1. #1
    Hman's Avatar Become A Pro!
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    NBA 2nd Half Preview & Best Bets 🏀

    NBA best bets: Second-half preview and futures picks


    The second half of the NBA season starts Thursday night. The All-Star break gives our experts -- Preston Johnson, Jordan Schultz, Doug Kezirian and senior writer Andre Snellings -- a chance to reset and make some new bets. Here are their best bets for the NBA's second half.

    Odds courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook unless noted otherwise.

    Win totals

    Milwaukee Bucks (Over/Under 69.5 wins)

    Johnson: This is another big edge for me, even juiced at -180. I project it to be nearly a 70% proposition that the Bucks win 69 or fewer games. The implied win probability at -180 is just 64.3%. Considering they may lock up the No. 1 seed in the final week or two of the season and rest Giannis Antetokounmpo and others a few extra games down the stretch (not currently accounted for in my projection), this is a surefire banger. The Bucks have the fifth-toughest remaining schedule.

    Pick: Under

    Schultz: The Bucks are on pace for the third-best regular season in league history, and they're doing it with better than a plus-12 net rating, tops all time. The impetus to everything is Giannis, who has followed up his MVP campaign with improvements across the board, including the highest-ever single-season player efficiency rating (PER).

    But this is far from a one-man team. Mike Budenholzer's five-out system emphasizes shooting, which GM Jon Horst has assembled in abundance. All-Star Khris Middleton continues his deadly marksmanship and is threatening to become just the fifth player to hit the 50-40-90 club while averaging 20 or more points per game. In fact, the Bucks have scored 100-plus points in 78 straight regular-season games -- also the longest streak ever.

    Defensively, the Bucks rank first in efficiency. In fact, with all five starters slotted in the top 15 of individual defensive rating, you can rest assured Milwaukee will clamp down and play with max effort. Maybe most importantly, the Bucks have played more than 1,000 combined minutes with Giannis on the bench this season, with a rating just under plus-eight. You guessed it; that leads the league as well. Grab the over on this total and enjoy the +160 return.

    Pick: Over

    Toronto Raptors (55.5 wins)

    Johnson: While Toronto plays an above-average schedule strength (11th toughest), this is a team that just won 15 of its past 16 games. Now the Raptors only need to go 16-11 down the stretch to cash this ticket.

    Nick Nurse has done wonders all season long with injuries plaguing the defending champs, but they have been getting healthier and will likely be in a crucial race for the 2-seed and home-court advantage in the playoffs with Boston. I don't expect to see them letting up anytime soon. I show Toronto winning 56 or more games 57% of the time.

    Pick: Over

    Snellings: The Raptors are 40-15 despite dealing with major injuries to all of their main rotation players. Health has been a major factor. For instance, they have gone 34-10 in games that Pascal Siakam has played.

    They only need to go at least 16-11 down the stretch to reach 56 wins, and they face the 12th-easiest schedule in the NBA down the stretch according to BPI. They also have strong motivation to keep winning, as they are only 1.5 games ahead of the Celtics for the second seed in the Eastern Conference and only two games behind the Lakers for the second-best record in the NBA.

    Pick: Over

    Philadelphia 76ers (54.5 wins)

    Johnson: Philadelphia has the second-easiest remaining schedule, which is probably why this number is so high, but I still have the Sixers winning 54 or fewer games 56% of the time. They may have found something after moving Al Horford to the bench against the Clippers before the All-Star break, but with Joel Embiid always in and out of the lineup, there certainly isn't much upside betting on a team to go 21-6 or better. I'll bet they don't reach 21 and will go under the total.

    Pick: Under

    Snellings: The 76ers are 34-21, which means that they would have to finish the season at least 21-6 in order to go over 54.5 wins. That would represent a huge jump in winning percentage, from 61.8% up to 77.8% down the stretch. The 76ers haven't had a single 27-game stretch with fewer than 10 losses this season, and they entered the break with four wins and four losses in their last eight games after Embiid returned from injury.

    According to BPI, the 76ers do have the second-easiest schedule down the stretch, but they still have 13 road games remaining, and they've struggled to the tune of 10 games below .500 on the road this season.
    Pick: Under

    Houston Rockets (53 wins)

    Johnson: I project the Rockets to win 54 or more games 51.8% of the time, pushing the 53 total 6% of the time and then winning 52 or fewer 42.2%. I do think there is upside with their new small-ball style and teams trying to figure out how to better defend them. They could conceivably go on a huge run. This is probably the best Russell Westbrook we've ever seen in their past 10 games or so. They have the seventh-easiest remaining schedule.

    Pick: Over

    Indiana Pacers (49 wins)

    Johnson: I project the Pacers to win 48 or fewer games 51.1% of the time, pushing 49 6.8% of the time and hitting 50 or more 42.1% of the time. The downside to this bet is Victor Oladipo coming alive and the Pacers jelling again, but my projections are giving Oladipo the benefit of the doubt anyway, and I still show an edge to the under.

    Pick: Under

    Memphis Grizzlies (40.5 wins)

    Johnson: I project the Grizzlies to win 40 or fewer games over 60% of the time. This is a really big edge for me. Memphis has the toughest remaining schedule in the NBA and would need to go 13-15 against it to beat an under wager. I project them to be a favorite of more than two points in only five of those 28 games.

    Pick: Under

    Snellings: The Grizzlies hit the break at two games over .500, but they've been one of the NBA's hotter teams for the past two months with a 22-10 record since Dec. 9. They would need to go only 13-15 down the stretch to go over 40.5 wins.

    They have the most difficult schedule in the NBA down the stretch according to BPI, but their remaining strength of schedule (SOS) of 55.3% is not more difficult enough than the 49.8% SOS they've played thus far to expect their pace to slow so significantly moving forward.

    The way the younger players have continued to improve and find their rhythm as the season goes along, led by Ja Morant and his likely push for Rookie of the Year, convinces me that the Grizzlies have at least 13 more wins in them this season. They will likely need to win at least that many to have a chance at the eighth playoff seed out West, providing further motivation to this hungry unit.

    Pick: Over

    New Orleans Pelicans (38.5 wins)

    Johnson: The Pelicans have the easiest schedule remaining in the league. With the upside that Zion Williamson brings and how well they have been playing with him on the floor (net rating of +12.8), I expect New Orleans to make a run at the eighth seed in the West. I have them winning 39 or more games this season 56.1% of the time.

    Pick: Over

    Orlando Magic (35.5 wins)

    Johnson: Orlando is tough to bet over at this point, but the Magic have been dealing with a plethora of injuries and project better than their current record illustrates. They have the third-easiest schedule remaining and need to go only 12-15 against it to put this over.

    Think of it this way: Their opposing teams' winning percentage is .464. Orlando doesn't even need to win half of its games against teams that haven't won half of their games. With D.J. Augustin expected to return after the All-Star break, I have the Magic winning 36 or more games 55.4% of the time.

    Pick: Over

    San Antonio Spurs (34.5 wins)

    Johnson: I project San Antonio to win 35 or more games 55.8% of the time. The Spurs have the 11th-easiest schedule remaining in the league, and a Pop playoff run seems imminent, no?

    They are five games behind the Grizzlies, who have the toughest schedule, and I think the Spurs could end up in the mix yet again. We need only a 12-16 performance or better to cash this ticket anyway.

    Pick: Over

    Sacramento Kings (32 wins)

    Johnson: Sacramento seems to have found something with its small-ball lineups and bringing Buddy Hield off of the bench after going 6-4 in its final 10 games before the All-Star break. The Kings have the 10th-easiest schedule remaining and need to win only 11 of 28 games to avoid losing this wager. I project the Kings to win 33 or more games 49.8% of the time, push the total of 32 7.5% of the time and win 31 or fewer games 42.7% of the time.

    Pick: Over

    Detroit Pistons (25 wins)

    Kezirian: Detroit has shown its cards. The Pistons are on a fast track for the lottery, trading Andre Drummond and buying out Reggie Jackson. Plus, Blake Griffin is out for the season and Luke Kennard has no specific timetable for his return from injury. That represents four of their top five scorers. Detroit is currently 19-38, so cashing the under requires the Pistons to post a 5-20 record or worse. Seven wins beats you, and I just do not see it.

    Detroit's remaining home games are against the Bucks, Thunder, Jazz, Magic, Warriors, Lakers, Blazers, Clippers, Rockets, Heat and Celtics. All of those teams, besides Golden State, are in the playoff mix. Of course anything can happen on any given night but I also believe Detroit wants to tank.

    Pick: Under

    New York Knicks (24.5 wins)

    Schultz: The Knicks are a catastrophe; we all know that. You're not going to win many games when you can't score (they are 23rd in offensive efficiency and own the worst free throw percentage in the league) and can't guard anyone (29th in defensive efficiency).

    But numbers don't tell the whole story either, because this team -- and organization, for that matter -- lacks any semblance of cohesion. To be sure, this is not entirely on Mike Miller, but minutes fluctuate every night. For example, Kevin Knox has averaged just 14.3 minutes in the four games since Marcus Morris was traded, while Frank Ntilikina is averaging a measly 16. Offense, meanwhile, will be at an even greater premium after the Morris trade, considering he was playing the best ball of his career.

    With six separate streaks of three losses or more -- not to mention a brand new head of basketball operations in Leon Rose -- fluid feels like an apt word to describe the state of the Knicks. Losing feels like one as well.

    Pick: Under

    Atlanta Hawks (24.5 wins)

    Johnson: I project the Hawks to win 25 or more games 54.3% of the time. They have the fourth-easiest remaining schedule in the NBA, are finally healthy coming out of the All-Star break and are not a team (see last season) that will be tanking for the sake of tanking down the stretch. They added Clint Capela, who has yet to play, but he will be a bonus to the roster at the center position once he returns.

    Pick: Over

    Rookie of the Year

    Ja Morant (-500)

    Kezirian: Zion Williamson has gradually converted a forgone conclusion for Morant into a two-horse race. When Williamson made his long-awaited NBA debut, Caesars offered 16-1 odds on this award. Morant was in the neighborhood of -1000. Williamson's stellar play has justifiably narrowed the gap, but I still do not envision the Duke product ultimately hoisting the hardware.

    At most, Williamson will play 37 games. By comparison, injuries limited Joel Embiid to 31 games in 2016-17. He averaged 20.2 points and 7.8 rebounds, yet lost out to Malcolm Brogdon. Embiid's résumé was just insufficient. Brogdon had a solid year but it was nowhere near what Morant is doing -- for an entire season. He's leading the Grizzlies in points and assists and currently has them in the playoffs.

    I realize Williamson could help the Pelicans take that spot from Memphis, but I still think Williamson is handicapped by a reduced season.

  2. #2
    jjgold's Avatar Become A Pro!
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    I like Memphis to go over