Three items to watch in NBA

December 28, 2021 10:33 PM

As COVID-19 continues to alter the landscape in the NBA, I have gotten less aggressive in my pre-flop betting on a nightly basis. However, even in chaos there are things to take away from the week that was. This week, let’s discuss the latest injury for the Los Angeles Clippers, the addition of Kyrie Irving for Brooklyn and another award market.

Betting Report

Favorites: 18-22 ATS (Season: 250-238-3)

Total O/U: 24-17 (Season: 235-258-6)

Home-court Advantage: + 2

It was obviously a profitable week for underdogs, but there is not much to take from last week’s results. One could speculate that the rash of COVID absences has led to volatile rosters and thus some less than tight numbers, but that does not necessarily equate to underdogs covering at a higher rate than usual. Besides, while a 58.5 percent cover rate is high, over a week and 41 games it is basically nothing. We will continue to monitor this, but for now it is nothing worth focusing on.


Clippers’ Collapse Imminent?

This season for Los Angeles has been about treading water and dealing with adversity. Kawhi Leonard’s recovery from an ACL injury has been the biggest storyline for a team that has NBA Finals aspirations when fully healthy, but the roster has dealt with injuries and absences beyond that. Marcus Morris and Serge Ibaka missed time early in the season, and Nicolas Batum was sidelined as well. The core of Paul George, Reggie Jackson and Eric Bledsoe kept the Clippers afloat, but it seems the boat is on the verge of capsizing with the most recent injury to George. He had missed five games from Dec. 8-18 with an elbow injury, but it seemed all was right when he came back for two games before Christmas. However, the injury was more serious than thought, and now George is set to miss a month or longer with a severe UCL injury. Now the Clippers, who are 11-18 SU and 8-21 ATS since Nov. 11, will have to persevere without their best player.

George leads the team in scoring (24.7), assists (5.5) and steals (2.0) and is second in rebounds (7.1) per game. He improved Los Angeles’ net rating by 2.0 points per 100 possessions in his time on the floor, and he is one of just five Clippers with a positive efficiency differential and one of only three with a positive efficiency differential who has played at least 900 possessions. The team is 3-5 SU/2-6 ATS in the eight games without him, and that trend could continue. Los Angeles is already one of the worst offensive teams in the NBA at 106.8 points scored per 100 possessions in non-garbage time. It is no stretch to say this team will suffer now that its points and assists leader is on the shelf, and that much has been apparent in the first two games since his injury — the team put up a 105.1 offensive rating in those losses. I was on the Nets in their win over the Clippers on Monday, and that is a side I will be on regularly.

Brooklyn’s Finest

Speaking of Brooklyn, I do not know if the betting public is ready to admit that this team is doing just fine, and it’s about to get better. By beating the Clippers on Monday, the Nets improved to 6-1 SU/5-2 ATS in their last seven games, with a + 7.0 net rating, literally the team’s best stretch this season. James Harden is starting to look more comfortable and dropped 75 points in two games in Los Angeles to lead the short-handed Nets to back-to-back wins. Kevin Durant is reportedly set to return Thursday against Philadelphia after missing three games while in COVID-19 protocol, and Kyrie Irving cleared protocol as well, which will allow him to play for Brooklyn on the road. The Nets have been getting by with DeAndre’ Bembry and James Johnson playing 18 or more minutes per game, but now a highly skilled offensive player is set to return, which makes for an interesting betting opportunity.

One of the most underrated aspects of Brooklyn’s season has been its defense. Most who do not follow the league regularly would be surprised to learn the Nets are sixth in defensive efficiency, giving up just 107.2 points every 100 possessions. In fact, their opponent effective field-goal percentage of 49.3 percent leads the league, according to Cleaning The Glass. It has led to Brooklyn being a team that has played to the Under until a recent 5-1 run to the Over. With Irving back in the lineup, these games could start to look more like the ones that took place last season, when the Nets went 44-39-1 to the Over, postseason included. Irving is a subpar defender who has never improved his team’s defensive rating in his career. Last season the Nets gave up 115.3 points per 100 possessions in his time on the floor, a defensive rating that would be dead last this season by 1.1 points. When he and Harden shared the floor, that defensive rating was 116.3! However, Irving is an incredible offensive player, and in those minutes with Harden the Nets still had a + 5.0 net rating due to an offense that put up 121.3 points per 100 possessions. It leads to a potential dynamic of Brooklyn being an Over team on the road with Irving in the lineup but an Under team at home with more defensive-minded role players on the floor.

Most Improved Player

Arguably the most subjective award of them all, Most Improved Player is tough to handicap. Last season Jerami Grant was as high as -500 to win at one point, but Julius Randle came away with the hardware after a stupendous season that brought the Knicks to the playoffs. As of Tuesday, the Hornets’ Miles Bridges is the favorite to win the award at + 200 at DraftKings, but should he be? He is averaging 7.0 more points per game, but his field-goal percentage, 3-point percentage, 2-point percentage and effective field-goal percentage are all down. His base stats are better, with 1.5 more assists and 1.2 more rebounds per game, but if Grant’s loss taught us anything last season, it was that there is more than meets the eye when it comes to improvement.

For example, what about Darius Garland? He is having a tremendous season and is one of the many reasons Cleveland is in playoff contention. He is averaging only 2.1 more points, 1.2 more assists and 0.6 more rebounds per game, but his efficiency has skyrocketed. Garland has improved his 2-point percentage by 7.6 percent and his effective field-goal percentage by 4.7 percent. His points per shot attempt have jumped from 109.6 last season to an insane 120.9 this season. You might not think he deserves to be the favorite, but should he really be 16-1? The difference in implied probability of the prices is a staggering 27.4 percent, which to me is too much. Winning base stats is not enough for this award. There has to be tangible improvement, and Garland is showing that right now.


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