The Most Important Matchups and Best Bets for Thursday’s NBA Slate
Wednesday’s NBA slate features five games. The action gets underway with the 76ers vs. the Nets at 7:30 p.m. ET and wraps up with a trio of contests at 10:00 p.m. ET. That’s a small slate as far as the NBA goes, but there are still some interesting matchups to dissect.
The Cavaliers will head to Memphis, and they’ve been much better than expected this season. They’ve gotten off to a 4-4 record, and they rank 18th in Net Rating. That’s a massive increase from last season when they were the second-worst team in the league in that department. Can they keep that production going?
Tonight’s game between the Timberwolves and Blazers should also be an interesting one. Both of these teams rank in the bottom-six in terms of defensive efficiency this season, so should we expect a bunch of points?
Let’s dive in.
The Cavaliers have taken a big step forward this season. They invested lottery picks in Collin Sexton and Darius Garland in 2018 and 2019, and those picks have started to pay dividends.
Sexton has scored at least 20 points in each of the Cavs’ first eight games, which is a franchise record to start the season. Not even the great LeBron James recorded more than seven straight games of at least 20 points to start any of his years with the Cavaliers, so Sexton has clearly blossomed into an excellent scorer. He’s also getting his points in a very efficient manner, shooting 53.1% from the field, 51.6% from 3-point range, and 82.9% from the free-throw line.
Garland has operated more as a distributor. He’s still getting his points – he’s averaged 17.2 through his first six games – but he leads the team with an assist rate of 28.5%. As long as those two keep playing like this, the Cavs have something to build around moving forward.
Unfortunately, Garland has missed each of the past two games, and he’s currently listed as doubtful for tonight’s matchup vs. the Grizzlies. Kevin Love also remains out with a calf injury, and those are two massive absences. The Cavs have suffered two losses of at least 11 points without both players this season.
The offense has been the biggest issue in those losses. Cleveland is averaging just 94.6 points per 100 possessions with Garland and Love off the floor this season, which is an absolutely putrid mark. To put that in perspective, the Thunder have been the worst team in the league this season in terms of offensive efficiency, and even they average 101.35 points per 100 possessions.
Overall, the Cavs have been outscored by -13.5 points per 100 possessions over 167 minutes without Garland and Love this season. The Cavs may have found something to be optimistic about moving forward, but the Grizzlies could be worth a look on Wednesday.
On the other side of the ball, no team has been worse defensively this season than the Timberwolves. They’ve allowed 118.35 points per 100 possessions this season, which is the league’s worst mark by nearly two full points.
They’ve been even worse recently without Josh Okogie. Okogie is not a household name, but he’s had a big impact on the Timberwolves this season. Minnesota has increased their Net Rating by +24.0 points per 100 possessions with Okogie on the floor, and most of that improvement has come on the defensive end.
Portland has also had their defensive struggles this season, allowing an average of 115.03 points per 100 possessions.
It is pretty unprecedented for two teams who are this poor on defense to be matched up against each other. There have only been 29 matchups since 2008 featuring two teams allowing at least 113 points per 100 possessions, and the over is surprisingly just 14-15 in those contests. Still, I think the over is worth a look given just how bad the Timberwolves have been without Okogie.
We’ve seen some notable line movement for tonight’s contests.
The biggest line move involves the Lakers. They’ve dropped from -7.5 vs. the Spurs to -5.5, and most of that movement is due to the injury report. The Lakers have listed LeBron James and Anthony Davis as questionable on the first leg of a back-to-back. James has played through a questionable designation for most of the season, but they may look to get one of their superstars some rest in this contest. The sharp bettors have targeted this situation early, with 74% of the spread dollars landing on the Spurs.
The 76ers are playing on the second leg of a back-to-back, and they also have some injury concerns for their matchup vs. the Nets. The positive news is that Joel Embiid was not listed on the injury report, but that doesn’t necessarily guarantee that he’ll be in the lineup tonight. Seth Curry was also listed as questionable, and he’s been a vital part of their rotation this season. As a result, the 76ers have dropped from -3.0 to -1.5 on FanDuel Sportsbook.
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