Betting preview for Sunday's NBA games

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The Denver Nuggets have some problems on defense, and they are not getting fixed anytime soon. Dallas exploited one of the worst perimeter defenses in the league on Saturday night, going 18-of-44 from deep while averaging 1.341 points per possession in non-garbage time minutes. The Mavericks consistently used the pick-and-pop to get the Nuggets’ frontcourt out of position, and it allowed Kristaps Porzingis and Maxi Kleber to shoot a combined 7-of-11 from beyond the arc.

Denver is now 20th in defensive efficiency on the season, allowing 113.2 points every 100 possessions, but their other numbers are so much worse than that. They rank 30th in rim defense, allowing opponents to shoot 69.5% within four feet, and 28th in transition defense (130.2 points per 100 plays in transition allowed). That showed last night as well, with Dallas going 13-of-18 with three shooting fouls drawn at the rim and averaging a staggering 1.667 points per play in transition.

In the middle of all of this Nikola Jokic, a MVP candidate and Denver’s best player. However, he was poor on defense yet again last night, and with him on the floor the Nuggets defense allows 5.2 points more every 100 possessions. He’s having a fantastic offensive season, but he is one of the main reasons why Denver continues to disappoint as well. Should he seriously be considered for the award when actively contributes to his team’s biggest issue?

Updated 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

Los Angeles Clippers (-5.5, 236.5) at New Orleans Pelicans

Just three nights ago the Pelicans were given all they could handle by the Timberwolves. Minnesota outscored them 78-48 in the second and third quarters, averaged 1.36 points per possession and went 17-of-33 from beyond the arc in a 135-105 blowout win. In most cases, one could argue that it was just one game of 72 in the season. They could use New Orleans’ win over Cleveland, where they held the Cavaliers to just 0.75 points per possession, as the example that this Pelicans team has turned the corner on defense, but we know that is not true. The Pelicans are 29th in defensive efficiency, and it is clear this team is not going to change its ways on that end of the floor. If that is the case, how in the world do they handle the second-best offense in the league tonight?

Los Angeles comes in averaging 119.3 points every 100 possessions in non-garbage time minutes, according to Cleaning The Glass. The Clippers generate a good amount of their offense from the mid-range area of the floor, taking 36.4% of their attempts from there while shooting 43.5% as a team. New Orleans actually ranks fifth in opponent mid-range shooting percentage (40.1%), but where this matchup turns on its head is along the perimeter. According to the NBA’s tracking data, 23.7% of Pelicans opponents 3-point attempts are considered wide-open. It is not surprising that opponents shoot 40.6% on those wide-open looks, and that is one of many issues for a perimeter defense that is 29th in both opponent 3-point shooting (39.6%) and non-corner 3-point shooting (39.5%). Los Angeles not only leads the league in shooting percentage on wide-open 3-pointers (45.6%), but they are the best overall shooting team in terms of percentage (42.7%). The Clippers will likely be able to generate success on offense with their shooting, but remember, they’re not the only top ten offense on the floor today.

New Orleans might bring one of the worst defenses in the league to the table, but they also show up with the seventh-best offense which averages 116.4 points per 100 possessions. The Pelicans offense lives at the rim. They take the second-most attempts within four feet of the basket and shoot 64.3% there. That is not surprising with a talent like Zion Williamson that the athleticism to run pick-and-rolls, but the size to match up with any rim protector in the league. The Pelicans’ relentless pressure of the rim could be trouble for the Clippers, who have had trouble defending within four feet. Los Angeles ranks 20th in rim defense this season, allowing opponents to shoot 64.2% at the cup. They rank 22nd in points in the paint allowed per game (48.7) and today they must defend a team which averages the fifth-most points per game in the painted area (53.2).

The Co-Main Event

Utah Jazz (-6.5, 230) at Golden State Warriors

It’s been clear all season the Warriors have a problem on offense, and that was on display in their first game back from the break in their loss the Clippers. Los Angeles completely stifled Golden State, limiting them to just 0.835 points per possession and corralling Steph Curry to a 6-of-15 night for just 14 points. That game was the third time in four contests the Warriors had been held to under a point per possession, and over the last eight games Golden State is averaging jut 102.5 points every 100 possessions. Today will also mark the third time in the last five games that this abhorrent offense must face a defense that is ranked inside sixth, and those previous two matchups (Suns, Lakers) resulted in an average offensive rating of 89.5 and losses of 22 and 26 points. 

Utah comes in with the second-best defense in the league, allowing 107.6 points every 100 possessions and 35.5% to opposing shooters. That metric matters because the Warriors offense revolves around the perimeter, as they take 38.7% of their attempts from deep, the ninth-most of any NBA team, and 36.5% of their points scored this season have come from beyond the arc. If the Jazz can successfully keep them from finding success along the perimeter, then there is little hope for Golden State’s offense to succeed. 

There is also a troubling trend developing for the Warriors during this 0-4 SU and ATS slide that they are on. Their once reliable defense has been torched for 113.9 points every 100 possessions, and four of their previous five opponents have shot 39.1% or higher from deep. Golden State has struggled for a majority of the season defending the perimeter, they rank 24th in opponent 3-point shooting, but the extreme nature of their poor defense recently is not something to bring into a game with the highest-volume shooting team in the league.

The Prelims

Memphis Grizzlies (-7, 221) at Oklahoma City Thunder

The Grizzlies extended their cover streak to five straight on Friday with a 103-102 loss to the Nuggets. Their defense continues to thrive, limiting the high-powered Denver offense to just 1.062 points per possession. Today, they get to flex their defensive muscles once more, this time against a Thunder team that was held to just 0.978 points per possession on Saturday by New York. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander did not play against the Knicks, and his status for today is in question as well. His presence is massive for Oklahoma City’s offense which goes from averaging 109.5 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, to 99.8 when he is off. What can the Thunder do against a Grizzlies defense that has held seven of its last eight opponents to under 1.062 points per possession?

San Antonio Spurs at Philadelphia 76ers (-4, 225.5)

Philadelphia takes the floor for the first time since losing Joel Embiid to a hyperextended knee, but luckily Ben Simmons returns from his health and safety protocol absence just in time. Philadelphia’s struggles without Embiid are well-documented. With him off the floor they get outscored by 6.6 points every 100 possessions, and the minutes where Simmons is running the show are not pretty. With Simmons on and Embiid off the 76ers’ -11.9 net rating ranks in the sixth percentile of NBA lineups. We saw Philadelphia get the win over Chicago on Wednesday without Embiid, but the team is still 2-5 SU and ATS in the seven games without him this season.  

Miami Heat (-7.5, 210) at Orlando Magic

The wins keep coming for Miami which is now 9-1 SU/8-2 ATS in its last 10 games with the second-best defensive rating in the league (104.8). Two nights ago they hosted Orlando, getting the win but failing to cover a nine-point spread, and tonight we see the adjustment as they opened as a 7.5-point favorite in the City Beautiful. Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier, James Ennis and Cole Anthony will all remain on the sidelines today with various injuries and Terrence Ross is questionable for the Magic. The Heat held them to 1.062 points per possession two nights ago, and it is hard to imagine anything less from Miami this time around.

Cleveland Cavaliers at Atlanta Hawks* (-6, 223.5)

With the drubbing of Sacramento last night the Hawks improved to 4-0 SU/3-1 ATS under interim coach Nate McMillan. There is a case to be made that McMillan has made some changes – the Hawks have taken 31.3% of their attempts from mid-range since he has taken over – but more than likely it is due to a schedule against some of the worst teams in the league. They get another one today in Cleveland, which got blown out by a bad Pelicans team 116-82 on Friday night. The Cavaliers will have Darius Garland back in the fold tonight, but he does not do much to bolster the league’s worst perimeter defense (39.9% allowed). The battle on the glass is one to watch here. Atlanta and Cleveland rank second and fourth respectively in offensive rebounding rate. Whichever team can win the battle of second chance points will likely have the path to victory.

Boston Celtics (-10.5, 224) at Houston Rockets

The Rockets stumbled into a cover on Friday night after closing as a 19-point underdog in a game they would lose by 15 points. Houston averaged just 0.952 points per possession against Utah, improving their offensive rating 100.3 over their now 15-game losing streak (2-13 ATS). Tonight, they will play host to a Celtics team that has struggled mightily away from home this season. Boston has dropped its last seven road games both SU and ATS, and on the season is 7-13 SU/6-14 ATS on foreign courts with a -2.9 net rating. Yet, the market is so low on the Rockets they believe that Boston team should be laying eleven points on the road.

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