The Most Important Matchups and Best Bets for Thursday’s NBA Slate
Happy New Year’s, everybody! The NBA is ringing in 2021 with a seven-game slate, starting with the Cavaliers vs. the Pacers at 3 p.m. ET and wrapping up with the Suns vs. the Jazz at 9 p.m. ET.
The last matchup of the day is definitely the most intriguing. The Suns have started the season at 3-1, but they’ve played a friendly schedule. Can they hang with some of the best teams in the Western Conference?
The Kings are also off to a great start, and they’ll head to Houston to take the Rockets. The Rockets are still looking for their first win of the season, but they will get some reinforcements for tonight’s matchup. John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, and Eric Gordon have all been cleared to return to action, but how will those players mesh with James Harden?
Let’s dive in.
The Suns were one of the most impressive teams in the Orlando bubble last season. They went a perfect 8-0 during the seeding games, but that, unfortunately, was not enough to get them into the playoffs. Still, it gave the fanbase a lot of hope for this season, and that hope was amplified with the addition of Chris Paul during the offseason.
Paul may not be the same force that he was in his prime, but he remains one of the most impactful players in the league on a per-minute basis. The Thunder increased their Net Rating by +13.8 points per 100 possessions with Paul on the court last season, which put him in the 98th percentile for all players (per Cleaning the Glass). Giannis Antetokounmpo was the only other player with a comparable mark over as many minutes as Paul, and he won the MVP award for the second straight season.
Paul has not had nearly the same impact to start his tenure with the Suns, but it’s obviously over a much smaller sample size. The fact that the Suns have won three of four games to start the season with Paul shooting just 40.5% from the field and 25.0% from 3-point range actually bodes well for their future success. He’s due for some shooting regression moving forward, which will only help the rest of this roster.
Overall, expect the Suns to be a real factor this season.
The Rockets’ situation is a bit trickier. Harden remains one of the best offensive weapons in the league, but there are real questions about how the rest of the roster fits next to him. He’s at his best with the ball in his hands and shooters are spaced along the perimeter. Wall and Cousins have both been superstar caliber players in their prime, but neither is a dead-eye 3-point shooter. Wall shot just 30.2% from 3-point range in his final season with the Wizards, while Cousins shot just 27.4% during his time with the Warriors.
Putting those two guys next to Christian Wood is going to create some real spacing issues with the Rockets’ offense. Wood has shot the ball extremely well from the perimeter to start the season, but asking him to spend all of his time out there is a poor use of his skill set.
The fact that the Rockets no longer have Mike D’Antoni to help figure out this situation is even more concerning. D’Antoni is one of the greatest offensive minds in the history of the NBA, while new head coach Stephen Silas is a bit of an unknown. He was an assistant on the Mavs last season – and they posted the greatest Offensive Rating in the history of the NBA – but he’s going to have his work cut out for him in Houston.
We’ve already seen some notable line movements for tonight’s contests.
The biggest move involves the Rockets. They opened up as just three-point favorites, but they’re up to 5.5-point favorites on FanDuel Sportsbook. Part of that is due to the fact that they’re getting healthier, but the Rockets have also received a huge portion of the early betting dollars. A whopping 93% of the spread dollars have landed on Houston despite receiving just 58% of the spread bets.
The Wizards are another team that has seen a significant line move. They’re still looking for their first win of the season, but the sharps appear to be hammering them vs. the Bulls. They’ve received 98% of the spread dollars, which has caused this line to rise from Wizards -5 to Wizards -6.5
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