For almost four months, the NBA season has been humming, though overshadowed by the behemoth that is the National Football League. But now that an NFL champion has been crowned, eyes will begin to turn toward the Association as it enters the second half of the season.
Understandably, many bettors will be watching some teams for the first time this season, so what better way to tip off coverage heading into the All-Star break than by starting with some of the biggest betting surprises and disappointments of the NBA season?
Golden State Warriors
Fifty-four games into the season, it is almost comical to think of the defending Western Conference champions as a disappointment, only because they have been bad for so long. But entering the season, Golden State was thought to be a fringe playoff contender with Steph Curry and Draymond Green still available and D’Angelo Russell coming in from Brooklyn. Then Curry broke his hand in the fourth game of the season, and everything changed. The Warriors were the first team to clinch a decision on win total this season, sealing the Under on 48.5 wins when they lost to Denver on Jan. 16. Give credit where it is due, though, as Steve Kerr has done a fantastic job keeping his team competitive on a night-to-night basis. The Warriors rank 29th in net rating (-8.6), but since Dec. 20 they have a 14-11 ATS record, showing the fight Kerr has instilled during a lost season. The future is not as bleak. Curry will be back at full strength next season. So will Klay Thompson. And they are currently one of three teams with a 14% chance to win the top overall pick in the draft.
Yes, Philadelphia currently is a playoff team and will remain one unless the unthinkable happens. But this franchise expected to be much higher in the standings. The 76ers hold the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference, and that is mainly due to Indiana’s current six-game losing streak. Philadelphia is just seven losses from clinching the Under on its season win total of 54.5, and its road record is identical to Charlotte’s and New York’s. This has all been reflected in futures odds. The 76ers entered the season at 10-1 to win the NBA title and 2-1 to win the Eastern Conference. As of Tuesday, they are 30-1 to win the championship and 8-1 to win the conference. This is the ultimate buy-low spot for futures odds on Philadelphia. The 76ers have reason to be optimistic. The acquisition of Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson gives them two desperately needed shooters, and Joel Embiid and Josh Richardson have missed time due to injury. A run to the Eastern Conference finals is still very much in the cards for Brett Brown’s team, and wouldn’t any bettor like an 8-1 ticket to hedge if that comes to fruition?
Atlanta Hawks, Chicago Bulls, Houston Rockets
Oklahoma City Thunder
There is absolutely no argument here. Oklahoma City has been the most pleasant surprise of the season for bettors. Where do you begin? The Thunder surpassed their win total of 31.5 with Friday’s victory over Detroit. They are the best ATS team in the league by a wide margin, covering the spread a whopping 65.38% of the time, and they have an astounding 21-8 ATS record (72.4%) as an underdog. Billy Donovan finally got a team he can coach up, and he is showing how good he can be. Oklahoma City has terrorized opposing teams with its three-guard lineup of Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Dennis Schroder. According to Cleaning The Glass, when that trio is on the floor together, the Thunder are outscoring the opposition by 33.3 points every 100 possessions. That is absolutely insane! In the big picture, Oklahoma City does not move the needle. It is 300-1 to win the NBA title and 150-1 to win the West. But on a daily basis, this is a team worth backing, and in a first-round playoff series against Utah or Houston, the Thunder would be very live to win.
Right behind Oklahoma City are the young, talented and very fast Memphis Grizzlies. It begins and ends with Ja Morant, the odds-on favorite to win rookie of the year. Morant entered the year at 4-1 to win the award, behind only Zion Williamson of New Orleans. Williamson’s injury, coupled with Morant’s dominant play, have led to Morant now being the 1-8 favorite at the Westgate SuperBook. As a team, Memphis is covering spreads at a 55.77% clip, but the team has really taken off in the last month and a half. Since Dec. 29, the Grizzlies are 15-5 SU and 14-6 ATS while averaging 112.4 points per 100 possessions. A big part of what they do is tempo, and over those 20 games they have the third-quickest pace in the NBA, behind only Milwaukee and New Orleans. Just as impressive has been their improvement on defense. In the first 33 games, Memphis allowed 112.3 points every 100 possessions. But through these 20 games, its defensive rating has improved to 107.4, fourth best in the league over that stretch. Oh, and the Grizzlies have an opportunity to surpass their 27.5 season win total with a win Wednesday against Portland.
Dallas Mavericks, Miami Heat, Toronto Raptors