It took nearly six weeks, but finally have some legitimate separation in the NBA, both at the top of the standings and the bottom. Four teams – the Sixers, Clippers, Lakers and Jazz – have started to break away from the other teams in their respective conferences, while three teams – the Pistons, Wizards and Wolves – have already begun bottoming out.
Naturally, in the last five days we’ve seen the Pistons beat the Lakers, the Jazz drop a game for the first time in nearly a month, and the Wizards and Wolves both beat teams that currently occupy playoff spots. The lesson, as always: in the NBA, nothing is ever guaranteed.
Let’s get to today’s games, highlighting those that feature the cream of the crop and bottom of the barrel, starting with the one that has both:
The last time the Jazz lost at home, we were chilling our champagne and waiting for the ball drop and close out the worst year in the history of years.
That New Year’s Eve loss to Phoenix dropped Utah to 0-2 at home to start the season, but since then they’ve gone 8-0 in the friendly confines of Salt Lake City. More importantly, they’ve done so in dominating fashion, sporting a plus 15.9 home net rating. The next closest team is at 11.0 in that time, and no one else is in double digits.
Unsurprisingly, the Jazz have covered all eight of these contests at home, and are coming off their first loss since January 6 – a 128-117 loss to the rival Nuggets that saw Nikola Jokic go off for 47 points.
Utah won’t have the same caliber of center to deal with in Mason Plumlee, nor do the Pistons pose quite the threat that Denver did. In contrast to the Jazz, Detroit has just one road win all season and has the fourth worst road net rating of minus 8.4. Worst yet, no team is giving up more than the 117.5 points per 100 possessions that Dwayne Casey’s squad is away from home.
This one falls squarely in the category of “the line can’t be high enough,” and looking at where it wound up, it isn’t.
The Pick: Utah -12 @ -105 (Click To Bet)
A possible Finals preview?
That depends on how much you value the thing that every NBA champion in recent memory has been able to do at least passably: defend like your job depends on it.
Since Brooklyn made the Harden trade, they’ve been defending at a rate that would be worse than the lowest in recorded history. They’ve also been scoring at what would be the highest rate of all time, but without the ability to do both, it seems like there’s a limit to how far they can go.
Case in point: the Nets most recent loss to the Wizards in which they gave up 149 points in regulation, including 48 in the final quarter. That it came against a Washington team that was starting a disinterested (to put it mildly) Bradley Beal is even more disconcerting. What happens when they play good teams that actually care for 48 minutes?
Enter the Clippers, who are 8-3 on the road this season with a positive 8.1 net rating away from home. That includes an offensive rating of 117.5 outside of LA, which is frightening from a Brooklyn perspective. Los Angeles is shooting the lights out of the ball right now, with a 41.6 3-point conversion rate that equals the 2015-16 Warriors as the best mark this century.
Unlike the Wizards though, the Clippers actually play defense. Brooklyn has put up some incredible point totals since their big three joined forces, but none have offered anything close to the defensive potential of LA.
The Pick: Los Angeles +1 @ -110 (Click To Bet)
We probably shouldn’t be that surprised that Washington upended Brooklyn despite entering that game with the fewest wins in the NBA. According to Cleaning the Glass, they have been the third unluckiest team in the NBA, with 2.2 fewer wins than their point differential indicates they should have.
They also get a break in this game, with Portland on the second end of a back to back after playing the Bucks in Milwaukee on Monday night.
Most importantly though, for the first time all season, Russell Westbrook looked like Russell Westbrook. Russ hadn’t only been bad by Russ’ standards before the Brooklyn game; he’d been just plain bad. Westbrook ended up with 41 points in that affair, which included a 4-of-7 shooting performance from deep and seven trips to the free throw line. Those are two areas that the former MVP has struggled immensely with all year long, and are positive signs for Washington’s chances to rebound this season.
With the Wizards finally close to full strength, it’s not unreasonable to think they’ll start playing like the team many predicted would compete for a top-six seed in the East. In the Trail Blazers, they get a good but inconsistent team that went into Monday just 8-10 against the spread and sporting a negative net rating despite a winning record.
This feels like the moment that Washington ramps it up. Get on the train before it leaves.
The Pick: Washington -2 @ -110 (Click To Bet)
Other NBA Games
Toronto Raptors at Orlando Magic
The Magic got dealt another body blow, losing Aaron Gordon for at least a month with a severe left ankle sprain. Toronto just beat them by 13 on Sunday night, and there’s no reason to think this goes differently.
Memphis Grizzlies at Indiana Pacers
Are the Grizzlies the most surprising team in the NBA? With the second ranked defense and the second best record against the spread heading into Monday night, they just might be. The Pacers, meanwhile, have been up and down, and are just a .500 team since they started 3-0. They’ve also failed to cover six of their last eight. This makes it seven of nine.
Boston Celtics at Golden State Warriors
Boston is still getting used to Kemba Walker being back, and is 0-4 against above-.500 teams since he returned. The Warriors qualify as that at 11-9, and are coming off a 27-point win against the Pistons. This one is close; go with Steph & Co.
NBA Expert Picks
(Click Odds To Bet)
Utah -12 @ -105
Los Angeles +1 @ -110
Washington -2 @ -110
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