This week in the NBA, it’s all about streaks. The Utah Jazz are hot, and the market understands just how good this team could be. On the other hand, the betting public has yet to catch up with how much better Denver has been or how poor New Orleans really is.
Let’s discuss …
Utah’s Potential Finally Coming Through
Two summers ago, I ran to the window at the South Point as news broke that Mike Conley was being traded to Utah. I placed a bet on the Jazz to win the NBA championship at 40-1, thinking it was a steal of a price on a team that should fit together beautifully. Utah did not win the NBA title last season, though. The Jazz were eliminated in the first round after blowing a 3-1 series lead to Denver. I bring this up because I thought Utah had a chance to be a dynamic shooting team with high upside on defense when it brought in Conley that summer. Turns out I was right, but just a season too early.
Utah has been absolutely incredible in January. The Jazz are 10-2 SU and ATS in 12 games this month with a + 8.6 net rating, the third-best mark in the league for this month. What is insane is not only do the Jazz lead the league in frequency of 3-point attempts at 44.5%, they rank second in accuracy at 41.0%. They have five players who have attempted at least 60 3-point shots and still shoot over 40% from that area of the floor.
Even better for Utah is that it plays this well on offense but is not compromised defensively. The Jazz are second in defensive rating, according to Cleaning The Glass (which removes garbage time from its statistics), allowing just 1.058 points per possession. Much of that stems from the second-best half-court defense in the league at 89.8.
As the Jazz continue to cover numbers, their power rating grows, and we’ve seen their odds to win the NBA Finals cut from 40-1 to 20-1 at most shops. If they continue to play at this level, the Western Conference should be on high alert.
Denver’s Gradual Improvement
When the Denver Nuggets started the season 1-4 SU and ATS, it seemed like the same problems that plagued them in the seeding games at the bubble would continue to do so this season. Denver had the fifth-best offensive rating through the first five games of the season at 113.3, but a poor defense that allowed 1.162 points per possession and 42.0% shooting from deep placed the team in an early hole. In a Western Conference that was deeper than the season before, Denver was in danger of falling outside the postseason picture if something did not change.
Well, something did change. Since that 1-4 start, the Nuggets are 9-3 SU and 7-4 ATS, and their defense has improved dramatically. Over these last 12 games, Denver is allowing just 1.090 points per possession, and opponents’ shooting has dipped to 35.7% on 35.9 attempts per game. All the while this offense continues to thrive. The Nuggets own the third-best offensive rating, according to Cleaning The Glass (117.4), and in the half-court they are averaging 99.8 points every 100 plays.
This all matters because it seems the betting market has yet to really acknowledge the improvement Denver has shown. They are on a 5-1 SU and ATS run, and that includes an active 4-0 SU and ATS run. The Nuggets opened Monday as 1-point underdogs on the road against a short-handed Mavericks squad before eventually closing as 2-point favorites. Denver opened an early 13-point lead and went on to win and cover 117-113 despite Jamal Murray getting ejected in the third quarter. Bettors should continue to track these numbers in Denver games, as the Nuggets could have value should the market refuse to budge on their power rating.
The Market’s Obsession With The Pelicans
Stubbornness is not an attractive quality, but when the betting market exhibits it, that is an opportunity for bettors to find value. The New Orleans Pelicans are a perfect example.
The betting markets perceive New Orleans as being better than it really is. When you have a star like Zion Williamson, your team will consistently draw action at the window, inflating that team’s power rating on a night-to-night basis. This is shown in the Pelicans’ 5-10 ATS record, but let’s look even deeper. New Orleans was in Minnesota on Saturday to take on the Timberwolves. The Pelicans opened as 7-point favorites but closed laying 8.5 in a game they eventually lost outright. In their first meeting with Utah on Jan. 19, the market got as low as 5.5 before buyback corrected the number to Jazz minus-6.5, which Utah covered. Four nights before that, New Orleans was in Los Angeles taking on the Lakers. Oddsmakers opened the line with the Lakers laying 10 points, but the market deemed that price too steep! Los Angeles closed as an 8.5-point favorite and crushed New Orleans by 17 points. Are you sensing a theme here?
The betting market continues to support the Pelicans despite poor returns. New Orleans is 5-10 SU and ATS this season. They are stuck in a 1-8 SU and 2-7 ATS slide, and nine of their last 10 games have gone Over the total due to a defense that is giving up 114.5 points every 100 possessions. If I were to tell you a team with the fourth-worst net rating in the league was getting hammered at the windows against the two best teams in the league, you would not believe me, but here we are with New Orleans.