How much more chaos can be thrust into an already tumultuous season?
For the second time in just over a week, a MVP candidate suffered a serious injury that will cause him to miss an extended period of time. LeBron James is going to be out indefinitely with a high ankle sprain, and just like that the door has been kicked open for Nikola Jokic to win his first Maurice Podoloff Trophy.
FanDuel was the first book to re-post MVP odds following the injury, and it was no surprise to see Jokic on top of the board at + 110 to win the award, as he has widely been considered the third horse in the race for a majority of this season. Joel Embiid and James followed at + 550 and Giannis Antetokounmpo at + 750 was the fourth choice. What was surprising was when Draft Kings and PointsBet opened their MVP markets back up with Jokic as the -110 odds-on favorite! It’s not that Jokic is not deserving, but in a race as deep as this how can anyone be confident any player has more than 50% chance of winning this award?
Updated injury reports can be found here.
Updated odds for every game can be found here.
*Indicates team is on second leg of back-to-back
The Main Event
New Orleans Pelicans at Denver Nuggets (-5.5, 234)
After getting two days off to lick their wounds, the Pelicans are in Denver to take on a Nuggets team that is on an 8-1 SU/6-3 ATS run. It is a stark contrast from New Orleans which lost both games in its series with Portland and is 3-7 SU/4-6 ATS in its previous 10 contests. As usual, the Pelicans’ poor defensive play has led them down this path.
The team has averaged 115.9 points every 100 possessions during this slide, the seventh-best offensive rating in the league over that stretch, but they have allowed 116.5 per 100 possessions and that has led to a negative net rating (-0.6) with a losing record. Nothing has changed for New Orleans, and with 31 games left on the schedule it is clear nothing will change. If they refuse to play defense, then how do they contain Denver? The Nuggets have averaged 120.4 points per 100 possessions during this nine-game run and seem primed to pick apart one of the worst defenses in the league.
That is not to say there is not a path for the Pelicans to cover. Styles make fights, and New Orleans’ style might be tough for Denver to handle. As we know, the Pelicans’ offense is generated in the frontcourt due the unrelenting pressure of Zion Williamson. New Orleans ranks first in frequency of rim attempts (42.1%), 13th in rim shooting (65.0%) and fifth in points in the paint per game (53.4). Denver actually ranks 10th in points in the paint allowed per game (45.5), but the Nuggets bring in the worst rim defense in the league (68.9%), which will be a problem. In two games against Portland, one of the worst teams in terms of rim protection, the Pelicans totaled 63 attempts within four feet, shot 68.2% and drew 15 shooting fouls. If given the opportunity, New Orleans will exploit the Nuggets inside tonight, and with no real defensive option for Williamson bettors can expect a decent game for him.
Those who think the Pelicans are live here will want to track the injury report today as well. Lonzo Ball is listed as questionable with a strained left hip flexor, and J.J. Redick is still out with a sore right heel. Ball has been in the middle of multiple trade rumors, so it would not be shocking to see New Orleans take the cautious approach with his injury.
The Co-Main Event
Dallas Mavericks (-1.5, 231.5) at Portland Trail Blazers
Portland used a hot shooting night to take down Dallas on Friday night, but will they be able to recreate that performance for a second game? The Trail Blazers were unconscious from distance, combining to go 34-of-71 (47.9%) from both mid-range and 3-point range. Portland generated next to nothing at the basket (10-of-22, 45.5%), though, which is somewhat troublesome. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are fantastic players, but counting on them to combine for 63 points on 21-of-42 shooting (11-of-23 from deep) is not something will provide consistent results. Especially when you allow the other team’s offense to operate at will.
Dallas crushed Portland inside on Friday night, scoring 44 points in the paint, and making 18 of 23 shots at the rim while shooting 18-of-40 from beyond the arc. The Mavericks exploited Portland’s rim defense, getting the easy buckets offered to them by a less than resistant interior. The Trail Blazers give up the fourth-most attempts at the rim among teams, and they allow opponents to shoot 64.0% at the rim. It is likely that Dallas, which actually ranks sixth in rim shooting (67.3%), is going to be able to recreate their offensive performance that led to 1.309 points per possession.
Washington Wizards at Brooklyn Nets (-8, 245)
Washington may have snapped a five-game slide with a win over Utah on Thursday, but the issues remain for a team that has been woefully inconsistent on both ends of the floor.
Since going on a 7-2 SU/8-1 ATS run to end February, the Wizards are 2-6 SU/3-5 ATS with a -7.1 net rating. They are 23rd in both offensive and defensive efficiency over that eight-game stretch, and their three covers have come behind some monstrous performances from both Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook. Forecasting a 40-point triple-double is somewhat impossible, so gauging which night this team is going to show up has been an impossible task lately. However, catching a Brooklyn team coming off of its worst defensive performance in a while will help.
Despite having Kyrie Irving back on the floor, the Nets suffered their second loss in 16 games by allowing the Magic to average 1.222 points per possession on Friday. It was their worst individual game defensive rating since a loss to Dallas on Feb. 27 when Harden was flying solo in a prime-time Saturday game. One would think Brooklyn would by hyper-focused on its opponent today considering its 0-2 SU and ATS record against Washington this season. The Wizards have averaged 1.225 points per possession in their two wins over the Nets, and that is largely due to them exploiting the Nets’ interior defense. Washington went a combined 41-of-57 (71.9%) at the rim in its wins over Brooklyn while drawing 14 shooting fouls inside four feet and getting to the free-throw line 71 times.
I have been adamant that the Nets have improved defensively, and the numbers show that, but have them improved enough to keep out a pesky team like the Wizards?
Orlando Magic at Boston Celtics (-8.5, 216.5)
The market really is stubborn with certain teams, and the Celtics seem to be one of those examples. In the last 20 games, Boston is 8-12 SU/6-14 ATS with a -1.9 net rating, and the Celtics closed as the favorite in 16 of them. Despite a growing a sample size that shows us the Celtics are being overvalued, the market continues to be comfortable power rating them with these large spreads. Just look at their last two games, both losses, in which they closed as seven and 7.5-point favorites over Cleveland and Sacramento. Are bettors really comfortable laying these numbers with this inconsistent team?
Over this 20-game slide, Boston has the seventh-worst defense in the league (115.2) and its offense is averaging just 113.3 points every 100 possessions and showing no signs of improvement. Until a tangible change is made, potentially via trade, there is no way the Celtics should be power rated as highly as they are by the betting market.
Philadelphia 76ers* (-1, 215.5) at New York Knicks
Even without Ben Simmons, the 76ers continue to win games. Last night, even without Simmons on the floor, Philly ripped Sacramento for 1.312 points per possession and won its third game in four tries without Joel Embiid. Since the MVP candidate went down with a hyperextended knee, the 76ers are 3-1 SU and ATS with a 99.3 defensive rating. Now, they have a rematch with a Knicks team that was outscored 26-14 in the fourth quarter of their loss to the 76ers last week.
New York did a lot of things well in that game, including abuse the interior defense of Philadelphia for a 20-of-24 night at the rim while holding them to just 1.042 points per possession. That night, New York closed catching seven points on the road, but today they open with just a single point in their pocket at home. Is home court with three points, or has the market made the adjustment on the 76ers’ power rating? I think it’s the latter, and I believe it to be correct.