Betting preview for Thursday's NBA games

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Usually, overtime is a place where underdogs go to die, but on Wednesday the 76ers forced overtime in order to live. With the clock winding down and Philadelphia down by three, Joel Embiid had the ball in the low post and Bojan Bogdanovic on him. Realizing the situation, Embiid scrambled out to the wing, pumped and put up a 3-point attempt that tied the game with 5.9 seconds left. Philadelphia would go on to win in overtime 131-123, dropping Utah to 3-4 SU and ATS in their last seven games before the All-Star Break.

The victory was not without controversy, though. Late in the fourth quarter Royce O’Neale seemingly saved a ball from going out of bounds -- which led to Utah score -- but the call was overturned. Donovan Mitchell was called for an offensive foul late when he went into Ben Simmons’ body and spun off, but replay showed Simmons potentially holding Mitchell’s left arm. Not surprisingly, the Jazz felt the officiating was poor and Mitchell let the world know about it after being ejected in the waning seconds.

Utah clearly believes it is being treated like a small market team that does not have the same stature as some of the glamour franchises like the Los Angeles Lakers. Whether or not this leads to a friendly whistle in the second half I don't know, but I do know that I am down for a best of seven series between these two clubs. In the first game we got a 42-point performance from Simmons and then this? Sign me up!

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

Milwaukee Bucks (-6, 235) at Memphis Grizzlies

Master takes on apprentice tonight as Mike Budenholzer will match his wits with former assistant Taylor Jenkins. The Grzzlies are quietly building momentum heading into the All-Star Break with a 5-3 SU and ATS spurt over their last eight games.

Throughout the season the Grizzlies have been a great defensive team, but during this run they have been on another level, leading the league in defensive efficiency by allowing just 103.5 points every 100 possessions. Only two opponents during this eight-game run have averaged more than 1.09 points per possession: the Suns and Clippers. It has been incredible to say the least, but the more I look at what Memphis has done lately, the more questions I have.

For example, their defense has been incredible, but a quick review of opponents reveals that four of them rank 21st or lower in offensive efficiency. And those four opponents (Washington, Houston, Oklahoma City, Detroit) are where they got four of the five wins during this run. Sure, they got a strong win over the Clippers, but that was due to an insanely hot shooting day from mid-range, and they were waxed the next day when the shots stopped falling. In their three losses (Los Angeles, Dallas, Phoenix), they were held to 1.031 points per possession or less and lost by an average of 20.3 points per game.

That is a troubling trend when you’re hosting a Milwaukee team coming off of a pretty poor loss to Denver. The Bucks have a pretty big statistical advantage here when it comes to the perimeter. Milwaukee ranks fourth in 3-point shooting (39.4 percent), third in non-corner 3-point shooting (39.2 percent) and 11th in corner 3-point shooting (40.1 percent). Much like the Bucks, the Grizzlies prioritize rim defense and do not switch often, and as a result they rank 20th or lower on defense in all three of those areas. One might rebut that Memphis can exploit the same issue with the Milwaukee’s defense, but the Grizzlies rank 24th in overall shooting (35.4 percent) and 30th in non-corner 3-point shooting (33.6 percent). 

This leads me into my overall issue with Memphis: offense. The Grizzlies rank 20th in overall offensive efficiency, averaging just 110.8 points every 100 possessions. They take the second-most mid-range jumpers in the league, a majority of which come from the floater area of the floor, but rank 19th in rim frequency (32.0 percent) and 3-point frequency (30.3 percent). As a result, their offensive performances are extremely fickle, leading to 0.92 points per possession against the Mavericks one day, and 1.289 points per possession the next game against Los Angeles. Those are not numbers I trust against a team like Milwaukee with such offensive firepower.

The Co-Main Event

Miami Heat at New Orleans Pelicans* (-3, 224.5)

Both Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo are questionable to play tonight for Miami, but this is our main event because I want to see how New Orleans responds to yet another disaster on defense.

Last night, the Pelicans coughed up 1.243 points per possession to Chicago, allowed the Bulls to go 27-of-44 at the rim and 12-of-28 from beyond the arc. Chicago also exploited the 29th-ranked transition defense for 1.714 point per transition play while crushing them on the offensive glass. Like many nights this season, the Pelicans’ defense was a no-show on Wednesday, and now they must bounce back against a potentially short-handed Miami team.

Sure, bettors can look at this game and feel comfortable laying points with New Orleans given the status of Miami’s stars, but what have you seen from the Pelicans that makes you think they can cover that number? Is it the 7-11 SU/5-13 ATS record as a favorite this year? They are at home, so that is a more favorable situation for them. Too bad they’re 4-7 SU/2-9 ATS when favored in New Orleans, showing us that the betting market has consistently inflated these numbers for the Pelicans at the Smoothie King Center. Their offense is great, seventh-best in the league according to Cleaning The Glass, they could probably outscore a short-handed Heat offense. However, the seventh-best offense in the league has not kept New Orleans from posting a -1.3 net rating on the season due to a defense that gives up 118.3 points every 100 possessions.

My sarcasm is a bit thick at this point, but you get my point. Almost every single night we see the betting market support this Pelicans team, and 57.1 percent of the time this team has failed to cover. Today, it seems the market has seen enough. New Orleans opened up as a three-point favorite, but 2.5 is the widely available number now. The number will surely move back toward the Pelicans if Jimmy Butler is ruled out, but I just don’t know how any bettor can feel comfortable swallowing points with this disappointing New Orleans team.

The Prelims

Denver Nuggets (-3.5, 225.5) at Indiana Pacers*

It is not surprising to see the market side with Denver here. Last time we saw the Nuggets, they beat down Milwaukee without Gary Harris, Paul Millsap, JaMychal Green and Facundo Campazzo. Well, those guys are still out, and I wonder if this is an overreaction to that result. Indiana has been a disappointment lately, going 4-9 SU/3-10 ATS in their last 13 games with a -3.5 net rating. However, we have seen a real shift on the market power rating of the Pacers here. Indiana has closed as an underdog at home just three times this season. Now, not only are they an underdog, but the market is moving against them. The Pacers are a deeply flawed team, but they take 43.0 percent of their attempts at the rim which should be something that works in their favor against the worst rim defense in the league.

Golden State Warriors at Phoenix Suns (-6, 224.5)

When you manage just 1.105 points per possession against a defense that has allowed 1.163 per possession since the start of February, you have some problems. Now, Golden State has to work those problems out on the second leg of a back-to-back against the hottest team in the league. Phoenix is 15-3 SU and ATS in its last 18 games with a defense that is giving up just 108.9 points every 100 possessions during this run. On top of that, Kelly Oubre is in danger of missing this game as well due to a wrist injury suffered in practice on Tuesday. The Warriors are barely getting by at full strength on offense, so what happens in this spot without one of their starters?

Sacramento Kings* at Portland Trail Blazers* (-4.5, 238)

Bettors learned a valuable lesson last night about inflated lines when the Kings went off as four-point favorites due the short-handed nature of their opponent. Sacramento still managed to allow 1.263 points per possession to one of the worst offensive teams in the league, and did not cover. Now, they have to attempt to contain Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers. Lillard led Portland to 1.149 points per possession last night against one of the best defenses in the league, and it is logical to think he would be able to have more success against the worst one in the league.

Los Angeles Clippers (-6, 236.5) at Washington Wizards

Kawhi Leonard is questionable with back spasms, and Marcus Morris is doubtful with a concussion for Los Angeles. Since it's the last day prior to the All-Star Break, I would assume the team takes the cautious approach of sitting Leonard with extended rest on the horizon. The market has gone in that direction, driving this number down a point, and you can expect that to continue once Leonard is (likely) officially ruled out.

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