Friday marked the one-month mark for the NBA season. Some results have been predictable – the Lakers, Clippers, Bucks and Celtics at or near the top of the standings, the Pistons and Wolves being at the bottom – but other elements have come as more of a surprise. Whe expected the Nets and Knicks to be in the same vicinity of the Eastern Conference standings, or the Nuggets and Thunder occupying the same general real estate out West? At this point, we’re getting close to “you are what your record says you are” territory. The question is whether Vegas starts to agree. On that notes, let’s take a closer look at some of Saturdays games that feature matchups featuring one or more of the league’s surprise teams.
Find odds for every single game on today's slate HERE. We compare the odds from all the legal books so you find the best odds for every single one of your bets.
Even after the Pelicans traded Jrue Holiday to Milwaukee for Eric Bledsoe and a bounty of picks, most observers had the Pelicans winding up in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race before all was said and done.
And they may still get there. After all, more than three quarters of the season has yet to be played and New Orleans is only two games out of the 10th seed with a record of 5-9. But they have the seventh worst net rating in the league, the third worst over the last two weeks, and their supposedly vaunted offense is scoring at a below league-average rate.
A large part of the hope surrounding their presumed rise had to do with a full season from Zion Williamson, but only if he could stay on the court. On the bright side, he’s played all but one game. On the downside, the Pelicans’ trump card from last season has been a net negative when he’s played. Specifically, New Orleans is hemorrhaging points when Zion is on the court, giving up 6.1 more points per 100 possessions when he plays than when he doesn’t. For a borderline bottom-five defense, that’s a problem.
Thankfully, the Pels receive a get well game here against the Timberwolves, owners of the second worst net rating and record in the NBA. Minnesota got throttled by the Hawks last night two days after losing a last-second heartbreaker to the Magic. New Orleans hasn’t been playing well enough to be getting points against almost anyone, but the Wolves are the exception to that rule, especially with Karl-Anthony Towns still sidelined.
If you’d made your short list of contenders before the season started, you’d have put both LA teams, the Bucks, maybe the Nets, and then probably the Nuggets to round out the top five.
That’s what happens when you make it to the conference finals and sport one genuine MV candidate and another young player who looked like he was ready to make the leap to perennial All-Star.
Well so far, Nikola Jokic has held up his end of the bargain, averaging a triple double and is poised to become the first center since Wilt to lead the league in assists. Unfortunately, Jamal Murray has fallen short, failing to carry over his hot shooting from the bubble, hitting below 35 percent from three.
His latest cold spell came against these very Suns, who the Nuggets defeated on Friday night despite Murray going 0-for-5 from downtown. Still, Denver not only got the victory, but got Michale Porter Jr back, who was clearly rusty in going 3-for-7 in just 20 minutes.
Porter should be better tonight, and the Nuggets should follow the trend of this early season, which is the same team being able to take both parts of a two-game series.
Houston Rockets at Dallas Mavericks
Both of these teams have been surprising, albeit in very different ways.
The Rockets just traded away their longtime franchise star, and yet have played their best basketball since the move despite not having John Wall for any of the five games since the Harden deal. Houston is 2-3 in that stretch, but they’ve been close in every loss and have a minus 2.3 net rating – not great, but more than respectable. They have played hard since the Beard left town.
For Dallas, the surprise isn’t their record – they’re right around .500, which is what you might have guessed with Kristaps Porzingis sidelined in the early going – but their historically proficient offense from last season has produced at a below-league average rate.
Luka is doing Luka stuff for the most part, but his shooting is still off, and he’s hit just 28 percent of his 3-pointers. Will it be enough against an undermanned Houston squad, also missing Christian Wood, arguably their best player this year?
It could come down to what happens in close range. Only one team in the NBA takes a greater percentage of their shots in the restricted area, and only three teams allow a higher conversion rate to opponents around the rim than Dallas. With the points, this is an easy decision.
The Pick: Houston +10
Philadelphia at Detroit
The Sixers keep rolling, pulling away from Boston late on Friday night, while the Pistons came out and went down 20 to the Rockets by the early second quarter in a game they eventually lost. This line couldn’t be high enough.
Miami at Brooklyn
Not sure what to make of Brooklyn right now. Not sure Brooklyn knows what to make of Brooklyn right now. They’re the most uncertain team in the league, and whether they can defend or rebound enough to beat anyone, let alone a team of Miami’s caliber, is an uncertainty. Make them prove it.
Golden State at Utah
No one in the NBA is playing better than the Jazz right now. Stay on them until they fall off (which won’t be tonight).
Los Angeles Lakers at Chicago
The Bulls have the best record against the spread this year at 11-4. They’re home and riding a 3-game winning streak. Take the points.