Betting preview for Sunday's NBA games

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It’s been a chaotic week for the Los Angeles Clippers. Just six days ago they were in contention for the top seed in the Western Conference, but three consecutive losses -- two of which came against Phoenix and Denver -- have the Clippers sitting in the fourth seed with a potential first-round series with the Lakers on the horizon.

Los Angeles is only a game behind Denver in the loss column, but the slide for the Clippers just speaks to the chaos that is about unfold in the last two weeks of the regular season. The Lakers are whole again, but only a game ahead of the Portland Trail Blazers for the first play-in seed. Dallas is not secure inside the top six either, and don’t even get me started on the chaos that is the Eastern Conference.

Buckle up folks, we have officially reached what some call the home stretch.

Updated odds for every game can be found here.

Updated injury reports for every game can be found here.

*Indicates team is on the second leg of a back-to-back.

The Main Event

Brooklyn Nets at Milwaukee Bucks (-3, 240.5)

A potential Eastern Conference Finals preview tips-off the Sunday slate, and almost all of the stars should be available to play outside of James Harden. Giannis Antetokounmpo is probable to make his returning after missing two games with a sprained ankle, and Kevin Durant will be on the floor after taking the Nets’ loss to Portland off on Friday. Antetokounmpo is going to be key for Milwaukee against this Brooklyn offense, because what we have seen from them without him on the floor is not pretty.

On Thursday, after the Greek Freak was lost 46 seconds into the Bucks’ game with the Rockets, their defense fell apart. Kevin Porter Jr. and Christian Wood combined for 81 points on 26-of-46 shooting, and the Rockets beat the Bucks 143-136 by averaging 1.303 points per possession. When Giannis is off the floor this season, Milwaukee gives up 116.2 points every 100 possessions defensively, so it is clear they need him to be healthy for this defense to have a shot against Brooklyn. Even at full strength though, this Bucks team has some issues that the Nets can exploit.

Milwaukee’s issues along the perimeter have been well-documented in these game notes, and in any of my work for VSiN. The Bucks allow the fifth-most perimeter shots and the second-most non-corner 3-point attempts in the league. They rank no higher than 19th in any defensive category along the perimeter, allowing 42.9% on corner 3-point attempts, 37.2% on above the break 3-pointers and 38.4% from anywhere beyond the arc. Brooklyn comes into Sunday as the second-best shooting team in the league behind Los Angeles at 39.7% on the season, and as a team they take 29.0% of their attempts from above the break and shoot 39.6% on those shots. This is a weakness that the Nets can clearly take advantage of.

But as we know, the Nets are not lockdown defense themselves. Brooklyn gives up 98.1 points every 100 plays in the half court, and Milwaukee owns the sixth-best offensive rating in halfcourt situations (101.4). The Bucks should be able to exploit the Nets' perimeter defense as well. Brooklyn does give up much from the corners, but it does allow opponents to shoot 37.6% on non-corner 3-pointers, an area of the floor from which Milwaukee ranks sixth in shooting (38.5%). 

The Co-Main Event

Portland Trail Blazers at Boston Celtics (-2, 231.5)

Portland seems to have woken up, winning its last three games and outscoring the opposition by 20.4 points per 100 possessions, but I will go out on a limb and say their 106.1 defensive rating is unsustainable. When you allow 117.0 points every 100 possessions and own the 29th-ranked defensive rating, then it is more than likely a fall back down to Earth is coming at some point. It could be against Boston, which owns the 12th-best offense in the league, but the Celtics’ statistical profile does not paint the picture of a team that can exploit the weaknesses of the Trail Blazers.

Portland gives up the fourth-most shots within four feet of the basket, and opponents show 64.7% on those looks. Boston has the ninth-best shooting percentage within four feet, but the team only takes 29.8% of its shots at the rim. Sure, the Celtics shoot 37.2% on corner 3-pointers, but so much of the 44.3% Portland allows from the corners is based on teams getting dribble penetration. Boston is capable of it with the talent it has, but the Celtics' statistical profile suggests it is not something they will do.

Boston's defense has been inconsistent all season long, and it shows in so many of their numbers. Will the Celtics’ 18th-ranked perimeter defense be able to stop the Trail Blazers, who take 42.2% of their attempts from deep and shoot 38.5% from there? How about on those long mid-range jumpers which Portland shoots 43.8% on? The Celtics allow opponents to shoot 43.6% from that area of the floor, another statistical mismatch.

Given the defensive issues for both teams, it's not surprising that the market has bet this total up, but it is somewhat surprising to see the Celtics as home underdogs. Is Kemba Walker worth that much to a point spread? Boston still has a + 1.2 net rating with Walker off the floor, and he only improves that rating by 1.9 points. Boston would be favored if Walker were playing, so this seems like quite the overreaction.

The Prelims

Miami Heat (-5, 212.5) at Charlotte Hornets

The matchup between Milwaukee and Brooklyn might get all the headlines today, but this is a doozy here in Buzz City. Miami is currently in control of the seventh seed, and if the season ended today this would be our top play-in game in the Eastern Conference. Charlotte is getting healthy at the right time as well, something a suddenly struggling Heat defense does not want to hear.

Miami may have won three of four games coming into Sunday, but they have allowed 115.4 points per 100 possessions in their last five contests. Charlotte got Malik Monk and LaMelo Ball back last night, and that is a boon for their offense. When those two are on the floor the Hornets average 114.7 points every 100 possessions and shoot 39.7% from deep. The shooting is worrisome for Miami, as it allows the most perimeter shots in the league and ranks 23rd in opponent corner 3-point shooting. 

The Heat have the horses to exploit Charlotte’s defense, especially within four feet where Miami ranks third in terms of accuracy (67.8%), but this number bothers me. The betting market has been too high on Miami this season (31-35-3 ATS, 47.0%) and we have plenty of recent examples of that. Should they be laying this much on the road against Charlotte?

Toronto Raptors at Los Angeles Lakers (-7, 218.5)

LeBron James made his return on Friday night, but the Lakers still only managed 1.071 points per possession and lost outright to Sacramento. The offense has been the biggest problem for Los Angeles since LeBron left the lineup with an ankle injury, so it was somewhat troubling to see them struggle again with James on the floor for 32 minutes. Will the second game for James bring better results for the Lakers on offense?

Toronto has allowed three of its last five opponents to score over 1.2 points per possession, so Los Angeles gets another subpar defensive opponent to work on their offense against. But are they to the point where we should be laying this big a number with them? The Lakers are 0-6 ATS in their last six games because the market has been too quick to upgrade them now that James and Anthony Davis are back. This looks like another one of those instances.

Sacramento Kings at Dallas Mavericks (-7, 228.5)

De’Aaron Fox is still sidelined and Harrison Barnes’ status is unknown. Yes, the Kings got a big win over the Lakers on Friday night, but Los Angeles is working two injured stars back in the rotation; that was an anomaly. Does that mean to lay the wood with a Mavericks team that has won six of seven and is 4-3 ATS over that stretch? Not necessarily.

Dallas has outscored their seven opponents during this stretch by 9.1 points per 100 possessions, but they only have four covers to show for it because of the market’s somewhat high power rating on them. Their subpar defense showed up on Saturday when they allowed the Wizards to score 1.258 points per possession, and that is always the worry for Dallas when laying this many points with them.

Philadelphia 76ers (-5, 221.5) at San Antonio Spurs

Philadelphia’s defense has been working on overdrive the last few games, limiting Atlanta and Oklahoma City to just 0.933 points per possession over the last three games. That is not an anomaly, as the 76ers are the second-best defense in the league, but they get an opponent that has been rolling lately. San Antonio has covered six of eight games with an offense that has dropped 114.0 points every 100 possessions. However, they lost Derrick White for the rest of the season to injury, and they could feel the absence of their third-leading scorer in this one.

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