How much fun was that game last night? Phoenix grabbed a massive win over the team that sits ahead of them in the standings thanks to a 29-point, 9-assist performance from the Point God, Chris Paul. However, Donovan Mitchell would not be forgotten and he delivered the highlight of the night when he drained a transition 3-point shot to send the game to overtime.
Phoenix would ultimately pull away in a 117-113 victory, and bettors now have some questions to ask themselves. The Suns are now just 1.5 games behind the Jazz for the top seed in the Western Conference. They have the second-best net rating on the season (+ 7.4) and rank inside the top 10 in both offensive (116.7) and defensive (109.2) efficiency. Yet, there are four teams ahead of them on the oddsboard to win the Western Conference and eight have better odds to win the title.
Like me, the betting market seems to be somewhat hesitant to believe in this team’s chances to win a title, but why? I ask myself that question, too.
I am a handicapper who loves numbers and analytics, and there are few teams in this league as analytically sound as Phoenix. The Suns are back in action tonight against the Clippers, and another strong win won’t give us much choice.
It might be time to call the Suns a contender, which is shocking to say for a team with the second-best record in the league.
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
Phoenix Suns* at Los Angeles Clippers (-5, 224)
Phoenix grabbed a really impressive win over Utah last night, and now it has to do it again tonight against their division rival. Los Angeles found its shooting stroke against Portland on Tuesday, and bettors saw just how incredible this team can be. The Clippers averaged 1.366 points per possession, went 16-of-37 from deep and averaged 1.263 points per play in the half court against the Trail Blazers. Will they be able to execute at that level on offense against one of the best defensive teams in the league?
Phoenix ranks fifth in defensive efficiency on the season (109.2), and last night it held the second-best offense in the league to just 1.046 points per possession. The biggest victory for the Suns was along the perimeter, where they the Jazz to 11-of-44 shooting. Los Angeles leads the league in 3-point shooting (42.0%), and their offense thrives when they are hitting perimeter shots. Phoenix will have to put forward a similar defensive effort tonight against opposing shooters, something the second-ranked perimeter defense can surely do.
The Suns are not the only competent defense on the floor tonight, though. Quietly, the Clippers have posted the fifth-best defensive rating in the league since the All-Star break (107.5), ranking higher than the Suns over that stretch. Their defense has improved all over the floor, but only two of their last 10 opponents have shot over 41.4% from mid-range. That is important, as Phoenix leads the league in mid-range shooting and takes the seventh-most mid-range attempts.
It is not surprising that the betting market has gone in the direction of the home team here. A division game on the second leg of a back-to-back after an overtime win is an extremely poor scheduling spot. Los Angeles seems to be quietly improving as well, posting a 10-4 SU and ATS record since the break, and it is a team that I am personally starting to come around on.
The Co-Main Event
Portland Trail Blazers at Utah Jazz* (-7, 231)
After their loss in overtime to Phoenix last night, the Jazz fell to 5-6 ATS in their last 11 games. The market has clearly overrated this team to an extent, and as a result their ATS record is suffering. Tonight, we could have another example of an inflated power rating for Utah on our hands. The Trail Blazers have stumbled somewhat recently, going 1-2 SU and ATS over their last three games, but their offense is one of the best in the league. Since acquiring Norm Powell, Portland is averaging 117.8 points every 100 possessions while shooting 40.0% on 40 3-point attempts per game. There might not be that much separating these two teams, and if you factor inn the grueling game Utah just got done with last night this might be an advantageous spot for the road team.
Milwaukee Bucks (-1.5, 228.5) at Dallas Mavericks*
The Bucks might have a problem on their hands: Giannis Antetokounmpo will miss his third straight game tonight with a sore knee that popped up rather suddenly. With Giannis off the floor this season, the Bucks are giving up 117.8 points every 100 possessions, and that weak defense showed up in the two games without him. Golden State managed 1.208 points per possession on Tuesday, and the game prior Sacramento put up a 126.7 offensive rating. How will they defend Dallas tonight?
To be fair, the Mavericks are not in great recent form. They’ve been held to under 1.084 points per possession in three of four games, including last night when they scored 93 points on 1.011 points per possession in a loss to Houston. The common theme has been poor shooting, and against the 26th-ranked perimeter defense they could bounce back in a big way.
Los Angeles Lakers at Miami Heat (-8.5, 204.5)
Is the gap really this wide between Miami and Los Angeles? The Heat had their 4-0 SU and ATS run snapped by the Grizzlies on Tuesday thanks to a surprisingly poor defensive performance, and remember that is team is not that far removed from an 0-6 SU and ATS slide! Over their last three games, the Heat have averaged 117.9 points per 100 possessions, but their offensive rating over the 11 games prior that was 107.3. Their offense has been a problem all season, and defense has not been a problem for the Lakers. Los Angeles has the second-best defensive rating in the league since losing LeBron James (103.6), so it would not be out of this world to see Miami struggle once again on offense. Laying 8.5 points in a game that has a total of 204.5 and two of the best defenses in the league does not sound like a winning formula.
Cleveland Cavaliers (-2, 212) at Oklahoma City Thunder*
Make it 1-7 SU and ATS with a -21.2 net rating since the tank began in Oklahoma City. Their power rating is so low that Cleveland is a road favorite for just the second time this season. The betting market is fading the Thunder though, even if the Cavaliers shouldn't be favored away from home against anybody. As of this morning, this line reached 3.5 at most shops and the time to bet Oklahoma City may be approaching. Cleveland beat up on a regressing San Antonio team on Monday, but was 0-5 SU/1-4 ATS with a -17.2 net rating --that is not a team that should be asked to win by four points on the road.
Detroit Pistons at Sacramento Kings (-4.5, 228.5)
Jerami Grant has been ruled out for this game, and apparently he is worth about three points to the spread as this number is up to -7.5 in most shops. When Grant is off the floor the Pistons are outscored by 10.1 points every 100 possessions, so there should be some sort of adjustment ... but should it be this much? Sacramento is the worst defensive team in the league (119.0), and the Kings are 0-4 SU/1-3 ATS in their last four games with a -11.6 net rating. Poor defenses always leave the door open, especially when you’re laying this many points.
Chicago Bulls (-3, 221.5) at Toronto Raptors
Since March 13, the Toronto Raptors are 3-11 SU and ATS with a -2.4 net rating. They grabbed a couple of wins over the last week, but it was a blowout of a Warriors team without Steph Curry and Draymond Green and a blown 19-point lead by Washington that allowed them to achieve victory. On Tuesday, they were housed by the Lakers at home, and now they have to host a Bulls team that is starting to peak. Chicago is 2-2 SU/4-0 ATS in its last four games, and its offense has averaged 115.7 points every 100 possessions. The Bulls are in a form which bettors want to ride, but the line has already moved in their direction.