Betting preview for Sunday's NBA games

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Another day, and another game in which the New Orleans Pelicans get vastly overvalued by the betting market. New Orleans opened up as a four-point favorite on the road against San Antonio on Saturday, but the market pushed back early, driving the line down to Pelicans -2 before tip-off. San Antonio would eventually win outright, averaging 1.232 points per possession, exploiting one of the worst defenses in the league. San Antonio might have been missing a smattering of its depth due to COVID-19 protocols, but their core was still on the floor last night, and they should have been the favorite regardless.

However, this is not another piece lamenting the Pelicans’ overvalued nature by the market. This is about a San Antonio Spurs team that is quietly humming along, playing some rock-solid basketball.

Over their last 13 games, the Spurs are 9-4 SU/8-5 ATS with the ninth-ranked defense in the league (110.6). San Antonio needs some work on offense, but this effort on defense is a far cry from unit that finished 23rd last season in efficiency. The Spurs have used this quality defense to find its way into contention for a playoff seed in the Western Conference, and to build up a 17-12 ATS record on the season. 

Updates injury reports can be found here.

Updated odds on every game can be found here.

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

The Main Event

Los Angeles Clippers at Milwaukee Bucks (-1.5, 237)

The Clippers have been a difficult team to figure out. Los Angeles bounced back from a loss to Memphis on Thursday to beat down the Grizzlies in a rematch on Friday. The Clippers limited them to 1.0 point per possession and 34.1 percent on 41 mid-range attempts, Memphis’ bread and butter on offense. Defense has been the story for Los Angeles this season. They rank 19th in defensive efficiency, according to Cleaning The Glass, and should be much better than that, as they finished last season fifth in the same category. On Friday we detailed the struggles that the Clippers are facing when it comes to their strategy guarding the mid-range area of the floor, but today their rim defense gets tested. 

Los Angeles only allows opponents to take 31.8 percent of their attempts at the rim, but the opposition is shooting 64.3 percent when they get there, the 20th-ranked mark in the league. The Clippers have been surprisingly below average when it comes to guarding in transition as well, allowing 126.9 points every 100 transition plays. Rim defense and defensive efficiency in transition are not two areas you want to struggle in against Milwaukee. The Bucks only take 33.6 percent of their attempts at the rim, but they shoot the second-best percentage at 69.9 percent within four feet. Milwaukee also loves to run. They rank first in transition frequency (19.3 percent), second in points added through transition play per 100 possessions (+3.7) and 13th in overall fastbreak efficiency (127.1). The Bucks should be able to exploit the issues the plague the Clippers, but Milwaukee is not without its own problems here.

Milwaukee ranks near the bottom of the league in almost every defensive category along the perimeter. The Bucks are 25th in frequency of opponent attempts from beyond the arc (38.6 percent), and 24th or lower in all three categories of opponent 3-point shooting percentage (Corner, Non-Corner, Overall). That is going to be a problem against Los Angeles. The Clippers only take 36.5 percent of their attempts from deep, but they are currently first in overall 3-point shooting (42.5 percent) and corner 3-point shooting (51.1 percent) while ranking fifth in non-corner shooting (38.9 percent). Milwaukee’s struggles along the perimeter have led to them placing 23rd in half-court defensive efficiency (98.6), which will be a problem against Los Angeles’ second-ranked half-court offense (103.6).

As I documented in the last edition of game notes, this Clippers defense has been an enigma. They might be 19th in overall defensive efficiency, but the tracking data the NBA offers paints a different picture. They rank third in frequency of opponent shot attempts in very tight windows (defender within two feet), but 28th in opponent field goal percentage on those attempts (52.0 percent). On 3-point attempts its even more staggering: They are sixth in frequency of opponent attempts from deep coming with very tight coverage, but 28th in field goal percentage (57.1 percent).

It is hard to handicap how this regresses on a game-to-game basis, but I believe these numbers show the Clippers have been much better defensively than their season stats show. The market has been moving this total down, and I would agree with that sentiment given what we know about the potential of both teams’ defense that we have seen in seasons past.

The Co-Main Event

Atlanta Hawks at Miami Heat (-6.5, 227.5)

What is it going to take for the market to realize the true quality of this Atlanta team? The Hawks’ porous defense gave up 1.216 points per possession to the Thunder’s 28th-ranked offense on Friday. Atlanta is now 4-10 SU/5-9 ATS in the month of February, and its defense has allowed 119.2 points every 100 possessions over that stretch. However, the market continues to back them on a nightly basis. Today is no exception, as the number is moving in the Hawks’ direction yet again despite Miami's continued improvement.

The Heat have now won and covered five straight, including a very strong win over the unstoppable Jazz on Friday. Over these five games, Miami has outscored its opponents by 8.1 points every 100 possessions due to a defense that is fourth-best over that stretch (107.6). What’s more, their offense has really started to trend in a positive direction. Since Jimmy Butler returned from his bout with COVID, the Heat are averaging 111.1 points every 100 possessions; during this winning streak their offensive rating has improved to 115.6!

Miami is starting to find its stride after its season got off to a rough start due injuries and disease. The game against Utah was no fluke. This is still the Heat team that won the Eastern Conference a season ago, and they are starting to play like that team now that they are nearly healthy. This might seem like a power rating jump, to go from catching six at home against Utah to laying in the same venue against Atlanta, but I believed that line against the Jazz to be incorrect, just like I do now.

The Prelims

Washington Wizards at Boston Celtics (-5.5, 231.5)

Two weeks ago to the day, Washington played host to Boston and defeated the Celtics 104-91 as a seven-point underdog. The win was the first of this current 7-1 SU and ATS run that the Wizards are on. For Boston, the loss is one of many during a forgettable slide that stretches back to the final day of January.

Since Jan. 27, the Celtics are 6-11 SU/7-10 ATS with a -2.1 net rating. However, most of that damage has come on the road. Over this 17-game stretch, Boston has played seven games at home. In those contests they are 4-3 SU/5-2 ATS with a + 4.0 net rating. On the road over this stretch, their record is 2-8 SU and ATS with -6.4 net rating. For whatever reason, the Celtics have struggled away from home in season played on essentially neutral courts with next-to-no fan presence.

The market seems to be buying into this spot for Boston as well, as the number is up a full point from the open. The total has moved up a point as well, but the Celtics are a fantastic defensive team at home, and Washington is 11th in defensive rating over this win streak.

Golden State Warriors at Los Angeles Lakers (-4, 224.5)

Los Angeles finally got Dennis Schroder back from his health and safety protocol absence and subsequently posted its highest individual game offensive rating since a win over Minnesota on the road. It is pretty clear the issues for the Lakers have been more a symptom of lack of availability of its best players, as opposed to something deeper. Schroder’s presence gives the Lakers another ball-handler, and that showed in their 10.1 percent turnover rate against the Trail Blazers. Now, they host Golden State in hopes of putting together consecutive wins for the first time since Feb. 12.

The market is not as bullish on Los Angeles’ improvement with Schroder on the floor, and the line has dropped in favor of the Warriors who are in the midst of a 3-0 SU and ATS run. In their previous 10 games, Golden State is 7-3 SU with a fantastic + 6.5 net rating, all due to a defense giving up just 105.5 points every 100 possessions. Keep in mind, only one of their opponents ranks higher than 17th in offensive efficiency, and the one opponent -- Brooklyn -- dropped 1.337 points per possession in a blowout loss at home.

Charlotte Hornets at Sacramento Kings (-2, 238.5)

Sacramento finally got off the 0-9 SU and ATS tumble they were on with a win and cover in Detroit on Friday night. However, the issues that plague the Kings remain strong. Sacramento ranks 30th in defensive efficiency by a wide margin (119.5) and as a result owns the fourth-worst net rating in the league (-6.3). That defense must contain a Charlotte offense that has played better of late, averaging 113.2 points every 100 possessions in the month of February. The biggest difference for the Hornets has been their shooting. This month, Charlotte ranks third in 3-point shooting, hitting 40.7 percent of their 36.8 3-point attempts per game. That is not something the 29th-ranked Kings perimeter defense wants to hear. 

New York Knicks* (-1, 215) at Detroit Pistons

Regression is coming at some point for New York on defense. According to NBA.com, the Knicks allow the fourth-highest rate of wide-open shot attempts for opponents (25.5 percent), but those opponents are only connecting on 37.4 percent of those attempts. At some point those shots will fall, and maybe that is why the market refuses to buy into New York. They were originally an underdog at home against the Pacers and Kings in their last two games, and today the market is moving toward Detroit. New York is 12-9 SU/15-6 ATS in its last 21 games due the market’s perception, and yet again the market is playing against them

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