February 26, 2018
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What We Learned This Weekend
The second half of the NBA season stormed out of the gates this past weekend and we learned some things we didn’t know, and had other beliefs pretty re-affirmed. This is when the NBA grinds out the pretenders and solidifies contenders. So who’s worth banking on? Let’s discuss.
JIMMY BUTLER’S INJURY IS DEVESTATING
The scoring. The defense. The everything takes a hit because of Jimmy Butler’s knee injury. The All-Star underwent successful surgery to repair a torn meniscus, but these things take at least 4-6 weeks to heal before a proper rehab program can start. Butler could be back for the playoffs. He might be out for the rest of the year. Only time will tell.
One of the big elements impacted by this injury is on how the oddsmakers gauge the Timberwolves on the daily NBA line. The Wolves are currently just 29-32-2 ATS because the public adores them. Without their best player and his 22.2 points, this team basically reverts back to what it was last year with Jeff Teague in place of Ricky Rubio. The onus now falls on Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns. Both players are talented beyond belief, but realizing that potential is different than possessing it. It’s truthfully time we see them both level up, so to speak.
Teague, Wiggins and Towns all responded to the Butler injury well in their next game against Chicago by totaling 70 total points between the three of them in a blowout victory, but it’s one thing to beat one of the worst teams in the league versus challenging the powerhouses in the west.
The Minnesota Timberwolves currently have +150 odds to win the Northwest Division in a two-team race that has been whittled down to one. The Oklahoma City Thunder are just +115 to conquer that group, and though I suspect the oddsmakers are going to remedy this in the coming hours, they are the biggest benefactors of the Butler injury.
Next Games (Timberwolves): at Sacramento (2/26), at Portland (3/1), at Utah (3/2)
CLEVELAND STILL HAS SO MUCH TO WORK ON
It’s virtually impossible to write an NBA story these days that covers the league without mentioning the Cavaliers. LeBron and his new teammates were completely stomped out by the San Antonio Spurs. Though Gregg Popovich had the best things to say about LeBron in the post-game, he spent 48 minutes prior offering a blueprint to the rest of the league on how to slow down the Cavaliers.
Cleveland has turned in to a track team. In transition and on the fast break, they look absolutely unstoppable. Just so many good athletes that know how to get to the basket. LeBron is a perfect fulcrum for an offense like that. But there’s a lot that needs to be improved on both the defensive end and…well mostly the defensive end.
Where the Cavaliers were always weakest was in post defense. Tristan Thompson is on an island in this regard, and they lack the big bodies and the willing soldiers to get the job done here. Larry Nance Jr. and Thompson were run over by LaMarcus Aldridge who had 27 points in the game as he steadied the effort of the Spurs. You can’t beat teams in the playoffs without a solid, grinding offense. Nobody just sprints their way to an NBA title, or Mike D’Antoni would have a ring by now.
Next Games (Spurs): vs. New Orleans (2/28), vs. LAL (3/3) vs. Memphis (3/5)
Next Games (Cav): vs. Brooklyn (2/27), vs Philadelphia (3/1), vs Denver (3/3)
TORONTO STILL CAN’T STOP GIANNIS
Most of All-Star weekend and the time spent around it was used to talk about how great Toronto is. I did it. Others did it. They were the talk of the town. But right after the break, Toronto did what it has a nasty habit of doing and got dismantled by a single player. Giannis and the Bucks held off Toronto 122-119 in an overtime win.
This isn’t a doom and gloom story about Toronto. They know that guys like LeBron, Blake and Giannis are their ultimate kryptonite. The league is bereft of athletes capable of stopping this showstoppers, but the Raptors have proven especially vulnerable despite being one of the top teams in the league. To put this game in perspective, Toronto was a -7.0 favorite at home against the Bucks.
Milwaukee is still working Jabari Parker in to the offense, figuring out life with their new head coach and learning how to play defense themselves. But Toronto has to be better prepared for the Bucks should they meet in the playoffs. They can’t continue this trend of letting teams walk all over them using their best player.
I know it’s suffocating to hear me say that Cleveland can’t win a championship by turning the NBA playoffs in to a track meet and another to say that Toronto can’t stop teams that have track stars, but this is the reality we live in. Both teams are living under different standards.
Toronto has a huge game against Detroit and Blake Griffin, and if they drop that Monday matchup to them as -10.5 point favorites, alarm bells are going to be sounding north of the border. Other than that, the Raptors have a totally manageable and bankable schedule the rest of the week.
Of course, Milwaukee followed up their win over Toronto by losing to New Orleans so there’s that. The Bucks are a work in progress and worth staying away from for the time being. Toronto, meanwhile, looks as if they’re feeling the pressure of expectation. It’s a situation they’ve frankly never been in before and I’m amped to see how they respond to it.
Next Games (Raps): vs Detroit (2/26), at Orlando (2/28), at Washington (3/2), vs Charlotte (3/4)
Next Games (Bucks): vs Washington (2/27), at Detroit (2/28), vs Indiana (3/2), vs Philadelphia (3/4)
ARE YOU DIGGING THE DENVER NUGGETS?
Denver plays a really, really fun brand of basketball. They’re one of the best teams when it comes to second chances (4th), and that’s because they score tons of points in the point. All hail Nikola Jokic, who became the first 6-foot-10+ player wince Wilt Chamberlin to notch three consecutive triple-doubles. He’s awesome.
Denver started the second half by beating the Spurs 122-119, but they were -4.0 point favorites at home. They then lost as +4.5 point home dogs to the Houston Rockets with an end score of 114-119. They’re as fringy as bubble teams get.
I don’t know what to like about this team other than their hustle and energy. Even then, they don’t top the advanced metrics boards in these areas where loose ball recovery, screen assists and other contextual standards are used to measure a teams efficacy. They’re a great rebounding team, but not even close to being the best.
The main problem is that the oddsmakers have them dead to rights, and they lack a player who can truly push them over the edge. I admire a lot of their pieces. Jamaal Murray is great. Will Barton is plucky. The Joker is All-Star worthy. Trey Lyles is intriguing for sure. But there’s an obvious ceiling here.
There’s no way anyone with a pulse is betting the Nuggets long term, but as a regular season bet they’re a field of landmines. At just 28-29-3 ATS, they’re struggling to prove a point of difference. They’re worthy of scratching off the teams that you might think have some daily value. I hate saying it because I like what’s happening in Denver overall. I just can’t see how you make steady money off of them.
Next Games (Nuggets): vs LAC (2/27), at Memphis (3/2), at Cleveland (3/3)
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