Sometimes defense is overrated, and when you have a collection of offensive talent like Brooklyn does, all you have to do is outscore the opponent. That is exactly what the Nets did on Tuesday night.
In the fourth quarter of Brooklyn’s 124-120 win over Los Angeles, the Nets went to work on offense. They averaged 1.440 points per possession, and Kyrie Irving scored eight straight to help Brooklyn lock up the win. The trio of Irving, Kevin Durant and James Harden combined for 90 points on 33-of-51 shooting (64.7 percent) for the game with Irving hitting six 3-pointers and Harden registering his fourth triple-double as a Net, and his second in as many games.
When facing an offense like this, opposing teams can’t afford to go cold … and the Clippers did just that. After starting the game 9-for-11 from the floor and opening up multiple double-digit leads, Los Angeles froze in the fourth quarter. The Clippers averaged just 1.154 points per possession, went 10-of-24 from the floor and shot 3-of-11 from 3-point range. Those are not figures that will keep you in a game against a team with Brooklyn’s offensive ceiling.
These two teams meet again on Feb. 21 at Staples Center, and I for one, can’t wait to see these teams run it back a second time.
Before we get to the notes, shout out to Fred VanVleet who most definitely reads these game notes on a daily basis. VanVleet put together a stupid performance on Tuesday night, draining 11-of-14 3-point attempts while scoring 54 points and single-handedly bringing Toronto to a 123-108 victory over Orlando.
The Magic are now 2-12 SU/3-11 ATS in their last 14 games with no end in sight to their struggles. Orlando has almost no shot-creation on this roster anymore due to its cluster injuries, and that has left them with the worst offensive rating in the league over this 14-game stretch (103.0). A two-game series on back-to-back nights in Orlando against the Bulls awaits, and you can bet they’ll be a hefty underdog on Friday and Saturday.
Anyway, on to the show…
Note: * indicates that team is on second leg of a back-to-back.
Updated injury reports can be found here.
Updated odds for every game can be found here.
Indiana Pacers* at Milwaukee Bucks (-8.5, 232)
After two poor road losses to New Orleans and Charlotte, the Bucks bounced back in a big way on Monday night, housing the Portland Trail Blazers 134-106 at home. The Bucks allowed just 0.987 points per possession; a refreshing performance considering their 117.5 defensive rating in the six games prior. So, are Milwaukee’s defensive issues fixed, or did they take advantage of a short-handed Portland team that had a poor shooting night (15-of-42) against the worst perimeter defense in the league? It is more than likely the latter, and now they must face an Indiana team that ranks eighth in overall offensive efficiency (113.5) and is starting to hit its stride on offense.
Over the last five games, the Pacers are averaging 117.9 points every 100 possessions, shooting 51.8 percent from the floor and 40.4 percent from 3-point range. Their offense in transition has been spectacular over this stretch, and during the season, and they are now the second-ranked team in terms of efficiency in transition this season (132.7). They seem to have the tools to take advantage of a Milwaukee team that has been average on defense, giving up 111.4 points every 100 possessions this season. The problem is that Indiana has been average on defense as well.
The Pacers own the 20th-ranked defense over their last 13 games (112.4), a big reason why they are just 6-7 SU/5-8 ATS over that stretch. However, this is a decent role reversal for Indiana. In nine of those 13 games they were favored, and they covered two of the four spots as an underdog. On the season they are 4-2 SU and ATS when catching points, and I would not be surprised to see the market cut this number down by the time tip-off arrives.
Dallas Mavericks (-1, 224) at Atlanta Hawks
Dallas’ poor form has been well documented here, but for those unfamiliar let’s reset the scene.
The Mavericks are in the midst of a brutal 0-6 SU/ATS slide that has them last in net rating (-10.8) and 29th in defensive efficiency (119.9). The most shocking aspect of this losing streak is the offense, which is averaging just 109.0 points every 100 possessions. If things are going to turn around the defense clearly has to improve, but what happened to the offense that set the record for best efficiency in a regular season last year?
Now, they go to Atlanta for what on the surface should be a buy-low spot, but the market does not want bettors buying too low. Dallas opened up -1 and is as high -2 this morning. Atlanta had their nice 5-2 SU/6-1 ATS run stopped in its tracks by the Lakers on Monday, but clearly this a team in solid form. Against Los Angeles the Hawks were stymied on offense, scoring just 1.065 points per possession, and defensively they had no answer for the Lakers’ presence inside. Los Angeles went a combined 29-of-41 inside 14 feet on Monday, troubling for a team that ranks 14th on defense in both areas of the floor. Here’s the thing though: Dallas has no presence like that.
I had circled this game after Dallas lost their contest to Phoenix on Monday as the ultimate bounce-back spot, but I was expecting Atlanta as the short favorite, not Dallas. Homecourt is not worth much this season, but with a team in Dallas’ form I will not be caught dead laying points, even at this small number.
Houston Rockets (-5.5, 224) at Oklahoma City Thunder
Can the Rockets really keep this going tonight? Houston is in the middle of a 6-0 SU and ATS run in which they lead the league in net rating (+ 15.1), and they’re coming off of a dominant win over this Thunder team. On Monday night, the Rockets hit 28 3-point attempts and averaged 1.291 points per possession in a 136-106 romp. You think there might be some regression to the mean here for Houston, a team that averages 14.4 made 3-pointers a game?
To me, this game is all about the market’s power rating of Houston. The Rockets opened last night -5.5 against the Thunder; they opened -4.5 in their meeting on Monday and closed -5 in most shops. As I type, Houston is now laying seven points in most shops! This is a Rockets team that started this winning streak as a 3-point underdog in Detroit! There are adjustments to be made on a power rating, but this is quite the jump.
This line has moved in part because Shai Gilgeous-Alexander will not play for Oklahoma City today due to a knee sprain, but John Wall is out as well for Houston. It is a massive blow for the 27th-ranked offense to lose its leading scorer, but what does it mean for the 21st-ranked offense to lose its second-leading scorer and assists leader?
New York Knicks at Chicago Bulls (-3.5, 216.5)
The market has deemed this a bounce-back spot for New York, and it might mean there is some value on Chicago. The Bulls closed as a 3.5-point favorite on Monday and pulled out a 110-102 win at home. Chicago averaged 1.122 points per possession, but needed to pull away in the final three minutes to salt away the win. The Bulls covered the number, but because it was a close game, or because these teams are just playing for the second game in a row, the market has pushed this number down to Bulls -2 at most shops. Why?
Point spreads are based on power ratings, and power ratings should not move 1.5 points just because two teams are meeting one another for consecutive games. What happened in the last day that made Chicago 1.5 points worse? The injury report remains the same, and New York did not get a massive role player like Julius Randle back, because he played on Monday. Moves like this are what bettors can take advantage of, and they might be able to do so again here today.
Minnesota Timberwolves at San Antonio Spurs (-8, 223.5)
In the past few editions of our game notes, I have pointed out how I believe the Spurs were somewhat fraudulent when it came to their defensive efficiency. At that point, San Antonio ranked ninth in defensive efficiency, and was going into a meeting with the Boston Celtics. I bet against them, and the Spurs won and covered while holding the Celtics to just 1.093 points per possession. I tested my hypothesis one more time, betting on the Denver Nuggets two days later, and the Spurs beat me again. I tucked my tail between my legs, ready to admit defeat. Then San Antonio played a two-game series with Memphis.
The Grizzlies stomped the Spurs over those two games, winning both games by an average of 24 points and averaging 1.297 points per possession. Memphis shot 25-of-54 from deep (46.3 percent), 31-of-45 at the rim (68.9 percent) and scored a total 262 points in the two games. The same team that put together those two defensive performances is now laying 8.5 today against Minnesota.
Yes, the Timberwolves are a very poor team, especially on offense where they rank last in efficiency (104.2). Minnesota also has the league’s worst net rating (-10.7) and it is understandable that the market has zero respect for them. But is the market still overvaluing San Antonio here?
Phoenix Suns (-2, 223.5) at New Orleans Pelicans
It seems like the betting market has finally turned its back on New Orleans. The Pelicans turned in a 4-9 SU/5-8 ATS record in January, and started February right where they left off. New Orleans blew a 10-point fourth quarter lead on Monday to Sacramento, and lost 118-109 at home. The persisting problem for the Pelicans has been a defense that has shown no signs of improvement. On the season, New Orleans is giving up 115.2 points every 100 possessions, and over these 14 games that defensive rating is up to 116.6 points every 100 possessions. It is understandable that the market has had enough, and is actively playing against them.
Oddsmakers opened this at Phoenix -2 and as I type the number has ballooned to a 3.5-point spread. Sure, the Suns have played better of late (3-0 SU and ATS), but how good is their form? They needed a Devin Booker 3-pointer at the gun to sweep Dallas, who they were underdogs to in both games. Even against this Pelicans team back in December they were only a 1.5-point favorite, and since then they are 8-7 SU and ATS with a + 0.4 net rating. Are they that much better than New Orleans today?
Philadelphia 76ers (-7.5, 221.5) at Charlotte Hornets
The market continues to sleep on my Hornets. They have won and covered three straight coming into Wednesday night, and since Jan. 6 this team is 8-6 SU and 10-4 ATS! Their net rating is just barely positive (+ 1.6), but the betting market continues to price them like they’re a cellar dweller in the Eastern Conference when that just isn’t the case. The crazy part is the market actively moving against them almost regularly. In the last three games (Indiana, Milwaukee, Miami) the market moved the number in favor of their opponent, and the Hornets won the games outright. Today it seems the market is learning from those mistakes.
Philadelphia opened -7.5 but is now laying seven almost everywhere. The injury report is clean for the 76ers, so we can expect Joel Embiid on the floor when we reach tip-off. Philadelphia is coming off its first win this season without Embiid, overcoming a late deficit to beat Indiana on Sunday, and is now 6-1 SU/5-2 ATS in its last seven games. Earlier in the season the 76ers closed as 10 and 7.5-point favorites at home over this Charlotte team, but are laying seven on the road against this same team, proof that the market has yet to adjust its perception of this plucky underdog.
L.A. Clippers* (-9, 216.5) at Cleveland Cavaliers
As of this morning the Clippers have yet to release an injury report, but they are the final game of a six-game trip along the east coast. There is a chance some players rest, but there are no real injury concerns for this team outside of Patrick Beverley, who didn’t travel with the team. The spot is not a favorable one for Los Angeles, but the market tends to overvalue the negative aspects of a back-to-back.
That is apparent in this number today. With no indication that the Clippers will rest a single player, the number has dropped to as low as 7.5 in most shops. The second round of injury reports comes out 10:30 a.m. PT so bettors will get an indication as to who will be available for this game, but if it comes back clean expect this number to start a climb back up toward the open.
Washington Wizards* at Miami Heat (-8, 229.5)
What if I told you a team that is 1-6 SU and ATS in its last seven games, with a net rating that is 29th in the league over that stretch (-11.2), is laying eight points in a game? Are you rushing to the window to bet that team? I’m sure you can guess by now, but that team is the Miami Heat.
To be fair, this Heat team has Jimmy Butler back in the fold, and Tyler Herro is no longer dealing with a neck injury, but is there a chance the market is jumping the gun on improving this team’s power rating this quickly? Butler reportedly lost over 10 pounds as he dealt with COVID, and Herro is 16-of-43 from the floor since his return. It takes time for players to round into form, but the market jumped into the deep end with this Miami team once they got key role players back.
Washington knows all too well what it is like to be missing players, and the Wizards are now as close to whole as possible. It is not a coincidence that they have turned in their two best offensive performances in the last two games. Russell Westbrook is healthy, and Davis Bertans and Rui Hachimura are back on the floor as well. Washington has averaged 1.274 points per possession over the last two games because of it, and now they face a Miami team that has allowed 112.9 points every 100 possessions in its last seven. At season’s end this Heat team could very well be eight points better than Washington, but this still a team recovering and that seems like a lot of points to lay.