Tips for Betting Tonight’s Three NBA Games
The NBA season is in full-swing and there have been the usual array of surprises and disappointments that come with the beginning to any season. Let’s take a look at Thursday’s three-game card and try to start to make sense of what we’ve seen so far.
Miami Heat at Atlanta Hawks (+6.5)
Thursday’s first matchup is the return leg of a home-and-home series between these two Southeastern Division rivals. On Tuesday, the Heat defeated the Hawks 112-97 in a game that representing something of a coming-down-to-earth for a young Atlanta team that was one of the league’s most pleasant surprises through the first week of the year. Most troubling was a frightening ankle injury suffered by Eastern Conference Player of the Week Trae Young. Coming into Tuesday, Young had displayed a more polished version of the game he flashed during a very good rookie campaign. In victories against Detroit and Orlando, and a well-contested two-point home loss to Eastern Conference favorite Philadelphia, Young was nothing short of masterful. He averaged 34 points, 9 assists, and 6 rebounds. He shot 51% from the field and 52% from three. He showed complete control in the pick-and-roll game, and an astonishing ability to get to the rim, earning 26 free throw attempts over this span. Early in the second quarter against Miami, Young rolled his ankle and missed the rest of the game. The good news is that there does not appear to be any serious damage, and he’s listed as day-to-day. He will, however, miss Thursday’s game against Miami, and that will serious hurt the Hawks’ chances.
Beyond Trae Young, this is a difficult matchup for Atlanta. After all, despite the early positives, this is still a markedly youthful group, and they struggled against Miami’s savvy veterans. Jimmy Butler was efficient and effective in his debut, and both he and Goran Dragic scored 21 points. Despite a bad shooting night from the much-improved Justise Winslow, the Heat supplemented the work of their vets with great efforts from young stars Bam Adebayo, and Tyler Herro, who went off for 29 points. Atlanta rookies Cam Reddish and DeAndre Hunter had terrible games, combining to go -27+/-. The offense still cobbled together 97 points, not too far away from the 103 they put up in their previous two games. This is a brutal spot for the Hawks however, who will have to contend with a well-rounded Heat team led by quality head coach Erik Spoelstra. They’ve just had a three-quarter look at what the Hawks can do without Trae at the helm, and they could find it even more difficult to approach 100 points on Halloween.
Denver Nuggets at New Orleans Pelicans (+4)
After a summer that constituted something of a dream rebuild in the Big Easy, reality has set in over the first four games of the Pelicans’ season. Their disappointing winless start has much to do with the fact that they’ve been hit harder by injuries than any other NBA team. They lost hyped rookie Zion Williamson before the season even began. Then, the hits kept coming, first with Jrue Holiday suffering a knee injury, then losing defensive anchor Derrick Favors also to knee problem. Both players are considered game-time decisions for tonight’s game against the Nuggets, but their absence has made things difficult so far.
There are positives to draw on, however. First among those has been the play of Brandon Ingram. The former #2 overall draft pick has taken advantage of the substantial increase in touches afforded him by the injuries to key players. Even when New Orleans gets healthy, if he can continue his level of play, he will be a front runner for the league’s Most Improved Player Award. That said, his outsized role does not yet help the Pelicans win basketball games. He projects as a top-line secondary scorer in this offense, and the trickle down effect of the injuries has forced role players like Josh Hart to take on more responsibility. While Hart can be happy with his performance, the overall impact has been to take the air out of New Orleans’ preseason optimism. Keep a keen eye on Holiday and Favors, though, because the pieces are there, even without Zion, for the Pelicans to play some quality basketball. Their rough start may create some value opportunities in the near future. Tonight, it’s probably best to avoid them.
Preaching caution about the Pelicans’ chances tonight has as much to do with their opponent than it does the fact that they may be short handed. The Denver Nuggets have continued where they left off last season, when they registered the franchise’s first 50-win season since 2012-13. A quality road win to open the season at Portland had an element of revenge to it, as the Blazers defeated the Nuggets in the playoffs last year. They opened their home slate with an overtime win against the surprising Phoenix Suns, despite a woeful shooting night.They then eased past the Kings before suffering a home upset at the hands of the improved Dallas Mavericks. If anything, confidence in the Nuggets comes from their high level of continuity, and the fact that despite a 3-1 record, they haven’t actually played all that well. On offense in particular, it’s been a bit of a slow start. Their offensive rating of 106.5 ranks them 13th in the NBA, down from their season number of 112.1 last year. Nikola Jokic doesn’t exactly look in top shape and is easing into the grind. His scoring average of 15.5 ppg and FG% of 43.6% will certainly improve. A game against a stretched New Orleans roster could be just the ticket for an offensive masterclass the likes of which Jokic put on so often last season. Even if it takes him longer to really get going, the Nuggets clearly have another gear, and bettors would do well to consider them as we get into November.
San Antonio Spurs at Los Angeles Clippers (-5)
Gregg Popovich‘ s 3-0 San Antonio Spurs face their biggest test of the season, as they travel to Los Angeles to face their former franchise player Kawhi Leonard. Unsurprisingly, the Spurs have started the year well-prepared, and executing efficiently. They’ve shot well from the floor (48.2%, 2nd in the NBA) and averaged 119 ppg and still there’s signs that they can improve. They’ve started poorly from both three-point range (33.8%) and have been average from the free-throw line (78.8%). These were two areas where the Spurs led the league last season (marks of 39.2% and 81.1%) so there doesn’t appear to be anything particularly lucky about the way the Spurs have begun the year. They can probably thank their schedule, however, for being undefeated. They faced a bad Knicks team at home to open the season, and then needed a late shot from star DeMar DeRozan to fend off the Wizards, before having to claw back from a 22-point half-time deficit against a Blazers team on a back-to-back. They may actually be in line for even more good fortune tonight in L.A., as the Clippers will themselves be on their first back-to-back of the season. But, it’s not all horseshoes for the Spurs, as MVP-candidate Kawhi Leonard sat out Wednesday’s game in Utah, and is preparing to suit up against his old club. That said, the Spurs will still have a significant rest advantage, having not played since Monday night. In games with a rest advantage over their opponent last season, the Spurs went a solid 14-5 ATS, with an impressive cover margin of 6.0 points. Indeed, since 2003, San Antonio are the third-best team ATS when coming into a game with more rest than their opponent. Typically, a sample size that large is pointless, but the constant here is Gregg Popovich. He’s simply the best coach in the league, and given more time to game-plan, along with a fresher group of players, the Spurs will always have a leg up, no matter who they’re playing. The top team in that ATS spot since 2003 is the Denver Nuggets, and their success can be attributed more to the difficulty of playing at altitude than the sort of coaching and organizational advantages afforded San Antonio.