Betting preview for Sunday's NBA games

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What a massive win for the Los Angeles Lakers last night. On the same day that we learned Anthony Davis was nearing a return, the Lakers went out and handled the favorites in the Eastern Conference 126-101 on the road. Los Angeles was fantastic on the defensive end of the floor, limiting Brooklyn to just 1.025 points per possession and 5-of-18 from beyond the arc. 

The win improved the Lakers’ record to 5-6 SU and ATS since LeBron James’ ankle injury, and Frank Vogel deserves a ton of credit for what this team has been able to do without its two best players. Over these 11 games, Los Angeles has allowed just 103.6 points every 100 possessions, the second-best defensive rating in the league behind Utah (103.2). The Lakers have bought in on defense, and they have used a streaky perimeter offense to tread water.

Los Angeles must still survive nearly two weeks before Davis comes back, but it has maintained a healthy distance between itself and Dallas in the seventh seed. The Lakers participating in a play-in game seemed like a potential reality two weeks ago, but this team’s play over the last week has calmed those waters.

Updated injury reports for every game 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

Miami Heat (-1, 222) at Portland Trail Blazers*

Miami seems to have finally found some positive momentum, but injuries threaten to derail that as the team begins a four-game West Coast trip. The Heat are 5-1 SU/4-2 ATS in their last six games, but Victor Oladipo is not with the team due to a knee injury and Tyler Herro is questionable with a foot injury. Oladipo had finally started to come into his own with Miami, scoring 18 points in 25 minutes against the Lakers on Thursday before leaving the contest. If the Heat are going to defend their Eastern Conference title, they need Oladipo and Herro to be healthy, but tonight they may be able to get by without them.

Portland is 2-3 SU and ATS over its last five games, but those performances have been on extreme ends of the spectrum. In their losses, the Trail Blazers' average margin of defeat has been 18 points, but they blew out the Pistons and Thunder by a combined 63 points. When you have a defense that is as poor as Portland’s, there are going to be some astonishing results, and bettors have seen that play out over the last few games. Tonight, that defense will be front and center again, as they take on a team that can completely exploit one of their biggest weaknesses.

Over their last six games, the Heat are averaging 111.6 points every 100 possessions while shooting 35.3% from deep. The shooting needs to get better, and there are signs it is, but the real positive sign for Miami is its offense inside. The Heat are shooting 68.9% at the rim on an average of 24.2 attempts during this run, and that matches up well against one of the worst interior defenses in the league in Portland. The Trail Blazers allow the third-most attempts at the rim this season and rank 23rd in opponent shooting within four feet (65.4%). In fact, nine of their previous 12 opponents have shot above 70% at the rim! Is this interior defense going to have a chance against Miami tonight?

The Trail Blazers still have a fantastic offense to deal with though, and that unit against the Heat defense will be a great matchup of strength on strength. Portland has averaged 116.5 points per 100 possessions since acquiring Norman Powell, and its perimeter offense is one of the best in the league. Over those eight games with Powell, they have shot 38.5% on 39.6 3-point attempts per game, and on the season they take the second-most attempts from beyond the arc per game (42.3). Miami, despite all of the peaks and valleys of the season, have consistently been fantastic on defense. They have the ninth-best perimeter defense in the league (36.7% allowed) despite allowing the most attempts from deep. Allowing perimeter shots is not the recipe for success against Portland. 

The Co-Main Event

Boston Celtics at Denver Nuggets (-6, 222.5)

Both Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are questionable to play today, so that puts a damper on a potentially exciting contest. Boston has been trending in an upward direction lately, even if the ATS results have not been there. The Celtics are 6-4 SU/5-4-1 ATS over the last 10 games, and 4-1 SU in their past five. In those 10 games their offense has been fantastic, averaging 114.7 points every 100 possessions while shooting 37.9% on 43.3 attempts from deep per game. Every bit of that offense, and both of those superstars, will be needed against a Denver team that is playing like one of the best in the league.

Since Aaron Gordon’s debut, the Nuggets are 7-0 SU/5-2 ATS with a + 10.8 net rating. The biggest change has been a defense that has allowed its opponents to score just 109.4 points every 100 possessions. Along the perimeter Denver has been spectacular, allowing just 33.9% to opposing shooters over this run of success. That is where this matchup will be won or lost. Boston takes over 37% of its attempts from deep, and as a team they shoot 38.3% from that area of the floor. It comes as no surprise to learn the Celtics shoot 32.6% from beyond the arc in losses this season, but 42.3% in wins. Should Brown and Tatum play, the Nuggets will need to prioritize their defense along the perimeter to continue this run of dominance.

The Prelims

Detroit Pistons* at Los Angeles Clippers (-10.5, 218.5)

Los Angeles improved to 12-4 SU and ATS since the All-Star break with a win and cover over Houston on Friday, but the Clippers are short-handed today and that could bring their run to an end. Serge Ibaka, Patrick Beverley and Kawhi Leonard are all out with various issues and Rajon Rondo is questionable. Paul George might be enough to take on this Pistons team, but enough to cover 10.5 points?

The presence of Jerami Grant is important for Detroit to have a chance in this game, but its not like the entire roster is chop suey. Saddiq Bey is in the midst of a shooting slump but is still a quality 3-and-D wing player and Killian Hayes is back after missing three months with an injury. The Pistons have lost each of their last five games by an average of 22.2 points, and as those losses grow their power rating shrinks.

New Orleans Pelicans (-6.5, 227.5) at Cleveland Cavaliers*

After consecutive wins by a combined 51 points, the Cavaliers came plummeting back down to Earth with a 135-115 loss to Toronto on Saturday. Now, they have to face the Pelicans and they could do so short-handed, as Darius Garland is questionable to play. New Orleans had a rough 1-4 SU and ATS stretch last week, but much of that was due to cluster injuries to Lonzo Ball, Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram. With Ingram and Williamson back on the floor together, the Pelicans handled the 76ers on Friday night and won outright as a 5.5-point underdog.

If New Orleans is healthy, it is a matchup nightmare for Cleveland. The Cavaliers allow the second-most shots at the rim of any team in the league, and the Pelicans take the most shots of any team in that area of the floor. With the continued absences of Larry Nance and Jarrett Allen on top of a potential injury to Garland, it is hard to make a case for Cleveland.

Milwaukee Bucks (-8.5, 223.5) at Orlando Magic

Giannis Antetokounmpo is likely to miss his fifth consecutive game with a sore knee, and if that is the case the Bucks have a problem. Milwaukee is 1-3 SU/0-4 ATS in the last four games without Giannis, and owns the fourth-worst defensive rating over that stretch (119.7). Milwaukee’s defense has suffered all year long when Giannis is on the bench, and now bettors are seeing that over the entirety of games. If he misses this contest, there is no world in which I would be comfortable laying that many points. Orlando is banged up in its own right -- Chuma Okeke is questionable to play today and Otto Porter Jr. is out -- but Cole Anthony is back. Orlando is 7-2 ATS in its last nine games due to the market severely underrating it.

Toronto Raptors* at New York Knicks (-1, 213.5)

Like many of these games down the stretch, the injury report is key here. Fred VanVleet is considered doubtful and Kyle Lowry is questionable to play tonight. As a result, the Knickerbockers have been bumped up to a three-point favorite at almost every shop. New York has covered four straight coming into Sunday, and its offense has suddenly erupted for 118.7 points every 100 possessions. The offensive surge is more than likely an aberration, but a defense that has given up just 106.8 points per 100 possessions is not. If the Raptors do not have VanVleet or Lowry, they will need another 44-point performance from Gary Trent Jr. ... and that does not seem likely. 

San Antonio Spurs at Dallas Mavericks (-6, 220.5)

San Antonio might have covered against Denver on Friday night, but this team is still 0-5 SU in its last five games with a 1-4 ATS record. The Spurs have been in a freefall lately, posting a 2-10 SU/4-8 ATS mark over the past 12 games with a -6.9 net rating. Their defense, which ranked in the top five at one point this season, has allowed 116.1 points per 100 possessions during this losing streak and their offense continues its inefficient ways. How do they handle a team that is 6-1 SU and ATS over its last seven games?

Dallas has been one of the best teams in the league over the last month, and much of that has been due to a suddenly revitalized defense that has given up just 107.9 points every 100 possessions since the beginning of March.

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