Betting preview for Wednesday's NBA games

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It was a quite day in the NBA on Tuesday, as only three teams took the floor. The notable result was Utah storming back to improve to 11-2 SU/ATS in its last 13 games. The Jazz have been incredible, and they are back in action tonight against a scuffling Dallas team.

Onward to a loaded slate of games tonight!

Note: * indicates that team is on second leg of a back-to-back.

Updated injury reports can be found here

Detroit at Cleveland (-2.5, 215)

This is a big litmus test for the Cavaliers tonight. J.B. Bickerstaff has this team playing very good basketball, but the legitimacy of the leap in Cleveland should be questioned. The Cavaliers are 4-1 ATS over their last five heading into Wednesday night, but under the surface of that run is a defense that has been buckling despite the eighth-ranked efficiency mark in the league.

Over the course of this five-game run Cleveland has allowed 1.165 points per possession; a far cry from the defense that had them off to this solid start. Now, four of their contests have been against the Lakers, Celtics and Nets which would inflate anybody’s defensive rating. However, I’ve had questions about how good this team can be on that end of the floor, and seeing this unit buckle like that against top-10 offenses is a sign there is some fraudulence when it comes to their defense.

Tonight is a test to see if the improvement in Cleveland is real. They struggled the last four games against legitimate offenses, but tonight comes the 20th-ranked offense in the Pistons (1.085). Detroit also allows 1.121 points per possession on defense, a matchup that should be exploitable for a Cleveland team that has averaged 1.134 points per possession since Collin Sexton returned from injury.

The opening number seems somewhat low given where the Pistons are as a team right now (1-4 SU/2-2-1 ATS in its last five), and it’s not surprising to see the market get to Cavaliers (-3.5). However, given the defensive struggles Cleveland has shown I’m not ready to run in and lay these points as the market could be overvaluing their prowess.

Betting Trends

  • Detroit is 8-3-1 ATS against the Eastern Conference this season.
  • Detroit is 6-1 to the over on the road this season.

Sacramento at Orlando (-1, 221.5)

Is there a more boring game on the schedule?

Sacramento snapped a four-game slide five days ago at home against the Knicks, but has not played since then due to a two-game set with Memphis getting postponed. The Kings are still in poor form this month, posting a 3-6 SU/2-7 ATS record in January. The problem is a defense that is giving up 1.225 points per possession, the worst mark in the league this month. As a result, the over is 7-2 over this nine-game stretch for Sacramento.

What this defense does to raise the floor of a putrid offense in the Magic will be key to how this game plays out. Orlando has had some real issues on offense of late, averaging just 1.027 points per possession in their last 10 games. How much does their offense improve just by playing Sacramento?

General thought here is that the Magic are in the better spot. Despite the offensive issues, they are coming off a win over Charlotte in which they dropped 117 points and averaged 1.170 points per possession. Market has already added the hook on the favorite, and I would not expect much buyback on the underdog.

Betting Trends

  • Sacramento is 2-9 ATS in the month of January.

Indiana at Charlotte (-1.5, 219.5)

A matchup of my two greatest loves! For those who do not know, I have an over wager on Charlotte’s win total of 25.5 and an Eastern Conference ticket on the Pacers at 32-to-1, both of which I placed at Circa. This is a lowkey meeting of two teams that have been playing some really good basketball this season, but the market might have been a tad overzealous when it set the initial opener.

Yes, Domantas Sabonis is questionable to play with a knee bruise, but to open Charlotte as the slight favorite was a mistake. Remember, these are essentially neutral courts we’re playing on here, so to say Charlotte is the better team than Indiana without Sabonis is incorrect by my ratings. We’ve since seen the shift and the Pacers are now holding out as a small favorite.

Wagering on this game now is gambling on information. If Sabonis is confirmed tonight the market will likely react strongly, and I would expect Indiana closes two points higher than the (-1) up right now at the time of this writing.

As much as I love Charlotte, there are some clear flaws with this team. They rank 20th in net rating, according to Cleaning The Glass (-3.2) due to an offense that has its limits. This seems to be a case of the market overrating a team due to recent success. The Hornets are 7-3 ATS over their last 10 games, but are barley getting by opponents (+ 0.9 net rating, L10).

Indiana went through a four-game lull on defense last week, but it was mainly due to some hot shooting from opponents. In two games against Toronto, they held the Raptors to just 1.094 points per possession while averaging 1.144 themselves.

Milwaukee (-6, 224.5) at Toronto

I’ve been pretty adamant that the betting market has overvalued this Milwaukee team, pricing them like the squad from the past two seasons. That came to fruition in two losses last week to the Nets and Lakers, and even in a win over a Hawks team that did not have Trae Young. Despite playing without its best player, Atlanta managed 1.198 points per possession against Milwaukee. Throw in the losses to Brooklyn and Los Angeles, and the Bucks have allowed 1.154 points per possession over the last three games!

Still, I find myself being gravitated toward the Milwaukee side here, but it is more about a fade of the Raptors than support for the Bucks. Toronto’s inefficient offense is going nowhere. On the season, it ranks 14th in offensive efficiency, averaging 1.114 points per possession, but also owns the 27th-ranked halfcourt offense (93.6 points every 100 plays). They’re also one of the worst teams at the rim in the league, shooting just 57.8 percent within four feet of the basket. If they’re not shooting about 38 percent or better from deep, this team struggles to generate any offense outside of transition.

This just seems to be the better matchup for Milwaukee. The Bucks, despite the defensive struggles I noted, are a fine defensive team, especially in key areas for this game. Milwaukee gives up just 1.115 points per play in transition, the second-best rate in the league according to Cleaning The Glass, and they cut off the rim effectively, allowing just 61.4 percent within four feet. However, just like in years past, they will allow perimeter shots, something that works in Toronto’s favor.

I’ll be price shopping here. If this number approached Milwaukee (-5), or lower, I will be getting involved.

Brooklyn at *Atlanta

Third time is the charm! That is the theme for this meeting between Brooklyn and Atlanta. The Nets are 1-1 SU against the Hawks, but 0-2 ATS. Meanwhile, Atlanta has struggled playing on the second leg of back-to-backs, going 0-2 SU & ATS in their previous two opportunities this season. Something has to give!

Atlanta has slowly turned things around as of late, heading into this meeting with a 4-1 SU/ATS record in its last five games. Over those five games Atlanta has a + 5.4 net rating and their defense has been stupendous, allowing just 1.061 points per possession! There’s a small problem with this run though, and that is the competition. The Hawks have played Minnesota twice, the Pistons and the Clippers without Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Patrick Beverley. Not exactly a gauntlet of NBA competition. Atlanta could still very well be the team that from Jan. 2 to Jan 16 went 1-6 SU & ATS while averaging 1.011 points per possession.

However, from what we have seen from Brooklyn on defense, it is likely that the Hawks’ offensive floor will be raised. Over the last 10 games the Nets have become more like the team we projected them to be: Fantastic offensively, poor defensively. Over this stretch Brooklyn is allowing 1.161 points per possession and the over has hit in 11 of 12 games dating back to Jan. 3 against Washington. Since Harden has joined the team the Nets are 3-2 SU/2-3 ATS with a -1.2 net rating.

Regardless of what happened in the first meeting between these two teams, I’m just not comfortable playing Brooklyn here. They are power-rated like one of the best teams in the NBA, but their stats equate to a middle-of-the-pack team flirting with a .500 record.

L.A. Lakers at Philadelphia

Can the Lakers keep up the road dominance it has shown this season? In their win over Cleveland the Lakers improved to 10-0 SU away from home, but the failed cover dropped them down to 7-3 ATS in those situations. Now, it was a pretty tough sandwich spot for Los Angeles, being the third of a seven-game road trip with a primetime meeting in Philadelphia on the horizon and sure enough they did enough to get by as 12-point favorites.

From a matchup standpoint I believe this game favors Los Angeles. They have two defensive bigs to handle Joel Embiid: Marc Gasol or Anthony Davis. LeBron James can switch onto him if necessary, and the rest of the team has a plethora of defensive wings to handle shooters like Seth Curry, Danny Green and Tobias Harris. Philadelphia has been extremely reliant on Embiid as well, just look at his on/off numbers. According to Cleaning The Glass, when Embiid is on the bench the 76ers are outscored by 10.2 points every 100 possessions! That is atrocious. How does Philadelphia handle Embiid’s bench minutes against a deeper Laker team?

The betting market opened this game with the Lakers as a 3-point favorite, and some shops moved to (-4) very quickly. Personally, I make this Los Angeles (-4.5) and found value in playing the Lakers in this spot.

Denver at Miami

If you’re a reader of Point Spread Weekly -- which you should be -- you will know that I included Denver in my column this week. The Nuggets have been quietly playing some really good basketball. Denver has gone 9-3 SU/7-4 ATS in their last 12 games, and their defense has improved dramatically. Over this stretch Denver is allowing just 1.090 points per possession, and opponents’ 3-point shooting has dipped to 35.7 percent on 35.9 attempts per game.

Today will be about how improved this Denver team really is, as they face a Heat team that could be getting some reinforcements today. Jimmy Butler is still out, but Tyler Herro could play, and Avery Bradley could return as well. Miami has not been the same shooting team they were last year, but they’ve been extremely short-handed due to COVID protocols. Herro and Bradley could help them improve those numbers, and that will be the area of the floor to watch for a Denver team that has had issues defending the perimeter.

The power rating on Denver is improving. In their last contest they closed as a 2-point favorite over Dallas in a game in which they opened up a 13-point lead early, and went on to win and cover 117-113 despite Jamal Murray getting ejected in the third quarter.  Keep that in mind if you look to back Denver here. You could be buying at the top of the market.

*Washington at New Orleans

New Orleans is another team that was the focus of my weekly Point Spread Weekly column. The Pelicans are a team that is regularly overvalued by the market, and this could be a factor tonight against the Wizards.

Washington is at the bottom of the league in terms of power rating. They had to take two weeks off due to COVID issues, have looked awful in two games since the return. Against the Spurs they managed just 1.010 points per possession and last night they put out just 0.854 per possession. The footage of Bradley Beal with his head in his hands made rounds on social media, and the perception of this team has tanked. However, is New Orleans the team you want to lay many points with?

The Pelicans are 5-10 SU & ATS this season. They are currently stuck in a 1-8 SU/2-7 ATS slide and nine of 10 games have gone over the total for them due to a defense that is giving up 114.5 points every 100 possessions. Is this a team worth laying 7.5 points with? Regardless of the competition, count me out.

Boston (-3, 225.0) at San Antonio

Why is the market so low on the Celtics? That question is coming from someone with a ticket on under 45.5 wins! Two days ago I laid four points with Boston against Chicago, but the market dropped that to 3.5 before tip and the Celtics won comfortably and covered. Now, the betting market opens them up as just a 3-point favorite over San Antonio despite Jayson Tatum being back in the fold. What gives?

Now, San Antonio has been playing some solid basketball. They are 10-7 ATS on the season, and rank 12th in net rating, according to Cleaning The Glass (+ 1.1). Surprisingly, they even have the ninth-rated defense, giving up just 1.094 per possession! Then you look at their schedule, and realize why that is: Eight of their opponents this season rank 18th or lower in net rating, and nine of them place 16th or lower in offensive efficiency. It explains the sudden defensive prowess of a team that finished last season  23rd in the same category!

The market seems to be too high on San Antonio and too low on Boston, but is starting to correct itself here, so if you want to bet the Celtics jump in before the value is gone on the road team.

Dallas at *Utah (-4, 225)

What a month it has been for the Jazz! After a massive comeback against the New York Knicks last night, in which the Jazz managed an insane 1.319 points per possession in the second half, Utah improves to 11-2 SU/ATS in 13 games this month with a league leading + 9.1 net rating. Their shooting has been terrific (41.0 percent on 43.0 attempts per game), and they are starting to look like a team that can really compete for the Western Conference crown.

Usually when a team is performing as well as Utah is, I look for spots to play against them. If you’ve followed my work up to this point, you know the general premise: Buy low, sell high. The market generally inflates the power ratings of hot teams, creating value in going against them. However, this might not be the opportunity.

Dallas seems to be a team that is being overvalued by the market. They are one game below .500 and are under 53 percent ATS on the season with a 9-8 record against the number. In their last six games they are 2-4 ATS, closing as the favorite in four of those games. Even in their last game against Denver, they originally opened as the favorite! So, is this cause for a play against Dallas?

Not necessarily. The fly in the ointment is the injury report. Dorian Finney-Smith, Dwight Powell and Josh Richardson could all play tonight. That is a tangible change for a team that has been overvalued. It causes me to cross this one off the list, but worth tracking and watching tonight if all three are back on the floor.

Betting Trends

  • Utah is 11-2 SU/ATS in its last 13 games, 5-2 ATS as a home favorite this season.

Oklahoma City at Phoenix

Phoenix might be another one of those teams that is being slightly overvalued by the market. The Suns are in the midst of a 1-4 SU/ATS slide in which they have been outscored by 6.4 points every 100 possessions. Keep in mind, three of their games were against Memphis, Houston and Washington! Tonight, they have to get out of this funk without the services of Devin Booker for a second consecutive game.

Phoenix has done well in the non-Booker minutes this season, posting a + 3.1 net rating when he is on the bench, but the minutes to watch will be when Chris Paul rests. With both Booker and Paul off the floor the Suns net rating plummets to -11.9 and they manage just 1.0 point per possession! I don’t think that is a team I want to lay 7.5 points with, how about you?

Oklahoma City is not a good team, but they have been undervalued by the market. This season they are 7-2-1 ATS on the road, all coming as the underdog. I don’t buy into trends unless there is some validity behind them, and the market swinging and missing on Oklahoma City consistently might be enough to get me there, but I will need a few more points in my favor.

Betting Trends

  • Oklahoma City is 7-2-1 ATS on the road this season, and five of six games have gone over the total.

Minnesota at Golden State

Are the Timberwolves this bad? Two nights ago I wrestled with idea of taking 8.5 points with them in the first game of this series, but ultimately decided against it. Good thing, as they gave up 1.265 points per possession to the 22nd ranked offense in the league, and did not cover in a 130-108 drubbing. I find myself tempted by the prospect again tonight, but after Monday’s performance I know I won’t be getting involved.

Golden State is still a team that averages just 1.077 points per possession on offense, that manages just 95.0 points every 100 plays in the halfcourt and ranks 27th in transition efficiency. After a seven-game stretch in which they went 5-2 ATS the market has caught up with them, and they are 3-3 ATS since. I would rather back this team as an underdog than a favorite, and swallowing nine points is just too many for me.

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