Teams trailing by five points inside the final 10 seconds won back-to-back nights over the weekend. They didn’t even need overtime.
Damian Lillard’s heroics lifted the Blazers past the Bulls on Saturday and Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook matched his two 3-pointers to help the Wizards stun the Nets the following night.
It’s been that type of season so far in the NBA, one that feels even stranger than the one just completed in a bubble on Disney property in Orlando a few months ago in the midst of a global pandemic. With COVID-19 still wreaking havoc in the world and toying with schedules as leagues everywhere try and press forward as safely as possible, the bizarre is around every corner.
Did you see the Rockets knocked down 11 3-pointers in the first quarter on Monday, setting a league record in these zany times? Houston finished 28-for-52 from beyond the arc in a 136-106 win at Oklahoma City, falling just one short of the NBA single-game high. It has won six consecutive games entering Wednesday’s rematch with the Thunder in OKC and are 7-3 since trading James Harden to Brooklyn.
Forward Christian Wood is playing at an All-Star level and DeMarcus Cousins is further along than anticipated in his return from his latest ACL tear, while guards John Wall and Victor Oladipo are co-existing while attempting to prove everyone who wrote them off that they were wrong. These guys have bought into playing with one another and are actually taking pride in putting in the work on the defensive end.
Whether that lasts remains to be seen, but the Rockets have moved above .500 and are just behind the Southwest Division-leading Grizzlies in the standings. Memphis had a seven-game win streak working entering Tuesday’s visit to Indiana and will host the Rockets on Thursday, so one of those two will likely enter the weekend leading a division that most expected Luka Doncic’s Mavericks to be heading up.
In fact, most of the online betting sites still list Dallas as ‘chalk’ despite its slow start, with BetMGM placing odds of -110 on the Mavs despite a four-game deficit.
New Orleans, five games back, would net you +1000, which is too good a value bet not to make. Loyal readers of this column know I picked the Pelicans to surprise and finish as Southwest Division champs due to Stan Van Gundy’s arrival, Steven Adams’ impact and the continued improvement of Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram. Despite a slow start, they’re just four games back themselves and are reportedly in talks to shake things up by dealing the likes of Lonzo Ball or J.J. Redick. There’s definitely value in riding the Pels to turn things around.
LaMelo Ball (-125) has emerged as the favorite to win Rookie of the Year roughly 30 percent of the way in, which is still great value since he’s definitely earned the early nod through an impressive start that is far more substance over hype. If you’re interested in a long shot, take a look at New York’s Immanuel Quickley, who has really come on strong off the Knicks’ bench and has the world’s largest media market trumpeting his case if he can help the long-suffering franchise snap their playoff drought.
A similar situation is in place in the race for Sixth Man of the Year, as Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson has separated himself from the pack early. The price is in a similar -125/-150 range but unlike the rookie race, there’s no one even close. I expect Clarkson to be a wire-to-wire winner given his impact on Northwest Division-leading Utah, who put together the longest winning streak to date.
Good luck and thank you! I’ll close out with three final sports betting picks for this coming week’s action.
Thursday 2/4 NBA Games
Rockets at Grizzlies: We discussed this matchup above, and two things will be noteworthy in this first meeting between division rivals. Ja Morant will be squaring off with John Wall for the first time since Wall was injured for the reigning Rookie of the Year’s entire first season, so that alone is worth the price of admission.
Memphis center Jonas Valanciunas has been out due to COVID protocol but should be back in the mix for this one. Expect both teams to go all out on the defensive end in trying to walk out of FedEx forum with first place in the Southwest. UNDER
Saturday 2/6 NBA Games
Raptors at Hawks: Toronto will visit Brooklyn for a nationally televised game on Friday night but has to turn around and travel south afterward to square off against a Hawks team that is just 5-5 at home but beginning to find their footing.
Trae Young has snapped out of his slump and Atlanta hung with the Nets and Lakers at Philips Arena this past week and will welcome in the Mavs and Jazz on Wednesday and Thursday before closing out a four-game homestand against Toronto Saturday. Expect the Hawks to win and cover as a short favorite. HAWKS
Sunday 2/7 NBA Games
Heat at Knicks: You know you’ll be looking for things to parlay with the Super Bowl, so instead of dabbling in Gatorade flavors or coin flips, take a shot with Miami in New York. The Knicks may actually have the better record entering this one but won’t be favored despite this game being played at Madison Square Garden.
While taking the home ‘dog is tempting, Jimmy Butler is back from a bout with coronavirus, Tyler Herro is in the mix after dealing with a neck issue and Bam Adebayo is taking his game to another level and should prove disruptive against Julius Randle. Lay the points. HEAT
Last week: 2-1