The dogs are barking, road teams are winning and games are flying over the total once again! It was a fantastic week in the Association with plenty to discuss. This week we examine the betting market’s refusal to respect the Cavaliers, a massive flaw with the Timberwolves and the Jazz’s status as a forgotten Western Conference contender.
Favorites: 14-33 ATS (Season: 183-172-2 ATS)
Total O/U: 27-20-1 (Season: 162-193-6)
Home-court Advantage: + 2
The biggest shock this week is the home-court advantage dropping a point despite Memphis’ NBA-record 73-point victory at home Thursday night. Road teams had a very strong week with some lopsided results mixed in, which takes us where we are today. I figured we would see home-court edge come back a bit, as three points is a lot in today’s NBA, and sure enough it did. I would suspect we will not reach three again. Home courts are more hostile with fans back in the stands, and it makes sense it would have a strong start to the season after a season of empty arenas, but players are getting back into the swing.
From a side and totals standpoint, we have some pretty surprising developments. Underdogs are on a very good run over the last two weeks, posting a 33-14 record over the last seven days and a 59-38 ATS mark since the previous week. That coincides with last week’s push from road teams, so it makes some sense. The betting market had valued home court highly, as it should have, but with regression comes lopsided results, and we are seeing that with underdogs lately. Speaking of regression, what did we say about these totals? Chalk up another winning week for Overs, making it 58-40-1 to the Over for the last two weeks. That gap has closed dramatically, as Unders are hitting at just a 54.4 percent clip now. Water always finds its level, folks.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
Cavaliers’ Spread Dominance
The betting market is notoriously slow at times to adjust its power rating of certain teams. One of the best examples I can remember is from the 2017-18 season. The Celtics had lost Kyrie Irving to injury, and the betting market turned on them immediately. Boston was stuck with a young core of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier for the rest of the season, and the market had no respect for them whatsoever. Well, the market was wrong. Boston ended the regular season 9-5-1 ATS and then went 11-3 ATS in the first 14 games of the postseason before falling to Cleveland in the Eastern Conference finals. That is a combined 20-8-1 ATS in 29 games after losing Irving. It was a well I went to regularly but not enough, and I wish I had come to this well in Cleveland more often this season.
After covering an 8.5-point spread in Milwaukee on Monday night, the Cavaliers improved to 8-0 ATS in their last eight games and 18-5-2 ATS (78.3 percent) on the season. That is the best cover rate in the league ahead of Golden State (18-6 ATS, 75.0 percent). For some reason, the market refuses to see Cleveland as a legitimate team and continues to power rate it as a bottom-dweller. The Cavaliers are an elite defensive team, ranking fourth in efficiency (105.9), and their net rating (+ 1.5) is 13th in the league. However, this team has closed as a favorite just twice all season! Until the betting market gives the Cavs the respect they deserve, bettors should continue to support Cleveland at the window, as this is literally the most underrated team in the league.
Timberwolves’ Troubling Trend
My dark-horse candidate to steal a playoff seed in the Western Conference, the Timberwolves were making me feel smart at the end of November. Minnesota went into December on an 8-3 SU and ATS run in which it had outscored opponents by 8.3 points every 100 possessions. The surprising aspect of this run, and the entire season for the Timberwolves, has been the level of play defensively. Over those 11 games, Minnesota allowed just 103.6 points per 100 possessions in non-garbage time, and on the season they are eighth in defensive efficiency (106.7). The Timberwolves did not project to be an elite defensive team, and right now they are, but could something under the surface upend them?
In the three games they have played in December, Minnesota is 0-3 SU/1-2 ATS and allowing 115.4 points per 100 possessions in non-garbage time. Opponents have hit 40.6 percent of their attempts from deep over that three-game stretch, and that might not just be an aberration for a statistically elite perimeter defense. Yes, the Timberwolves are second in opponent shooting at 33.3 percent allowed, but like the Knicks of last season, some underlying numbers are troubling. Minnesota is allowing the seventh-highest rate of wide-open 3-point attempts this season, and over those three games opponents have hit 49.0 percent of those attempts. Allowing a regular rate of wide-open looks is not the calling card of an elite perimeter defense, and I would suspect the lull we have seen from the Timberwolves defensively this month will persist.
At this point, the Western Conference seems relatively weak. Golden State and Phoenix are the clear favorites to come out of the conference, and the teams seeded fourth and lower are a mishmash of similarly flawed teams that do not seem to have a real chance to compete for a title. Alone in third is Utah, a team that is power-rated very highly by the betting market. The Jazz have played 23 games, closing as favorites in 21 of those contests while laying an average of 9.1 points per game! As a favorite Utah is 11-10 ATS, which is a break-even rate for -110 bettors, making it clear there is little value in betting on this team.
The Jazz are still part of the statistically elite, ranking first in offensive efficiency (118.2), second in net rating (+ 11.1) and ninth in defense (107.1). Those figures are why this team is rated so highly. In fact, by Cleaning The Glass’ win-differential metric, Utah should have 2.4 more wins given its profile. However, the Jazz are the fourth choice to win the Western Conference at DraftKings (+ 450) and 12-1 to win the NBA Finals this season. Why is that? I am guilty of falling into the trap of not considering Utah when talking about Western Conference contenders, but it’s clear I am wrong. Viewing things from an ATS standpoint has clouded my judgment. The Jazz are an elite team in the West, and bettors should consider them as such.