With the NBA still feeling the aftershocks of the James Harden trade and the postponement of games seemingly every day, it’s hard to get a handle on which teams are trending upwards, trending downwards, and just plain stuck in limbo. In this season above all others, getting a grip on the trends that actually matter is as important as ever, and we’ll try to do exactly that in a closer look at Saturday’s slate
The Magic are still living off the fumes of being the last undefeated team in the NBA and not yet falling below .500. As a result, the lines for their games haven’t reflected the reality of how they’ve been playing. That reality isn’t so pretty for Magic fans, as heading into their Friday game against Boston, Orlando was:
- The only team in the East’s top seven that doesn’t have a positive point differential, instead sporting a minus 4.2
- The 4th worst team in the league by net rating over the last two weeks
- Winless in its last seven games against anyone that isn’t the Cavs, who they beat twice, which isn’t terribly impressive considering Cleveland is the worst team by net rating over the last 14 days.
And what happened on Friday? The Magic got blown out by a short-handed Celtics squad, 124-97. They are playing as poorly as anyone in the league.
The Nets, meanwhile, may not have Harden for this game, but they showed against New York on Wednesday night that Kevin Durant plus a bunch of hardworking scrubs is enough (Joe Harris still being one of the most lethal shooters in the NBA doesn’t hurt either).
Even if this line changes with Harden getting into uniform, Orlando is playing too poorly to take right now.
The Pick: Nets -9.5 @ -105
After the Washington Wizards and Atlanta Hawks, no team in the NBA this season has been unluckier than the Toronto Raptors.
According to the expected win differential metric on Cleaning the Glass, which measures what a team’s record should be versus what it is based on point differential, the Raptors have the statistical profile of a 5-6 tam, not a 3-8 one.
As it is, despite their less than fortuitous beginning, Toronto has started to right the ship, winning two of their last four after starting out 1-6. They’ve also just returned home (well, “home” for this year, as they’re still playing in Tampa, something that no doubt took some time getting used to) following a four-game west coast swing. The two most recent losses they’ve had have both been by a single point, so it appear that things are looking up.
They’re also getting the Hornets at perhaps the perfect time. Charlotte was starting to get on a bit of a roll, but then Gordon Hayward missed the last game with a hip issue, and his status for Saturday is unclear.
That game came against these same Raptors, and although the final score was close – just three points – Toronto was in control for most of the game despite a 12-for-35 combined shooting performance from Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam. We’ve repeatedly seen superior teams sweep two-game sets throughout this odd season, and this one will be no exception, except it won’t be as tight as the first contest.
The Pick: Raptors -7 @ -108
Speaking of two-game series, Houston and San Antonio are teeing off the second half of one here, with the shorthanded Rockets coming off a 109-105 win against the Spurs.
How shorthanded were they? Aside from missing their MVP who now calls Brooklyn his home, Houston was without John Wall (left knee soreness) and Victor Oladipo, who the Rockets ended up with in the Harden trade.
It’s unclear whether those players will be there for this one, but the Rockets are still out to prove that they will be better without the Beard than with him. The Spurs have been solid all year long, with a 6-6 record with a slightly negative point differential, but they give up a greater frequency of shots at the rim than any team in the league and Houston is third in frequency of shots attempted at the rim. In short, it’s a bad matchup. With momentum on their side, the Rockets are the choice
The Pick: Rockets +6.5 @ -104
Other NBA Games
Detroit at Miami
The Heat will finally be getting a majority of their starters back from health and safety protocols, and the Pistons are the worst team in the league. Don’t overthink it.
Philadelphia at Memphis
The Sixers are still undefeated with Ben and Joel in the lineup. Even if Ja Morant plays, Philly’s defense will make his return to action unpleasant.
Atlanta at Portland
Atlanta has struggled getting wins of late, but they’ve had a top-five defense over the last two weeks. Portland is coming off a shellacking at the hands of the Pacers. This one should be close; take the points.
NBA Expert Picks
Nets -9.5 @ -105
Raptors -7 @ -108
Rockets +6.5 @ -104
NBA Free Picks
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