotte – they give up the most wide-open looks from 3-point range, the Clippers are the best shooting team in the league on wide-open looks – but has the market overcorrected itself?

San Antonio Spurs at Milwaukee Bucks (-10, 229)

Milwaukee might have pulled off the overtime victory against Philadelphia on Wednesday, but a first half in which they averaged just 0.574 points per possession was really troubling. It might explain why the market has moved toward San Antonio here, but there are reasons to believe the Bucks can pull off the cover. The most glaring mismatch is at the rim, where the Spurs give up the sixth-most shot attempts. Milwaukee thrives in that area of the floor with Giannis Antetokounmpo on the floor, and they did so against Philadelphia. Could they do that again here against a San Antonio team I believe has been relatively fraudulent on defense?

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