NBA 8/21 betting preview. Selling the Nuggets

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The playoffs keep rolling right along, and we’ve got another four games on tap for Friday. The Raptors and Celtics will be looking to take commanding 3-0 leads in their series, while the Jazz, Nuggets, Mavericks, and Clippers are all trying to take a crucial 2-1 lead in their series. Teams that win Game 3 of a 1-1 series have historically won the series at a nearly 75% clip.

Let’s break down all four of Friday’s games to try and identify some potential betting value.

Brooklyn Nets vs. Toronto Raptors (-10.5) — 220.5 total

It wasn’t exactly smooth sailing for the Raptors in Game 2 of this series, but they did manage to squeak out a win. They were actually down by six after the third quarter of that contest, but they outscored the Nets by 11 points in the fourth to secure a five-point victory.

The Nets were also dealt a huge blow in this series after Joe Harris had to leave the bubble for personal reasons. They were already down a bunch of key players — Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie — so the absence of Harris is a major concern.

The Nets have increased their Net Rating by +4.8 points per 100 possessions with Harris on the court this season, which made him one of their most important players in the bubble. Unsurprisingly, his ability to space the floor and shoot the ball from deep had a massive increase on their offense in particular. Harris ranked in at least the 85th percentile for his impact on the Nets’ effective FG%, offensive efficiency, and turnover rate.

Harris was also playing insanely well in the bubble. He shot 62.0% from the field and 54.1% from 3-point range during his six seeding games, and he also shot over 50% from the field and 3-point line over his first two playoff games.

Without Harris, the Nets will likely have to insert Tyler Johnson or Rodions Kurucs into the starting lineup, and Caris LeVert will be asked to carry a monster workload offensively. That’s just too much to ask against a Toronto team that excels on the defensive end of the court.

History is also on the Raptors’ side in this contest. Teams that finish first or second in their conference and jump out to a 2-0 series lead in the first round have historically posted a record of 48-34-1 against the spread in Game 3. That’s good for a 58.5% cover rate and a +14.3% return on investment.

I have no problem laying the points in this spot.

The Pick: Toronto Raptors (-10.5)

Utah Jazz vs. Denver Nuggets (-1.5) — 218.5 total

The Nuggets should be very grateful that they’re not down 0-2 in this series. The Jazz were in full control of Game 1 before fumbling it away late, and they thoroughly dominated in Game 2. They were ridiculously good offensively — they posted an offensive rating of 144.8 points per 100 possessions — and the Nuggets led for less than one total minute.

Donovan Mitchell followed up his insane performance in Game 1 with another high-efficiency performance in Game 2, scoring 30 points while shooting 10-14 from the field. He was blistering hot from downtown, shooting 6-7 from behind the 3-point line, and he also chipped in eight assists.

The Jazz are also expected to get Mike Conley back for this contest, which will be a huge addition to their rotation. They were relying very heavily on just five guys, so Conley should give them a bit more depth. It’s not clear exactly how much he’ll be able to play today, but any minutes would be welcome.

The crazy thing is that the Nuggets didn’t even play that poorly in Game 2. Their offensive efficiency of 122.7 is typically more than enough to win a ballgame. They posted a mark of at least 122.7 in 17 games during the regular season, and they went 14-3 in those contests.

I’ve been quick to write off the Jazz after losing Bojan Bogdanovic to an injury before the bubble, which in hindsight was probably a mistake. I still don’t think they’re all that good, but they’re definitely good enough to hang with the Nuggets.

Are the Jazz due for some shooting regression moving forward? Absolutely. But the Nuggets might actually be due for more.

The Jazz are currently sitting at first in effective FG% during the playoffs, while the Nuggets rank second. However, the Jazz still rank fifth in expected effective FG%, while the Nuggets fall all the way to 17th.

That all has to do with the type of shots that both teams are generating. According to Cleaning the Glass, the Jazz are shooting the seventh-highest frequency at the rim and second-highest frequency from behind the arc during the playoffs. That’s a really good shot profile! We know that shots at the rim, from 3-point range, and from the free throw line are the most efficient ways to score the basketball.

On the other hand, the Nuggets are attempting the third-most midrange shots, including the third-most “long” midrange shots. That is not how you want to build your offense in 2020.

I think it’s probably time to stop selling the Jazz and start selling the Nuggets.

The Pick: Jazz +1.5

Philadelphia 76ers vs. Boston Celtics (-5) — 216.0 total

The 76ers did exactly what I thought they should do in Game 2 and moved Matisse Thybulle into the starting lineup. He did a fantastic job guarding Jayson Tatum in Game 1, and I expected that to continue in Game 2.


Boston won by an even larger margin in the second-game of this series, ultimately scoring 128 points, and Jayson Tatum was able to score at will yet again. He followed up his 32 point performance in Game 1 with 33 in Game 2, and he only needed 30.9 minutes to get there. Tatum isn’t on the verge of being a star in this league, he already is one.

Overall, the Celtics have increased their Net Rating by +11.0 points with Tatum on the court this season, which puts him in the 96th percentile for all players. That kind of mark puts him in the company of guys like Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, and Nikola Jokic. Basically, he’s the reason why I believed the Celtics were legit dark horse contenders to win the NBA title this year.

On the other hand, the 76ers look absolutely lost. Joel Embiid was more aggressive in Game 2 — he scored 34 points on 11-21 shooting — but the 76ers were still outscored by -21 points with him on the court. If the 76ers’ can’t be competitive with Embiid on the floor in this series, they have no shot of winning.

That said, I’m not giving up the 76ers quite yet. I don’t think they have any chance of winning this series anymore — teams with a 2-0 series lead have won the series nearly 94% of the time in the NBA — but I do think they have some appeal as a wager in Game 3.

For starters, they’re coming off a blowout loss, and teams have historically bounced-back well in that situation the following game. If we exclude the No. 7 and 8 seeds — who routinely are coming off blowout losses — playoff teams have posted a record of 50-28-0 against the spread following a loss of at least 25 points in their previous game. That is a wildly profitable trend, rewarding bettors with a return on investment of greater than +25%.

The 76ers being down in the series 0-2 sets them up for another profitable trend as well: Teams seeded 1-6 have historically covered in Game 3 at a 55.3% clip after losing the first two games of the series.

The Pick: 76ers +5

Dallas Mavericks vs. Los Angeles Clippers (-5) — 232.5 total

The last game of the night should be a good one. The Mavericks were able to win Game 2 following a close loss in Game 1, which sets up a really important showdown tonight. Whichever team can win this contest will take a huge step towards ultimately winning the series.

The Mavericks formula in Game 2 was very similar to their formula in Game 1: Outscore the Clippers bench by a wide margin. The Clippers have two finalists for the Sixth Man of the Year award — which is pretty oxymoronic but whatever — but the Mavericks bench has absolutely dominated in this series so far.

Seth Curry was a ridiculous +30 during his time on the court, while Boban Marjanovic was +12 over just 9.7 minutes. On the other side, JaMychal Green was -21 while he was on the court, while Landry Shamet was -12.

Things don’t figure to get much better in that department in Game 3 since Patrick Beverely is listed as doubtful. Beverley being out has a domino effect on the rest of the rotation: Reggie Jackson moves into the starting lineup, while Shamet and Green see more minutes off the bench.

With that being said, I’m still on the Clippers in this contest. Their starting unit has been so good when on the court this season, particularly the trio of Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and Marcus Morris. George was dreadful in Game 2, shooting just 4-17 from the field and 2-10 from 3-point range, so he definitely has some room for progression in this contest.

More importantly, the Clippers fit a really simple but powerful trend in this contest. If a higher-seeded team is coming off a loss in their last game but are still favored in the following contest, those teams have posted a record of 135-93-7 against the spread. That’s a cover rate of nearly 60%.

This trend also technically applies to the Nuggets, but I think you can make the case that they don’t deserve to be favored. The Clippers are definitely deserving favorites against the Mavericks, so I like this trend a lot more in their situation than the Nuggets’.

The Pick: Clippers -5

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