The Most Important Matchups and Best Bets for Thursday’s NBA Slate
Tonight’s NBA slate is on the smaller side. There are just four games to choose from, starting with the Blazers vs. the Rockets at 7:30 p.m. ET and wrapping up with the Warriors vs. the Suns at 10 p.m. ET.
With such few teams to focus on, let’s zero in on the Lakers. They own the best record in basketball this season, and they’re the current betting favorites to win the NBA title on FanDuel Sportsbook. What makes them so dominant?
Let’s dive in.
Any analysis of the Lakers has to start with LeBron James. He’s playing in his 18th season, and his body has accumulated a ton of minutes. He went to the NBA Finals in eight straight seasons, and he’s made 10 trips to the Finals overall. Add those grueling playoff minutes to his 49,178 regular season minutes – which is the eighth-highest mark all time – and he’s carried arguably the largest workload in league history.
That said, he’s shown no signs of decline. In fact, you could make the case that he’s still getting better. He’s always been a great passer, but last year he decided to lead the league in assists for the first time in his career. This season, he’s transformed into a 3-point marksman, drilling 41.1% of his attempts on an average of 6.5 attempts per game. LeBron has shot above 40% from 3-point range just once during his storied career, and that was on far fewer attempts per game.
Overall, his ability to continue to evolve his game and dominate deep into his career should make him the unquestioned GOAT by the time he retires.
He’s having another dominant season in terms of his on-court impact as well. The Lakers have increased their Net Rating by +11.8 points per 100 possessions with James on the court this season, which puts him in the 86th percentile for all qualified players (per Cleaning the Glass). The Lakers lead the league in Net Rating this season – they’ve outscored their opponents by an average of +9.25 points per 100 possessions – but virtually all of that dominance comes from LeBron.
Anthony Davis clearly deserves some credit for the way the team has performed, but it’s pretty obvious who the more important player is:
- Both players on court: +16.5 Net Rating
- James on, Davis off: +8.4 Net Rating
- Davis on, James off: -3.2 Net Rating
There’s a reason they call this guy “King”.
If you’re looking for an unsung hero for the Lakers, look no further than Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. His play has drawn the ire of some in the past, but he has been one of the deadliest 3-point shooters in the league this season. He’s shooting 50.0% from 3-point range, which is easily the best mark of his career. His Net Rating differential of +15.1 points is the top mark on the squad, and he’s become their third-most important player.
So what does that mean for tonight’s matchup vs. the Pistons?
As usual, the Lakers have listed both James and Davis as questionable. This has been the case for most of the season, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the game where one of them actually sits. They’re playing on the second leg of a back-to-back, and the Pistons have been one of the worst teams in basketball. LeBron has played at least 38 minutes in three of his past four games – including a season-high 38.5 minutes last night – so he could definitely be due for a day off.
If James is inactive, the Pistons become very appealing targets as large home underdogs. The line has already moved towards the Pistons – they’ve dropped from +10.5 to +7.0 on FanDuel Sportsbook – so you might want to consider grabbing them now and hedging later if LeBron does suit up.
We’ve seen some notable line movement for tonight’s contests.
The Rockets are a team that is garnering massive sharp support. They’ve moved from -2.0 to -5.0 on FanDuel Sportsbook thanks to 90% of the spread dollars landing on Houston. Portland is still playing without C.J. McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic, and Robert Covington, while the Rockets will get back Christian Wood. That makes it pretty easy to see why the pros like the Rockets.
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