Happy New Year! The NBA season started less than 10 days ago and already it feels like an eternity. Some teams that got out to hot starts are already coming back down to earth, while others may still be rising (even if Vegas doesn’t recognize it yet). Let’s take a look at a few key games featuring teams that fit into one of these two categories.
The Cavs and Pacers enter this game with the same record, roughly the same point differential (+7.8 for Cleveland, +7.3 for Indiana), and both are coming off defeats at home in which they were favored.
That’s where the similarities end though. Cleveland was getting by in large part thanks to its hot 3-point shooting, which was first in the league before Tuesday’s game. After going 7-for-32 versus New York, they’ve dropped from first to eighth, and their top-ten offense now sits on the edge of the top-20. Life comes at you fast.
It’s about to speed up even more against an Indiana team that has been hitting on all cylinders. Their loss to Boston was a tough one, with the Celtics making up a 17-point third quarter deficit behind an All-NBA performance from Jayson Tatum. On the bright side for the Pacers is that Victor Oladipo, fresh off a DNP due to rest, looked like the All-NBA version of himself as well. In three games, he’s averaging 22 points on 61/56/83 shooting splits. Contract Year Dipo has officially been activated.
Seven and a half points is a lot, but the Cavs’ offense is driven by its backcourt, and Malcolm Brogdon and Oladipo should be able to offer a healthy bit of resistance. Kevin Love, meanwhile, remains out for Cleveland, along with promising rookie Isaac Okoro.
The Pick: Indiana -7.5
If someone had told you before the season that this game would feature one of the four remaining winless teams in the league, you probably wouldn’t have been very surprised.
That it’s the Raptors is more than a bit of a shock though. Toronto, playing its home games in Tampa Bay, is arguably the steadiest organization in the NBA. It’s why they’ve hit the over on their preseason odds in every one of the last nine seasons.
Luckily, they may be walking into the perfect matchup. New York, which sports a top-ten defense after surprising wins against Milwaukee and Cleveland, has given up the second highest percentage of wide open 3-pointers in the league. Thankfully for them, teams have gotten cold at the right time.
Toronto, meanwhile, has attempted the highest frequency of wide open threes, and they’ve made those wide open looks at a borderline top ten rate. The Knicks only played the Raptors on the road once last season, but Toronto feasted from deep in that one, attempting 41 shots from long range in a game that was over by the end of the first quarter.
New York has gotten a significant coaching upgrade, but the numbers say they still have some kinks to work out, and they’re facing a desperate team.
The Pick: Raptors -9
Another matchup between an early season surprise and winless team that – for the moment at least – is supposed to be a playoff shoe in.
If you just looked at the Kings barely positive net rating, you’d be tempted to say that the 3-1 start feels a little like fool’s gold. Digging deeper though, Sacramento has faced off twice each against Denver and Phoenix, two teams who most everyone pegged as playoff locks before the season. The Kings have looked the part in every game, and rookie Tyrese Halliburton has made an impact as perhaps the early front runner for Rookie of the Year.
The Rockets, well…what can you say about the Rockets? James Harden came directly from his cross-country tour of the nation’s convents into the Rockets lineup and has scored 78 points on 37 shots through two games. He has not skipped a beat. Free Agent signee Christian Wood has also been outstanding.
Best of all, both John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins are set to make their season debuts after sitting out the first two games due to COVID protocols. How quickly they can integrate themselves into the lineup will be key against a team that is clearly gelling and feeling good about where it’s at. Here’s betting this one is close, one way or another.
The Pick: Sacramento +5.5
Other NBA Games
Chicago Bulls (1-3, +5.5) at Washington Wizards (0-4, -5.5)
At some point the Wizards have to win a game, right? They just lost to these Bulls at home, and it’s tough to imagine back to back losses against a middling Chicago team to drop to 0-5. Give the points.
Philadelphia 76ers (3-1, -3) at Orlando Magic (4-0, +3)
The disrespect is palpable as the NBA’s lone unbeaten team is a home dog. Steve Clifford has his team humming with the fourth ranked offense in the league. Go with Orlando.
New Orleans Pelicans (2-1, -5.5) at Oklahoma City Thunder (1-2, +5.5)
The Thunder have been in every game, but still don’t seem to be getting any respect as the West’s lone tanking team (on paper at least). You’d like this line to be a few points higher though. It’s a stay away, but take OKC if you must.
Phoenix Suns (3-1, +3.5) at Utah Jazz (2-1, -3.5)
The game of the night feels like one that will come down to the end. Another one that seems dangerous either way, but it’s rarely wise to bet against Chris Paul.
NBA Expert Picks
Indiana -7.5 @ -107
Raptors -9 @ -108
Sacramento +5.5 @ -110
NBA Free Picks
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