With the NBA season just in full-on weirdness mode now, I had to bring the blog back to get involved. I’m just enjoying basketball so much right now, and across the NBA there are so many fun teams and storylines I can’t keep them all straight. So, let’s take a look at tonight’s games and see what we can tease out, eh?
Boston (200 o/u) @ Orlando (-2)
These are two teams that are, as constructed, fairly terrible. They also have weird fluctuations in level of play, however, and both teams are bizarrely fun on offense despite having no elite scoring options (Sorry, Tobias Harris and Jeff Green). Orlando has a significant edge defensively, especially as Boston still figures out how to integrate their new guys.
I’m still fascinated to see how Boston’s offense functions for the rest of the season without Rondo. His value was so hard to gauge within this team and in the context of Brad Stevens’ offensive system, and all we can do is measure how effective Marcus Smart and Evan Turner are in filling the additional roles now given to them. We will learn a lot over the next few months about the pieces the Celtics have in place.
Pick: Orlando -2
Chicago (197.5 o/u) @ Washington (-3)
Chicago beat the Raptors in a very high scoring affair last night, 129-120, and now have the chance to make a statement two nights in a row against fellow East elite teams. Last night’s win was a good one, but I think that the Wizards are still a better team than the Raptors without DeRozan are. The Wizards are great at home, but the Bulls are also very good on the road – specifically defensively, per NBA.com/stats.
The back-to-back thing for a team like Chicago is an issue, though. Thibs rested some of his guys more than usual last night, but played Jimmy Butler to the bone as usual. That doesn’t bode well for Chicago – he has been their best all-around player this season, if you can believe it – against a dynamic team like Washington with multiple points of attack and a solid defense.
Pick: Washington -3 & Under 197.5
New Orleans (-1) @ Indiana (193.5 o/u)
This line strikes me as immensely stupid – New Orleans is heads and shoulders better than Indiana, even on the road. I don’t know, I don’t get it.
The Pacers have surprised so far with their competency (especially on offense) but sometimes context is everything. These guys play in what might be one of the worst NBA conferences ever, and they play that type of opponent most nights. They are a halfway decent basketball team, while the Pelicans are a slightly more than decent basketball team. What’s more, Indiana lacks the offensive personnel to attack the Pelicans biggest weakness: their porous defense.
Pick: New Orleans -1
Minnesota (208.5 o/u) @ Cleveland (-13.5)
Minnesota is free-falling towards overall league-worst status in terms of recent play, on pace with both the Knicks and 76ers. A match-up with a Cavaliers team that just seems to be hitting their stride is not what they need right now.
Minnesota was always going to be bad – they were counting on Ricky Rubio, Thaddeus Young, Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic to provide veteran leadership and be their core this season, which is crazy. The fact that they’ve been missing most of that quartet for the whole season hasn’t helped matters, even if it does make them more intriguing from a basketball development standpoint.
Cleveland is not going to be the juggernaut I predicted any time this season – that much is clear now. They still have a good basketball team, but Dave Blatt hasn’t figured out how to most effectively use his weapons and cover up for the roster’s weaknesses. That could come with time, or it could come with a different coach some day. It also has to do with the players learning from each other’s habits and skillsets.
Either way, these are two teams headed in very different directions. Cleveland should still contend for the Eastern Conference this year, while Minnesota will likely continue to get worse before they get any better.
Pick: Cleveland -13.5 & Over 208.5
Denver (199 o/u) @ Brooklyn (-2)
Last year I was extremely pessimistic about Denver and extremely optimistic about Brooklyn. I ended up being roughly 75% correct, as Brooklyn made the second round of the playoffs (but not in the way I even remotely expected) and Denver floundered badly due to injuries and Bryan Shaw’s coaching being incongruent with his personnel – an issue still facing the Nuggets today.
This season, my expectations flipped. While I didn’t pick the Nuggets to make the playoffs, I did say they should be a ~.500 basketball team – an accomplishment of significant merit in the West. And while I picked Brooklyn to make the East Playoffs, I had them sneaking in as the 8-seed – and only because they would want a playoff spot more in theory than a team like Orlando, Milwaukee or Indiana would.
I’m following my own advice here and taking Denver on the road as underdogs against a Brooklyn team that has not impressed me even once this season.
Pick: Denver +2
Philadelphia (191 o/u) @ Miami (-8)
Dwyane Wade is questionable and Chris Bosh is out for Miami, making this team a hodge-podge of veteran forwards and young guards without a clear alpha dog or defined roles for just about anyone. The good news for the Heat is that Erik Spoelstra is a strong enough coach to handle that kind of a roster implosion. The Heat’s offense works with varied personnel because the basic principles always stay the same: great spacing and quick ball movement.
Philadelphia has emerged as an actual NBA team in December, with Michael Carter-Williams, K.J. McDaniels and Robert Covington leading the way. Their defense has bordered on “pretty good” since Thanksgiving; a major feat for this roster.
I would have to take the under here if I’m going to take anything, but even that doesn’t feel great. Philly at +8 is tempting, but Miami with Dwyane Wade should blow that away.
Pick: Under 191
L.A. Clippers (207 o/u) @ Atlanta (-1.5)
This is my game of the night for sure. Both these teams played tough games last night, with the Clippers falling 125-118 to the Spurs and the Hawks holding on to beat Dallas 105-102 on the road.
The Hawks are on a crazy-hot run right now, having won 13 of their last 14 games and 4 in a row against Chicago, Cleveland, Houston and Dallas – a murderer’s row of opponents. They get another elite team tonight with the Clips.
It’s hard to pick against Atlanta the way they’ve been playing lately, and it’s hard to predict how either team with play coming off these back-to-backs and having traveled late last night. I’m going to take the Clippers as my pick because I think a regression for the Hawks at some point is likely, and why not tonight against an opponent that can actually force mistakes. For what’s worth, I think this game will actually tell us more about the Clippers, though – this is the kind of game this team is supposed to win.
Pick: Clippers +1.5
Portland (199.5 o/u) @ Oklahoma City (-6)
So no Kevin Durant for Oklahoma City, and LaMarcus Aldridge could very well miss his 2nd straight game for the Blazers. I’m still all-in on this game as a match-up between Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook, two psycho-competitive guards with flawed but interesting supporting casts around them.
I’m not sure I’m buying this line for OKC here without Durant, though. Portland no-showed last night, and it’s hard to imagine a team of this caliber doing that again. OKC isn’t on a back-to-back and Portland is, but I don’t hate the Blazers lineup without Aldridge – Lillard, Wes Matthews and Nic Batum are all very good players, and their bench is solid enough to give me pause on betting against them at -6.
Pick: Portland +6
Charlotte (197.5 o/u) @ Milwaukee (-5.5)
Charlotte has played drastically better in December than they did previously, and are starting to look like a likely contender for the 7/8 seed in the East. They have three convincing wins in a row, albeit against depleted and below-average opponents in Philadelphia, Denver and Utah.
Milwaukee is just recently back from a brutal Western Conference road trip that saw them play Phoenix, Portland and the LA Clippers tough while beating Sacramento and the LA Clippers in a second game played in Milwaukee over that same stretch. The Jabari Parker injury hasn’t really caught up to them yet, and I don’t really know how or why they’ve been as good as they’ve been. I felt the same way with how badly Charlotte played in the first month this season – there just isn’t much rhyme or reason to it.
For that reason, I like Charlotte at this line. They should be better than the evidence has suggested, while Milwaukee should be at least slightly worse. I’ll take what my expected outcome pre-season would have been.
Pick: Charlotte +5.5
Dallas (214.5 o/u) @ Phoenix (-1.5)
Dallas is coming off a tough loss to Atlanta at home last night, while Phoenix comes in with a day of rest after beating the Wizards in Washington on Sunday. It’s the Suns first game back after a week long, three-game road trip that got them three Eastern Conference wins.
The Mavericks continue the experiment of integrating Rajon Rondo to their lineup tonight, which is fun for every basketball fan out there. Phoenix won by 12 in their only meeting so far this season in Dallas behind a monster game from Goran Dragic.
I like Dallas here, as Phoenix really isn’t at too much of a home court advantage having just come home off a road trip. Dallas is on a back-to-back, but they can’t afford to drop back-to-back games if they want to contend at the level they’re hoping for. I bet they take this one tonight. If anything, I see it as a toss up, and I’ll take the side getting the points.
Pick: Dallas +1.5
Golden State (-8.5) @ L.A. Lakers (215.5 o/u)
I mean, what can you say here, really?
Pick: Golden State -8.5