The NBA returns with a full slate Thursday. To get you reacquainted, here’s a look at various trends and where I have games projected for the slate. You can also find my best bets here.
The defending champs are 5.5-point dogs to the West’s 13th seed. How does that happen? A confluence of events.
The Lakers traded for four NBA-caliber rotation players over Trade Deadline week, and while they moved out two in Russell Westbrook (yes, he is NBA-rotation-caliber still) and Patrick Beverley, that’s still a net gain. There’s been a pretty significant upgrade to the Lakers’ power rating, given that the Lakers were 5.5-point dogs in Golden State 12 days ago.
Meanwhile, there has to be a major downgrade for the Warriors based on the absence of Stephen Curry, but Curry was out in the last matchup as well. Golden State is 9-20 ATS on the road this season, including a four-game straight up and ATS losing streak.
The Lakers are 10-11 ATS with LeBron James at home this season. We’re about to find out if the upgrades the Lakers moved for will justify this kind of upgrade.
This is a steep number, predictably. San Antonio grades out as the worst team in my power ratings, and I make this number Mavs -16.
The problem is that Dallas has underperformed its expected performance all season. The Mavs are 8-16-2 ATS as a home favorite this season. Can Kyrie Irving alone upgrade the Mavericks to meet the market? On December 31, the Mavericks were 7.5-point favorites vs. the Spurs in San Antonio. They won by one.
It should be noted that teams below .300 facing teams with a win percentage above 50% cover at a higher rate after the All-Star Break than before. The market gets sharper, and while certain teams like San Antonio are looking toward the draft, the number still accounts for it.
It’s hard to find an edge betting against teams prioritizing draft positioning.
Sacramento isn’t great with the wind at its back. The Kings are just 9-12-1 ATS as home favorites this season. They’ve also been slowly cooling off; they’ve failed to cover as a home favorite in four of their last five.
Portland has the league’s best offense over the last 15 games. Their defense is poor, but Damian Lillard is playing MVP-level basketball. Portland is 11-10 ATS as a road dog.
Don’t get wrapped up in the total; the Blazers offense is running hot, but they’ve also had trouble with hitting the over. The Kings tend to hit the over on their team total at home; however, the Blazers on the road have allowed their opponent to go over on the team total the fourth-fewest number of games this season.
There will be points, but stay away from games like this that look obvious on the surface for the over with a number near 240.
Indiana will be very interesting to watch in this one. The Pacers looked like a lock for a play-in spot if not a playoff spot outright. Then Tyrese Haliburton went down, and they fell off understandably. But when he returned, the Pacers went 2-7 straight up, 5-4 ATS.
Can they hang within the number against a Celtics team that looks to be back to full strength, finally?
Or are the Pacers set to shift toward focusing on the draft?
Based on full-season numbers, adjusting for Haliburton’s absence, I have this Celtics -3. That’s a big differential, but I’m not willing to trust it; the Celtics getting Marcus Smart back matters, the Pacers’ recent stretch is concerning, and Boston’s depth should do damage against Indy’s second unit.
This is a best bet for me. The Grizzlies have been dynamite against the Eastern Conference on the road, but it’s been mostly the lower rungs. Against top teams, they struggle on the road; the Grizzlies are 25th in halfcourt offense and just can’t sustain their scoring without the home crowd behind them.
The problem is that the 76ers struggle with transition defense, especially when James Harden plays because of his high turnover rate.
However, I think the Sixers are slightly underrated in the market based on where their win total is (I have them projected for 51 wins) and this line. I project this at 76ers -5.
It turns out you can actually trust favorites in matchups of bad teams after the All-Star Break. I would have thought it would be random with all the draft positioning that goes on.
But home favorites after the All-Star Break since 2017 between teams under .500 are 67% straight up and 54% ATS.
The Magic are poor as home favorites, 2-4 this season. Detroit is dead even at 14-14-2 as a road dog.
You’ll want to skip most of these games, but Orlando is aiming to build for next year and get within range of the play-in. That said, I have this exactly at Magic -6.5.
The Thunder are the best team against the spread this season. They were the best team against the spread last season. There’s just something about the Thunder that makes them competitive against the number. They’re extremely well-coached, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is pure lightning, and the market always overlooks them.
There’s an expectation that the Jazz will shift to draft positioning after the trades of Mike Conley, Malik Beasley and Jared Vanderbilt. Utah covered three of their last four before the break.
I’m not ready to say Utah will fall apart and start resting veteran players. There’s still talent here, especially Lauri Markkanen, first-time All-Star.
But the Thunder are still very much vying for a play-in spot. This game matters for those efforts.
This is a lot of respect for a Raptors team that’s been healthier than the Pelicans all year with a worse record.
Toronto continues to get the benefit of the doubt from oddsmakers, but the Raptors are also 14-11 as home favorites this season. The Pelicans have just not been able to play consistent basketball without Zion Williamson. Trying to figure out where they should be rated is difficult right now.
New Orleans is 6-12 ATS as a road dog this season.
This is a low total that gives Toronto’s defense more credit than it deserves. You can read more about that in my best bets write-up.
Denver might be the best team in the league. They are top-six in offense and defense since December 8, nearly two full months of basketball at an elite level on both ends.
But Denver is not the best team in the league on the road. Like the Warriors and Grizzlies, they struggle on the road. Their overall record is 12-16 ATS and 7-5 ATS as a road dog.
I like the Cavs in this spot for the matchup and with Aaron Gordon questionable. But the more interesting thing here is how the market seems to be very sharp in terms of how Denver performs on the road.
The Cavaliers have been the best team in terms of Net Rating over the last 15 games. Don’t be fooled; there’s an elite team under the hood of a team looming in fourth in the East.