Last night was a really solid one in the NBA, filled with bad beats, comebacks and upsets. For the second straight day I must extend condolences, this time to those of you who took the points with San Antonio. But, where I want to begin today is a little less gambling centric.
On Monday, the Atlanta Hawks made the decision to fire Lloyd Pierce after a 14-20 start to the season. Why? What was the front office of Atlanta really expecting with this flawed roster they put together?
The Hawks projected to be one of the worst defensive teams in the league before the season started, and they currently rank 22nd in defensive efficiency. Their big offseason acquisition, Bogdan Bogdanovic, has played in nine games due to a knee injury. Rajon Rondo has been terrible, much like he was for Los Angeles last season before the bubble started. Trae Young, who finished dead-last in Defensive Real Plus-Minus among all NBA players, is 477th of 478 players in that category this year. What was he supposed to do about this?
I currently hold a ticket on under 36.5 wins for Atlanta because they were a team I projected to win about 30 games due to the inherent flaws with this roster. However, the Hawks’ front office, much like the betting public, overvalued the nature of this team and Pierce had to suffer because of that.
Updated injury reports can be found here.
Updated odds on every game can be found here.
*Indicates team on second leg of a back-to-back
The Main Event
Phoenix Suns at Los Angeles Lakers (-1.5, 216.5)
The most underrated aspect of Los Angeles’ struggles over that 1-5 SU and ATS slide they were in last week was the absence of Dennis Schroder along with Anthony Davis. Without Schroder there was no other shot-creator on the floor for the Lakers other than LeBron James, and it caused their offensive rating to tank to 105.1 points every 100 possessions. It is no surprise that in the two games with Schroder back Los Angeles’ offense has improved, averaging 1.097 points per possession against Portland before ripping the seventh-best defense in the league in Golden State for 1.192 per possession in a win on Sunday. This offense still has its short-comings, especially from beyond the arc -- where Schroder really does nothing to help them as a 30.4% 3-point shooter -- but with Schroder on the floor the Lakers have more fluidity on offense.
If this offense can continue the positive momentum, it would be massive for Los Angeles, as it has yet to fall off on defense. With LeBron and Schroder on the floor, the Lakers are allowing just 103.8 points every 100 possessions this season, and outscoring opponents by 12.9 points every 100 possessions. That prowess on defense has really shown itself in these last two games, as Los Angeles has allowed just 91.1 points per 100 possessions to Portland and Golden State respectively. But, now they have to do that to one of the best teams in the league over the last month.
Phoenix comes in on a 14-3 SU and ATS in their last 17 games, and their last two losses have come in games in which they held leads of 24 and 17 points. Over the course of the larger sample size the Suns have been incredible, outscoring opponents by 10.2 points every 100 possessions while ranking fourth in offense and fifth in defense. However, analyze Phoenix’s opponents over this run: Only five of them currently have winning records and one of those opponents is Dallas who just got a game over .500 the other day. Ten of their opponents over this 17-game run rank 15th or lower in net rating as well, and six rank 20th or lower! I projected the Suns to be worse than they have been on defense, and I could certainly be wrong about that. However, I am going to bang my head against the wall one more time here with the Lakers.
The Co-Main Event
Memphis Grizzlies at Washington Wizards (-1, 237)
Since Valentine’s Day, Washington is 7-2 SU/8-1 ATS and outscoring opponents by 4.0 points every 100 possessions. The biggest difference for the Wizards is a defense that has limited opponents to 1.088 points per possession, 45.4% from the floor and 35.1% from deep. Remember, this is a team that was allowing 1.155 points per possession in the 29 games prior to this win streak!
The sustainability of the play is in question, but they are playing better on that end of the floor. In the 29 games prior to this win streak, Washington was allowing a wide-open shot attempt on 21.8% of opponent field goal attempts, and they were shooting 47.9% on those looks. Over these nine games that rate has dropped slightly to 20% on 40.8% shooting. The biggest change has been along the perimeter, where they were allowing 18.1% of 3-point attempts to be wide-open, and opponents killed them shooting 44.1%. However, during this run the frequency of wide-open 3-point looks has dipped to 15.8% and opponents’ shooting on those looks has dipped to 38.3%. If anything, this paints a picture of a Wizards defense that is showing more effort in closing out on shooters and contesting shots.
The improved defensive rating for Washington will be important against a Memphis team struggling to find consistency on offense. Over their previous five games, the Grizzlies have mustered just 107.1 points every 100 possessions, getting held to 1.031 points per possession or fewer in three of those contests by the Suns, Mavericks and Clippers. Over these five games, Memphis has been chucking the ball worse than Sandy Lyle in Along Came Polly, shooting 29.1% on 28.2 3-point attempts per game. This has been a consistent issue for the Grizzlies all season, as they rank 27th in frequency of 3-point attempts (30.4%) and 25th in shooting at 35.2%.
Overall, though, this has been a poor offense all season long. Memphis lives in the mid-range area of the floor, taking the fourth-most mid-range attempts of any team and shooting 44.0% on those shots. They are 16th in frequency of attempts at the rim (32.8%) and 20th in shooting within four feet (62.0%). Their scheme on offense is massive reason why they find themselves 21st in offensive efficiency.
Personally, I made Washington a small favorite in this matchup, reflective of the original opening price we saw last night. However, one factor which changes the equation for Memphis and is the presence of Justise Winslow. The Grizzlies have had Winslow on the floor for four of the previous five games, and their defensive rating of 104.2 is one of the best in the league over that stretch. Yes, it is an extremely short sample size, but Winslow is a very good defender that could push a very good Memphis defense to great when fully healthy.
Keep an eye on the injury report tonight. Grayson Allen and Kyle Anderson are questionable to play. Anderson in particular is important, as the Grizzlies outscore opponents by 2.7 points every 100 possessions when he is on the floor, but are outscored by 4.2 points every 100 that he is off.
Los Angeles Clippers (-4, 221.5) at Boston Celtics
The Clippers are a perplexing team, and with each game comes more questions. On Sunday, I wrote about the inconsistent defensive play of Los Angeles, and how some numbers painted the picture of team defending well but not getting desired results. The Clippers proceeded to go out and hold Milwaukee to 1.094 points per possession and 31.6% from deep. However, they also blew a late lead, with Paul George and Kawhi Leonard combining 0-for-9 in the final four minutes of play. Now, the questions about this offense are louder than ever, and for good reason.
Today they will have to put together 48 minutes on both ends of the floor against a struggling Boston team that still seems to thrive at home. Boston did not cover on Sunday against Washington, but did improve to 10-5 SU at home on the season. The Celtics have been most consistent defensively at home this season, allowing just 108.6 points every 100 possessions. Offense has been the issue for Boston, and that showed up against Washington when they averaged just 1.078 points per possession without Jaylen Brown. He is listed as questionable today, and the Clippers are laying a solid number as a result.
Atlanta Hawks at Miami Heat (-3.5, 220.5)
Despite not having Jimmy Butler on the floor this weekend, the Heat used a late 10-0 run to pull away and cover every number against Atlanta. The win and cover improved Miami’s record to 6-0 SU and ATS over the last six games, and 11-5 SU/8-8 ATS since Butler returned from dealing with COVID. During this six-game run the Heat own the second-best net rating in the league (+ 8.6), and their offense continues to improve. Even without Butler, the Heat averaged 1.147 points per possession against Atlanta, dominating inside four feet of the hoop (71.4%). Butler is questionable again today, but given how poor this Atlanta team is, as long as Adebayo, Dragic and Herro are on the floor bettors will have a chance.
New York Knicks at San Antonio Spurs* (-2, 216.5)
San Antonio took one on the chin last night, losing and failing to cover in overtime against Brooklyn at home. They run it back to play host to New York tonight, still short-handed. Devin Vassell, Keldon Johnson, Rudy Gay and Derrick White will all remain sidelined tonight due to COVID protocol, and the market is reacting predictably. New York is coming off of a 9-5 SU/10-4-1 ATS month of February in which it finished second in defense (106.7) and fourth in net rating (+ 4.8).
The betting market has been hesitant to back the Knickerbockers until this spot tonight against the Spurs. Bettors should be aware that New York has still struggled on offense despite this month long run, averaging 111.5 points every 100 possessions, good for 19th in the league. San Antonio could not contain Brooklyn last night, giving up 1.228 points per possession, but they could be well suited to handle the inefficient Knicks, despite the unavailable players.
Denver Nuggets at Milwaukee Bucks (-6.5, 236)
A great matchup on paper, this contest has been depressed by injuries for the Nuggets. Gary Harris, Paul Millsap, JaMychal Green and Facundo Campazzo will all miss this game tonight, leaving Denver short-handed yet again. The Nuggets have been consistently inconsistent since the injuries have taken hold, and tonight will likely be no exception. Milwaukee is in a play-against spot here, coming off of a big win over Los Angeles on Sunday, but given the status of Denver’s roster it is hard to have confidence in the underdog here.