How can we start a basketball column of any sort without mentioning the anniversary of Kobe Bryant’s passing? One of the greatest basketball players ever, taken from us too soon in a tragic accident. Usually we will fill this space with a recap of the night before in NBA action, but I thought this was more fitting.
I’ll always have an odd connection to this day, as I was actually on the air for the local radio station I work for part-time. The news of Kobe’s passing was the first time I have ever had to deliver that kind of news to an audience, and it was an experience that has stuck with me. It might seem like a simple task, but to me it was daunting that I was going to be the first to tell some that a legend, who once seemed invincible, was no longer with us.
As a basketball fan, it is impossible to ignore Bryant’s greatness. I, like many others my age, grew up yelling ‘Kobe’ as I tossed balls of paper at garbage cans, or actual balls at hoops. I admired the steely determination of the Black Mamba. Now, like many of us today, I mourn the passing of a great basketball player.
Rest in peace, Kobe…
Here are the game notes for Tuesday, Jan. 26.
Note: Updated injury reports for every game can be found on VSiN.com right here
L.A. Clippers (-2.5) at Atlanta Hawks
The seven-game winning streak is at risk tonight for Los Angeles as they will be without Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Patrick Beverley in Atlanta. Leonard and George are out due to COVID-19 protocols, and Beverley is dealing with knee soreness. It’s an obvious blow for a Clippers team that had been playing some of their best basketball, posting a 17.2 net rating during this win streak while only going 3-3-1 ATS.
DraftKings was the first shop to hang a number for this, opening the Clippers as a 2.5-point favorite despite the absences of Leonard and George. Initially it might seem like a shock, but Atlanta has its own injury issues. Trae Young is questionable to play with a back issue that caused him to miss Atlanta’s loss to Milwaukee over the weekend. Clint Capela and Danilo Gallinari are questionable as well with hand and ankle injuries respectively. So, how in the world do you handicap this?
Well, let’s start with the Clippers’ bench. In short, it has not been great. It is a small sample-size, but in just under 100 possessions without Leonard and George on the floor Los Angeles has a -39.1 net rating. Their defense is allowing a staggering 1.457 points per possession in those minutes while their offense is managing just 1.065 points. Lineups with Reggie Jackson and Luke Kennard have a -0.7 net rating with the issue being a defense with a 1.286 rating.
Over the last 12 games the Hawks have found trouble with their offense, something most thought would not be a problem for this team. They are averaging just 1.059 points per possession over those 12 games, and that, coupled with a slow pace, has been why they are hitting unders as frequently as they have been. In this game I believe their offensive floor would be raised against this team without three of their best players. This line has moved to -5 across the board, giving every indication that Young will be playing.
- Atlanta is 10-2 to the under in its last 12 games, but two of three have gone over.
Washington Wizards at Houston Rockets (-1.5)
An NBA game only a mother could love. I am somewhat motherly in my love for this league, but even you could not pump me up for a game like this. Sure, Houston has won and covered its last two, but against the likes of Detroit and Dallas with no Kristaps Porzingis. John Wall is back -- which helps the Rockets -- but he was a ghost on the floor last time out, managing just 7 points and 8 assists on 3-of-9 shooting. Meanwhile, Washington played its first game in nearly two weeks on Sunday, getting blown out 121-101 by San Antonio.
The Wizards are still dealing with the ramifications of the COVID issues that caused this team to postpone six games. Six players, including Davis Bertans, Rui Hachimura and Deni Avdija, are unavailable tonight due to protocol. Raul Neto is questionable with a groin injury. Yes, Russell Westbrook is back after mending a quad injury, but he has been a sizable negative for the Wizards, who have a -6.1 net rating with him on the floor this season. Washington will have the best player on the floor in Bradley Beal, but how much is that worth in a game like this?
I think “spot handicappers” will likely point out that this is the Wall Revenge Game, but I don’t put much stock into that. I’m really curious what this total will look like though, once widely available. In Washington’s loss to San Antonio, the total opened 231.0 and closed 233.5 at a majority of shops. The Wizards are a team that lead the league in pace and rank ninth in offensive efficiency (113.4), but 27th in defensive rating (114.7). That is the profile of an over team, but with so much offensive talent maybe they shouldn’t be getting totals so high. And especially against a decent defensive team like Houston (9th, 109.0). Should this be in the 230s again?
New York Knicks at Utah Jazz (-11, 212.5)
The Jazz have been absolutely incredible. This is the team I bet Matt Youmans would show itself in the NBA Finals the summer they got Mike Conley. Utah has 10 wins and covers in 12 games, and the third-best net rating over that stretch (8.6). The offense has acted as a catalyst for this run, averaging 1.154 points per possession behind 41.9 percent 3-point shooting on 42.6 attempts per game. Their defense, which struggled a bulk of last season, has been incredible as well, limiting opponents to 1.067 points per possession. There really seems to be no slowing this Jazz team.
Meanwhile, New York comes to town in the midst of a very successful five-game run. They have dropped their last two, but the Knicks are 4-1 ATS in those five games. Most recently, they came storming back from down 25 points to Portland on Sunday night in a game they eventually lost, but covered. It’s not surprising that Tom Thibodeau has his team performing at a high level defensively. They rank fourth in defensive efficiency this season, according to Cleaning The Glass, and during this five-game run they are giving up just 0.99 points per possession.
Tuesday is a matchup of strength-on-strength: Utah’s offense against New York’s defense. Usually when a team is performing as well as the Jazz are against the number, I will look to play against them at some point, as the market naturally gets too high on them. If a 12 flashes on the screen today I will find myself donning blue and orange this evening.
- Utah is on an 8-0 SU/ ATS run over its last eight games. The Jazz are 10-2 SU/ATS in January.