We’ve got another full day of basketball on tap for Wednesday. There are six games on the slate, starting with the Utah Jazz vs. the Memphis Grizzlies at 2:30 p.m. ET and concluding with the Boston Celtics vs. the Brooklyn Nets at 9:10 p.m. ET.
We’re nearly halfway through the eight seeding games and the playoff picture is only getting more muddled. The Clippers own just a 1.0-game lead over the Nuggets for the No. 2 seed in the West. The teams seeded fourth through sixth in the West are separated by just half a game. And the race for the final playoff spot is just getting started. The Grizzlies lead for the No. 8 seed has shrunk to just 1.5 games over the Blazers, and five teams are separated by just two games for the No. 9 spot.
With that in mind, virtually every game from here on out is going to have massive implications.
Let’s dive into Wednesday’s slate and see if we can identify some betting value.
Utah Jazz (-5) vs. Memphis Grizzlies — 224.5 total
The Grizzlies have dropped each of their first three games in the bubble, and they’ll face another stiff test today vs. the Jazz.
What makes matters worse is that they’ll have to navigate the rest of the season without Jaren Jackson Jr. He’s got a very diverse skill set — he’s one of the few big men who can protect the rim on defense and space the floor on offense — so he should theoretically be missed.
That said, the numbers suggest that the Grizzlies have actually been better without JJJ this season. Their Net Rating has decreased by -3.0 points with Jackson on the court, but it has increased with Jonas Valanciunas or Brandon Clarke on the floor. More minutes for those two guys at the expense of Jackson could actually work out as a positive.
One thing that is certain is that they will need some better play from Ja Morant if they want to hold onto the No. 8 seed. He’s shot just 36.1% from the field and 10.5% from 3-point range, and he’s averaging more than 20 field goal attempts per game. The Grizzlies have two of their first three games by five points or fewer, so some betting shooting numbers from Morant could have easily turned those losses into wins.
The Jazz are just 1-2 within the bubble, and they’re coming off an eight-point loss to the Lakers in their last game. Their struggles have been predictable. Their starting lineup has produced just fine, but they have been crushed whenever Jordan Clarkson is on the court.
Clarkson has been forced into a bigger role given the injury to Bojan Bogdanovic. He does have some scoring potential, but that is literally the only thing he provides on the floor. If he’s struggling to score — like he did vs. the Lakers — his team has virtually no chance to overcome his minutes. Overall, the Jazz were outscored by 19 points over Clarkson’s 20.5 minutes in that contest, which was the difference in the game.
It’s not like the Jazz can funnel those minutes to anyone else either: Georges Niang and Emmanuel Mudiay are even worse options than Clarkson. They are truly stuck between a rock and a hard place.
I’m going to continue to fade the Jazz during the restart, especially when they are favored. Add in the fact that the Grizzlies are due for some positive regression, and I think this is a sharp wager.
The Pick: Grizzlies +5
Washington Wizards vs. Philadelphia 76ers (-10.5) — 231.5 total
Shake Milton saved the 76ers from a disastrous loss vs. the Spurs in their last contest. They nearly blew a 13-point lead in the second-half, but the Spurs left Milton wide open after the inbounds:
I’m not sure if that was extremely disrespectful defense on Milton or just a blown coverage, but Milton ultimately made the Spurs pay.
Despite the win, the jury is still out on whether or not the decision to move Al Horford to the bench was a good one. Their offense has been productive — they’ve scored at least 121 points in each of their first two games during the restart — but they’ve been drastically worse on the defensive end of the court.
There are also no real signs that this helps the pairing of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons play together, which was ultimately their biggest problem. The 76ers were outscored with both players on the court in their last game, but they were bailed out by the bench.
That said, it shouldn’t really matter today vs. the Wizards. They’ve been the worst team in the bubble by a wide margin, losing their first three games by an average of 10.7 points. Those games have come against the Suns, Nets, and Pacers as well, so it hasn’t exactly been a murder’s row of competition.
All of these factors make the over a pretty appealing wager in this contest. The 76ers have cruised over 231.5 points in their first two contests — their average combined score checks in at 255 points — while the Wizards aren’t that far behind at 225.3. This game should also be played at a fast pace. The Wizards have played at the sixth-fastest pace this season, while Philly has played significantly faster inside the bubble.
The Pick: Over 231.5
San Antonio Spurs vs. Denver Nuggets (-5) — Total TBD
The Nuggets are coming off an impressive win in their last contest. They managed to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder by eight points despite missing three key rotation players. Will Barton, Gary Harris, and Jamal Murray have all yet to play during the restart, and they all rank in the top five on the Nuggets in terms of Net Rating differential this season.
The bad news is that Barton and Harris have already been ruled out for today’s contest vs. the Spurs. The good news is that it appears that Murray is getting closer to returning. He’s currently listed as questionable after being listed as doubtful for their game vs. the Thunder.
Michael Porter Jr. has been asked to carry a huge workload given all their injuries, and he stepped up to the plate big time in their last game. He led the team with 37 points, and he also chipped in on the boards with 12 rebounds. Overall, the Nuggets posted a mark of +25 with Porter on the court.
That said, there is no way he can repeat that performance moving forward. His shooting numbers in that contest were unbelievable: 12-16 from the field, 4-6 from 3-point range, 9-9 from the free throw line. Porter is a pretty efficiency scorer, but those numbers are out of this world.
The Nuggets have also decreased their Net Rating with Porter on the court this season, so relying on him heavily will likely be a problem over the long term.
As for the Spurs, they continue to defy expectations within the bubble. They may not have won vs. the 76ers, but they were able to cover the spread. That’s really all we care about as sports bettors.
They are also expected to be close to full strength for this contest. They will still be without LaMarcus Aldridge and Bryn Forbes, but Marco Belinelli is listed as probable after missing each of the past two games.
Ultimately, I was hoping for a better number here, so this game comes down to the Murray injury. If he’s going to be out for the Nuggets, I will definitely go right back to the well with the Spurs. If he’s active, this game will probably be a pass.
The Pick: TBD (dependent on status of Murray)
Los Angeles Lakers (-6) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder — 217.5 total
The Lakers have officially locked up the top spot in the Western Conference, so it remains to be seen how seriously they take the rest of these seeding games. That said, they did push their “big two” pretty hard vs. the Jazz: Anthony Davis played 38.8 minutes, LeBron James played 34.9.
I fully expect the Lakers to try and find those guys some rest before the playoffs start, but there’s no guarantee that will happen any time soon.
As for the rest of the roster, Dion Waiters has been a pleasant surprise in Orlando. The Lakers had a clear hole in their backcourt with Avery Bradley and Rajon Rondo both out of the lineup, and Waiters appears to have seized that opportunity. It’s obviously been a pretty small sample size, but the Lakers have outscored their opponents with Waiters on the floor in each of their past three games.
Danny Green and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will likely continue to start over Waiters, but I would expect his playing time to increase.
The big news for the Thunder is the absence of Dennis Schroder. He left the bubble to attend the birth of his child, so he will be out of the lineup for the next few games at a minimum. The Thunder have already locked up their playoff spot, but this could affect their seed.
OKC has been fantastic with their starters and Schroder on the court this season, but they don’t have a ton of depth behind those guys. In fact, their current starting five and Schroder are the only players on the team with a positive Net Rating differential. Schroder ranks second on the team in that department — trailing only Chris Paul — so his absence will definitely be felt.
Overall, I think this is a nice spot to look at the under. The Thunder have played at one of the slowest paces in the league this season, and the Lakers have averaged just 209 total points through their first three games in the bubble. If the Lakers do decide to limit Davis and/or LeBron, that will only help this wager.
The Pick: Under 217.5
Orlando Magic vs. Toronto Raptors (-6.5) — 222.5 total
The Magic got off to a fantastic start in Orlando, winning their first two games by an average of 13 points. That said, those wins came against the Nets and the Kings, who are two of the weaker teams in the bubble.
They came crashing back to reality in their third game, losing by 11 points to a Pacers’ team without Domantas Sabonis. They were actually favored in that contest, which goes to show why you shouldn’t put too much stock into recent results. The Magic are not a particularly good team — they’ve been outscored over the course of the full season — so they had no business being favored vs. Indiana.
The Magic will also have to play the rest of the season without Jonathan Isaac, who tore his ACL on Sunday vs. the Kings. Isaac hasn’t been a huge part of the Magic’s rotation this season, but they have been slightly better with him on the court than off the court.
On the other side of this matchup, the Toronto Raptors keep rolling right along. They started the seeding games with a resounding win vs. the Lakers and followed it up with a victory of the Heat.
I’m still not sure if Toronto are legit title contenders, but they are clearly a very good basketball team.
They make their mark on the defensive end of the court, allowing an average of just 101.9 points per 100 possessions. That ranks second in the league, trailing on the Milwaukee Bucks.
On offense, they rely on the 3-pointer. They’ve posted the fourth best FG% from 3 this season, and they also attempt the seventh-most shots from behind the arc. If you are going to rely on the 3-pointer, that’s the way to do it.
Ultimately, the Raptors have been taking care of business in spots like this all year long. They’ve posted a record of 27-19-1 as a favorite, and I don’t think Orlando should present them with a ton of problems.
The Pick: Raptors -6.5
Boston Celtics (-8.5) vs. Brooklyn Nets — Total TBD
The Nets are coming off one of the most impressive wins of the entire season on Tuesday. They entered their game vs. the Bucks are whopping 19-point underdogs, and they were forced to take the court without Caris LeVert, Joe Harris, and Jarrett Allen. Considering all the injuries and withdrawals they had before the bubble games started, those were easily the three best players remaining on their roster.
The Bucks did show them a bit of mercy in the second half — they decided to rest Giannis Antetokounpo and Khris Middleton — but the replacement Nets actually held a lead over the complete version of the Bucks at halftime.
They got an impressive performance from Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot in that contest, while Chris Chiozza chipped in a double-double off the bench.
Still, I don’t envision the Nets winning a ton of games with those two guys as their top options, so getting back Harris, Allen, and LeVert will be important for this contest. It sounds like those guys were given the night off for rest and not any sort of injury, so I’m expecting all three to be in the lineup.
Meanwhile, the Celtics will also be playing on the second leg of a back-to-back, and they’ve been a disappointment in the bubble. Kemba Walker continues to be limited, and the rest of the roster has been unable to cover for him.
Boston will give Walker the night off today vs. the Nets, so the Celtics will have to figure out a way to win without their star PG.
This is not a game that I have a great feel for — especially with no total listed at the moment — but the absence of Walker could create some value in the prop market. I will monitor the situation and tweet out any props that I find interesting closer to game time (follow me @MattLaMarca).
The Pick: Pass (but will potentially play some Celtics’ overs in the prop market)