Another day, another full slate of basketball to wager on. The six-game slate kicks off with the San Antonio Spurs vs. the Utah Jazz at 1 p.m. ET and concludes with the Toronto Raptors vs. the Boston Celtics at 9 p.m. ET.
This slate has a few games that will have huge playoff implications. The race for the final spot in the Western Conference is wide open. The Grizzlies entered the bubble with a solid cushion for the No. 8 seed, but they’ve recorded zero wins through their first four games. Their lead has shrunk to just 0.5 games over the Blazers, 2.0 games over the Spurs and Suns, and 2.5 games over the Kings and Pelicans. We are almost guaranteed to get a play-in series at this point, and who will get the final playoff spot is anyone’s guess.
Let’s take a look at Friday’s slate and see if we can identify any betting value.
San Antonio Spurs vs. Utah Jazz
The Spurs started the bubble by winning two straight games, but they’ve dropped their past two in nail-biting fashion. They gave up a game-winning 3-pointer to Shake Milton to lose to the 76ers, and they lost to the Nuggets after leading at halftime.
That said, their play without LaMarcus Aldridge has been encouraging. That’s not exactly a surprise – they were significantly worse with Aldridge on the court before the shutdown – but it’s still nice to see them playing well.
Overall, they’ve averaged 119.7 points per 100 possessions during their past four games compared to just 112.4 during their first 63 games. That’s obviously a small sample size, but it’s encouraging nonetheless.
They need a win to stay in contention, but that is definitely within the realm of possibility vs. the Jazz. They have struggled mightily with their starters off the court in the bubble, and they will be without virtually all of their starters in today’s contest. Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, Mike Conley, and Royce O’Neal will all get the day off, and Bojan Bogdanovic remains out after undergoing wrist surgery.
They haven’t played a ton of minutes with all five of those players off the court this season, but their results have been unsurprisingly poor. They averaged just 104.5 points per 100 possessions while allowing 106.8. That’s a Net Rating of -2.3, and most of those minutes have likely come in blowout situations. Those numbers could get even worse when facing starters.
Expect heavy workloads for guys like Jordan Clarkson, Emmanuel Mudiay, Georges Niang, and Tony Bradley, all of whom have posted dreadful Net Rating differentials with the Jazz this season.
There’s currently no line on this contest, but I don’t think the oddsmakers can set this line high enough. I would play the Spurs at anything less than double-digits, and I might even go a little higher than that.
The Pick: Spurs TBD (would play at anything up to Spurs -10)
Memphis Grizzlies vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (-3) – 224.5 total
The Grizzlies have struggled mightily in the bubble, and things don’t figure to get any easier for them. They’re underdogs vs. the Thunder on Friday, and they finish with games vs. the Raptors, Celtics, and Bucks. Maybe those teams rest some of their starters, but there is a good chance that they’re underdogs in all three of those games as well.
They will also have to navigate that brutal schedule without Jaren Jackson Jr. His Net Rating differential is not all that impressive this season – the Grizzlies’ Net Rating has actually been -2.7 points per 100 possessions worse with Jackson on the court – but that metric undersells his impact on this team. He’s shooting 39.4% from 3-point range and averaging 1.6 blocks per game, which is a unique combination. Nobody in the league who is averaging more blocks per game is shooting better from behind the arc.
The biggest issue with the Grizzlies has been the poor play of Ja Morant. The Grizzlies were outscored by 16 points with Morant on the court in their last game, and they were outscored by 12 points with Morant on the court in their previous game. He’s shot just 39.5% from the field and 18.2% from behind the arc, and the Grizzlies are simply not talented enough to win games if he’s shooting that poorly.
This is going to be a really difficult spot for Morant to get going. He’ll have to deal with the individual defense of Chris Paul, who is still one of the better defensive players at the position. He currently ranks fifth among qualified PGs in Defensive Real Plus/Minus.
The one saving grace for the Grizzlies is that the Thunder will still be without Dennis Schroder. He’s been one of the most important players for the Thunder this season, increasing their Net Rating by +6.6 points with Schroder on the court.
Still, the Thunder didn’t seem to miss him too much when they dismantled the Lakers on Wednesday. They won that game by 19 points, so they can clearly win without him in the lineup.
The Pick: Thunder -3
Brooklyn Nets vs. Sacramento Kings
The Nets have played better than expected during the restart given all their injuries and withdrawals. They are without Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie, Taurean Prince, and DeAndre Jordan, and they also lost Jamal Crawford after just six total minutes. That hasn’t stopped them from going 2-2, including an impressive win as 19-point underdogs vs. the Bucks.
Unfortunately, the injury woes continue for this team Friday vs. the Kings. Joe Harris and Jarrett Allen are both questionable, and those are two of their most important remaining players. The Nets have increased their Net Rating by +6.2 points per 100 possessions with Harris on the court this season and +3.5 points per 100 possessions with Allen. If either player is ruled out, it will leave the team with a big hole in their lineup.
Luckily, they have one of the easiest possible matchups vs. the Kings. They have been atrocious defensively during the restart, allowing an average of 117.7 points per 100 possessions through their first three games. They’ve also played at a fast pace, so opposing offenses have averaged 125 points in those contests. Unsurprisingly, the Kings haven’t won any of those games.
They did manage to beat the Pelicans yesterday, but they still allowed them to score 125 points. They simply ran into a team that was actually worse at defense than they were.
I’ll be interested in seeing the Nets’ lineup before placing any wagers on this contest. If Harris and Allen are able to suit up, I would have some interest in backing them as underdogs.
The Pick: TBD
Philadelphia 76ers vs. Orlando Magic
The big news here is the injury to Ben Simmons, who injured his left kneecap on Wednesday vs. the Wizards. His kneecap was partially dislocated, so it’s possible he will have to undergo season-ending knee surgery. He’s going to take a few days to evaluate his options, but things don’t look particularly good for him moving forward.
That said, that injury might actually work out as a positive for the 76ers in the short-term.
It’s no secret that Simmons has struggled to coexist with Joel Embiid on the court this season. Their Net Rating with one of their two superstars sitting is actually better than their Net Rating together:
- Both players on court: +0.9
- Embiid on, Simmons off: +11.3
- Simmons on, Embiid off: +1.8
It’s pretty clear who the 76ers’ top option is, and the absence of Simmons allows them to better utilize Embiid’s skill set.
They will likely move Al Horford back into the starting lineup, and the four-man combination of Embiid, Horford, Tobias Harris, and Josh Richardson has posted a Net Rating of +7.4 over 330 minutes this season. That combo gives Embiid plenty of room to operate in the post and surrounds him with strong perimeter shooting. Horford isn’t someone you think of as a huge threat from deep, but he’s shot 36.2% from behind the arc throughout his career. That makes him a much greater threat than Simmons.
They should have no real problems taking care of business vs. the Magic, who are one of the worst teams in the bubble. They rank just 15th in Net Rating, and they’ve actually been outscored by 1.01 points per 100 possessions this season. They’ve dropped each of their past two games by at least 10 points, and their only two wins in the bubble have come vs. the Nets and Kings. It wouldn’t shock me if that was still the case at the end of this eight-game regular season. The fact that the Magic will likely be without Aaron Gordon – who is currently listed as doubtful – will only hurt their chances.
We’re still waiting on a line for this contest, but I’m hoping that the sportsbooks overreact to Simmons’ injury. It’s a mistake if the 76ers are favored by anything less than 10 points, so I’m firing if that’s the case.
The Pick: 76ers TBD (would play up to -11)
New Orleans Pelicans vs. Washington Wizards
Remember when the Pelicans were everyone’s pick to earn the final playoff spot in the West? Those were simpler times.
The Pelicans have won just one of their first four games in the bubble, so they haven’t been able to make up any ground on the Grizzlies for the No. 8 seed. They’ve slid all the way to tied for 12th in the standings, so they’ll need to jump four teams just to have a shot at the play-in series. They’re not quite dead yet because of their extremely generous schedule, but they are definitely on life support.
They absolutely need to get a win today vs. the Wizards, and they certainly have a chance of getting that done. The Wizards are basically playing a G-League roster at this point with John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Davis Bertans all out of the lineup.
More importantly, it looks like the Pelicans are loosening the reigns on Zion Williamson. He’s logged at least 22 minutes in each of his past two games, and it’s possible he could’ve played more if Thursday’s game vs. the Kings was more competitive.
Williamson’s importance for the Pelicans cannot be overstated. They’ve increased their Net Rating by +9.4 points per 100 possessions with Zion on the court this season, and they’ve been outscored with Williamson off the court. Frankly, they’re just not a good team if they’re not getting a solid effort from Williamson on a night in, night out basis.
Getting 25 minutes from Williamson obviously isn’t perfect, but it’s a heck of a lot better than the 15 he was playing to start the seeding games.
That said, I don’t think I can bring myself to actually wager on the Grizzlies in this contest. There’s no line out yet, but I’d imagine they’re going to be favored by at least eight points. That’s more than I feel comfortable with.
At the same time, there’s no way I can back this Wizards’ team. They’ve lost each of their first four seeding games, and they’ve lost those games by an average of 10.3 points. Those games have also been vs. the Suns, Nets, Pacers, and 76ers, so they haven’t exactly faced a murder’s row of competition either.
The Pick: Pass
Toronto Raptors (-3) vs. Boston Celtics – 218.5 total
The last game of the night features the Raptors and the Celtics, and this has the potential to be a really good contest. These teams have been among the best in basketball this season, ranking fourth and fifth respectively in Net Rating. They’ve met three previous times this season – Boston has won two of those matchups – and those matchups have been decided by an average of just two points.
Both of these teams are expected to have their full rosters available, but the Celtics’ are dealing with a key injury. Kemba Walker has been limited by a knee injury, and he got the night off on Wednesday for rest purposes. Hopefully that helps because he’s been limited to just 22.6 minutes through his first three games.
The Celtics’ have a lot of options to help pick up the slack, but they’re going to need Walker if they want to make any noise in the playoffs. Jayson Tatum gets the majority of the love for the Celtics – and deservedly so – but their offense has been at their best this season with Walker on the court.
On the Raptors side, they just continue to roll through whatever opposition is put in front of them. They’ve won each of their first three games in the bubble, beating the Lakers, Heat and Magic. Their continuity could be important in a wild season like this, and their title odds have been updated to reflect that. They’re currently listed at +1000 to win the title, which gives them the fourth-shortest odds in the league.
Ultimately, I don’t have a great feel for this contest. I think the Celtics have a higher ceiling when at full strength, but the Raptors are the most consistent team in basketball. I’m just going to sit back and enjoy this one as a fan.
The Pick: Pass