Betting preview for Thursday's NBA games

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The Memphis Grizzlies are one of the NBA's most perplexing teams. It is a team that thrives on offense using the mid-range area of the floor, and it showed again last night against Washington. Memphis was ridiculous yet again from short mid-range, going 18-of-33 and hitting floater after floater from about 10 feet out. However, in the second quarter those floaters started to clank and Washington was able to cut a 19-point deficit to five points at half time.

The Grizzlies would go on to beat the Wizards 127-112, outscoring them 60-50 in the second half for their fourth consecutive cover, but that performance itself is why I have trouble with a team like Memphis. Their offense comes from an inefficient area of the floor, and when those shots stop falling it makes them look pedestrian. Against below-average teams like Washington, it works. But, against some of the best teams in the league they won’t be able to rely on their opponents lack of rim protection and sloppy transition defense like they did last night.

Updated injury reports can be found here.

Updated odds for every game can be found here.

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

The Main Event

Boston Celtics at Brooklyn Nets (-2.5, 234.5)

Boston found some momentum going into the All-Star break, winning four straight with a 2-2 ATS record. Through those four games the Celtics' uneven offense found its stride, averaging 121.6 points per 100 possessions while shooting 51.7% from the floor and 42.5% from deep. The betting market still has this team slightly overvalued though, and that is apparent when you see that they closed as 6.5-point favorite over a Washington team they beat by a point or an eight-point favorite over short-handed Toronto. Is the market doing that again here?

My initial thought is that this number seems somewhat short, but the injury report explains that. Kyrie Irving and James Harden will be on the floor tonight, but Kevin Durant is still unavailable. Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot is considered doubtful to play and Jeff Green is questionable. TLC might not be a massive loss, but Green has been integral to the success of Brooklyn as its small-ball five. When Green is on the floor the Nets have a + 4.3 net rating, but when he plays center they outscore opponents by 26.7 points every 100 possessions. Nic Claxton’s recent emergence at center might help offset the loss of Green, but this Nets team is operating at its best with Green available. There’s also the factor of Marcus Smart’s return from injury after missing 18 games. His presence probably alters this number, but how much does he alter the team’s power rating after missing so much time?

One has to wonder if the All-Star break helped Boston exorcise whatever demons plagued them on the road in the first half as well. The Celtics ended the first half 7-12 SU/6-13 ATS on the road with a -2.4 net rating. They have not covered a road game since Feb. 5 against the Clippers and are 1-7 SU and ATS the last eight away from home. Boston’s defense took the biggest hit on the road in the first half. They rank 10th in defensive efficiency at home this season, according to Cleaning The Glass (110.6), but 20th on the road (114.4).

Such an extreme difference is concerning, especially when you consider their defense during that four-game winning streak to end the first half was not spectacular (117.7). Smart’s presence definitely helps their defense improve, but I would think that is over the long-haul of the second half, not so much the first game back against a historic offense.

The Co-Main Event

Golden State Warriors at Los Angeles Clippers (-7.5, 231.5)

Los Angeles hopes to break out of a three-game slide tonight against Golden State, but with its inconsistent performances on both ends of the floor should bettors be ready to lay such a large number?

Overall, the Clippers are 3-6 SU and ATS in their last nine games with an inefficient offense (112.0) and a subpar defense (114.8). Sure, we can bust out the tracking data to tell you Los Angeles is second in frequency of opponent shot attempts considered very tightly defended (defender within two feet), but 26th in opponent shooting on those attempts (50.8%). That is why I believe they should be very competitive in the big picture, but on a night-to-night basis what can a bettor expect with a team power rated this high, but performing so erratically?

Luckily, the Clippers get a Warriors team that went into the second half on its own slide. Golden State has dropped its last three as well, and is 3-5 SU and ATS in its previous eight games with a -4.1 net rating. The Warriors’ problems are pretty clear: Their offense stinks. Over these previous eight games they averaged just 104.9 points every 100 possessions while shooting 46.0% from the floor and 34.3% from beyond the arc. Steph Curry generates almost every bit of their offense, and when he is off he floor the Warriors have nothing. In Curry’s minutes, they have a 115.3 offensive rating, but that plummets to 95.0 when he sits. Those non-Curry minutes are what have killed them this season, and it showed in losses to Portland and Phoenix before the break.

The Prelims

Phoenix Suns (-2.5, 227.5) at Portland Trail Blazers

Damian Lillard is still a one-man crew tonight, and when Portland faced Phoenix back on Feb. 22 that led to a 132-100 blowout loss. The Trail Blazers managed just 1.044 points per possession while shooting a combined 12-of-41 from mid-range and beyond the arc. Lillard was the only Blazer to score over 10 points! With CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic still sidelined, what can Portland realistically expect in this rematch? A better night from Lilllard would help.

In the first meeting Lillard might have scored 24 points, but it was part of a 1-of-7 night from deep and 21.1% turnover rate. This season, Lillard is averaging 32.5 points on 46.5% shooting (41.9% 3-point) in wins. It is unfair to ask, but when you’re betting on Portland this is what you need from their best player. The problem against a team like the Suns is where their strengths lie. Phoenix ranks third in opponent 3-point shooting (34.9%), third in non-corner shooting (33.6%) and 15th in corner 3-point shooting (40.1%) on defense. Portland generates a majority of its offense from deep, ranking 26th in rim frequency and accuracy, but second and eighth in 3-point frequency and shooting, respectively. 

Atlanta Hawks (-1.5, 228.5) at Toronto Raptors

This number might be jarring at first, but it is probably where it should be. Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby are all out due to COVID protocols. Malachi Flynn joins them and Terence Davis is questionable to play with an ankle injury. The absences wrecked Toronto down the stretch of the first half, and its defense imploded, giving up 129 points to Detroit in a blowout loss and 1.347 points per possession to Boston.

For Atlanta, De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish will remain sidelined as well, but this is a team slowly starting to get healthy. Bogdan Bogdanovich returned in the two games prior to the break, giving Atlanta another shooter that is solid on the defensive end of the floor. The Raptors might be pretty thin, but remember this is a Hawks team that is 6-11 SU/7-10 ATS with a -2.6 net rating since the start of February. At some point, the number does get too high.

New York Knicks at Milwaukee Bucks (-11, 223)

Does the regression I expect to come from the Knickerbockers begin today? It could, given the short-handed nature of their roster. Austin Rivers and Derrick Rose are both expected to miss tonight due to various reasons, and Taj Gibson is questionable with an ankle injury. Rose has been great for New York, and when he is on the floor they have outscored opponents by 11.6 points every 100 possessions. Much of that is due to an incredible defensive rating, that will surely be tested tonight.

Milwaukee has been crushing opponents within four feet on offense, and that is largely due to Giannis Antetokounmpo’s knack for drawing fouls. The Bucks rank 14th in rim frequency on offense, second in shooting (69.6%) and Giannis leads the league in free throw attempts. They meet a Knicks team that actually allows the ninth-most shots at the rim, but is second in opponent shooting (59.7%). Throw in the fact that New York ranks 20th in opponent free-throw rate, and it seems like Milwaukee should be able operate its offense at the level it wants.

Orlando Magic at Miami Heat (-6.5, 214.5)

Bam Adebayo will not be on the floor for Miami, which hosts Orlando looking to improve on the 7-1 SU and ATS run it ended the first half on. The Heat have largely struggled without Adebayo on the floor, getting outscored by 2.4 points every 100 possessions. His absence will allow Nikola Vucevic -- a rumored trade target of Miami -- to potentially have his way with the likes of Kelly Olynyk or Precious Achiuwa. However, it's not like Orlando is the picture of perfect health. Evan Fournier, James Ennis and Cole Anthony will all miss tonight’s game and Aaron Gordon is questionable to return from an ankle injury that has kept him sidelined since the beginning of February.

Minnesota Timberwolves at New Orleans Pelicans (-8.5, 238.5)

Despite the uneven end to the first half for New Orleans (4-9 SU and ATS over the final 13 games), the Pelicans find themselves as massive favorites tonight. That is largely due to the ugly 0-9 SU and ATS slide the Timberwolves are currently in. Minnesota has been torched for 115.0 points per 100 possessions, but the most shocking aspect of this losing streak is an offense that has managed just 102.2 per 100 possessions. However, an ailing offense just needs a poor defense to get some confidence, and that is just what New Orleans provides. The Pelicans gave up 123.4 points per 100 possessions over those final 13 games of the first half and come into tonight 29th in defensive efficiency. Could they be so bad that they allow Minnesota to put together a decent offensive performance?

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