NBA Betting: Play New Orleans Pelicans, Fade Toronto Raptors
With a busy and hectic holiday schedule behind us, some teams are gifted a rare chance to catch their breath over this week, with teams either playing two or three games over the next five nights. It’s not much, but given how brutal these schedules have been and will get, any rest days will be mission critical to all of these clubs. Let’s take a look at one team that stands to benefit, and another who still may have it tough as some of the league gets to breathe something like a sigh of relief.
Play: New Orleans Pelicans
A well-balanced three-game week is a rare and beautiful thing for any team this season, and the Pelicans are in the middle of one here. An added bonus, New Orleans play all three games at home, and have actually been there since January 1. The team should have a chance to get into something approaching a stable routine. On Monday, the team lost a game they should have won, 118-116 in overtime against a quality Pacers team. Late-game management doomed the Pelicans in that one. Now, the team gets a couple of solid spots to close out the week. Up first, is a bounce-back opportunity against the rebuilding Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder also played on Monday, but have to travel from Miami after being blown out 118-90. The early days of the Van Gundy Era have been solid, in the main, for New Orleans. The new boss is preaching a physical, hard-nosed brand of play, one which seeks to dominate the paint, and slow things down somewhat in a high-paced league. The Pelicans have had some growing pains, but a 4-3 SU start is perfectly decent. The team is 3-4 ATS but has a positive cover margin of 1.6 in those seven games. New Orleans’ physicality is very evident on the glass so far this season. New Orleans ranks first in the NBA with a rebounding rate of 54.8%. The Thunder rank 21st at 48.5%. These two teams faced each other in late December, and the Pelicans bruising style of play was too much for the Thunder, who were out-rebounded 65-49 – and outscored 113-80. New Orleans dominated the paint and two-point area in that first encounter. Oklahoma City scored only 15 two-point field goals, and shot only 37.5% from the field. New Orleans scored 31 times from within the three-point line. Most encouragingly for the Pelicans, the team was able to dominate while only getting 12 points and 17 minutes from Zion Williamson, who should be a matchup nightmare in this spot for the Thunder. Van Gundy has been tough and honest toward his new players so far this year, and should have them plenty focused after a disappointing loss.
Then, on Friday, the Pelicans face a Hornets team that will be playing its fourth straight road game in seven nights. Charlotte faced a similarly physical 76ers team in back-to-back games, and lost both by at least 15 points, while giving up 245 points over two games. Charlotte was out-rebounded by 15 over those two matchups. Additionally, a back-to-back looms for Charlotte in this spot, as the Hornets have to fly out from New Orleans to get back home to face division rival Atlanta at home on Saturday. Both of these matchups look good for New Orleans, as the Pelicans have talent, depth, and scheduling advantages in these games. New Orleans will be reasonably-sized favorites in these games, but are certainly worthy of consideration.
Fade: Toronto Raptors
For years, the culture of continuity and competitiveness exhibited by Toronto was the envy of much of the NBA. A combination of loyalty, familiarity, and a feeling of disrespect propelled the Raptors to great heights, and even a championship when the team was able to acquire Kawhi Leonard to put them over the top. Toronto was never an easy place to come and play, and “We The North” really meant something. This was a team you couldn’t mess with. But, now, the North has been forced south, with the Raptors shacked up in Tampa due to the pandemic, and, well, nothing seems the same. The team moved on from veterans Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol, and have looked out of sorts, particularly on the offensive end (28th in offensive rating). Toronto is 1-5 SU and ATS, with a league-worst cover margin of -7.6. Typically, this would be a time to bet on a correction, to trust that the Raptors will do what they’ve done for years, and play best with their backs against the wall. But, this just doesn’t feel like other times.
After two seasons as the toast of the town, there’s cracks in the Nick Nurse regime. He’s been agitated to no end on the sidelines throughout the season, and his negative energy seems to be permeating into the players, instead of motivating them. He’s taken pot shots at his guys on multiple occasions in the press, and even chose to bench Pascal Siakam to send a message. The supposed franchise player has hardly responded, and remains mired in one of the worst stretches of his career. Multiple members of the Raptors have admitted that moving to and playing in Tampa has been very difficult, and there must be a sense of doom amongst some of them, that there’s still months and months of this bizarre and frustrating setup to endure. Toronto is 1-5, and worryingly, have only played two playoff teams from last year so far.
Things do not get much easier this week. After an embarrassing 126-114 meltdown against Boston on Monday (a game the Raptors led by as much as 13, before trailing by 21 before garbage time), Toronto has to fly clear across the country on a one-day turnaround to face a high-level opponent in the Phoenix Suns. Chris Paul’s new group will also have a rest advantage here, and will be eager to bounce back from a five-point loss to the Clippers (in Phoenix) on Sunday. The Suns, unlike the Raptors, have shown a ton of fight, even in the team’s two losses, which have come by a combined eight points. Phoenix trailed by as much as 31 against the Clippers before getting the game back to within three with a minute left. This is a brutal matchup and spot for a struggling Raptors offense. The Suns rank third in defensive rating, a number even more impressive considering that through seven games the team has faced three of the top eight offenses in the league, and last year’s best offense in the Dallas Mavericks.
While the schedule does get easier after Wednesday, with Friday and Sunday bouts at Sacramento and Golden State, it’s easy to see the wheels falling off here. The Kings have shown glimpses of real potential and will have a day off after facing the Bulls to begin a seven-game home stand. The Warriors got Draymond Green back, and promptly won two straight while Steph Curry erupted for 92 points over the two victories. Golden State will also be in the middle of a long home stand and should be settled in a way the Raptors simply will not get to be, perhaps all season.