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Many of you may be planning on watching a team called the UMBC Retrievers on Sunday. A couple of weeks ago you probably didn’t know they existed, but at least you didn’t get posterized on Twitter like Jon Heyman did.
More than one hundred thousand likes. Not bad, not bad at all.
Anyway, we’ll be covering four games in depth featuring eight teams you definitely know exist. I am willing to bet none of them has a Twitter account that brings the ferocity like the UMBC Athletics handle does, but then again, does anybody? — Mark Gallant
All info as of Sunday morning. Check back during the day and keep an eye on our Twitter handle for any updates.
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OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER AT TORONTO RAPTORS (-6.5) | O/U: 218
1 p.m. ET
What the metrics say: These teams first met in late December, and the Thunder blew out Toronto, 124-107. The Raptors are one of the best, most-balanced teams in the league, but the Thunder poses real problems for them. Two of Toronto’s biggest weaknesses this season are hitting the defensive glass and stopping opponents from getting to the rim. Steven Adams is a one-man wrecking crew on the glass and the reason the Thunder is the best offensive rebounding team in the league. Russell Westbrook is a wrecking crew in his own right when it comes to transition opportunities and penetration, and he went for 30-8-13 in the 17-point victory. The Raps have an edge in almost every other category, but if they can’t contain Westbrook pick-and-rolls and let him have free rein at the rim, they’ll struggle again. — Bryan Mears
What I’m watching for: A momentum drag. Toronto is on an 11-game winning streak, and eventually that starts to drag on a team. Often those squads try to find a way to keep the streak going instead of playing their best basketball. Win streaks can warp habits. Teams at the end of them are always playing very differently from where they were at the start. Now, the Raptors have been the model of consistency this season, which has helped them get to this 11-game win streak, but you wonder when it starts to lag.
The Raptors are running one of the most complex offenses in the NBA this season. They throw a huge number of fake indicators at you. They are always looking to get you to bite on fake actions to open up the counter. OKC’s defensive awareness is high, but it has to be razor-sharp, which is tough for a regular-season game without full scouting. The Thunder is much more of a blunt instrument. This game might become kind of an indicator of where the two franchises are with their installed systems to this point.
Toronto clinches home court in the first round with a win and potentially home court in the second round as well. — Matt Moore
Did you know? Only once in the last three seasons have two teams on a winning streak of five or more games faced off against each other with one team over .700 and the other under it: Warriors-Blazers from a little over a week ago. Portland won and covered the spread at home against Golden State. — Evan Abrams
BOSTON CELTICS AT NEW ORLEANS PELICANS (-1) | O/U: 215.5
6 p.m. ET
What I’m watching for: The Pelicans gave up a first-rounder for Nikola Mirotic, which they needed to do in an effort to stay in the playoffs. But he’s shooting 41 percent from the field and 32 percent from 3-point range since being traded by the Bulls . . . because that’s who he is. He always has one good month to boost up his percentages and keep him in the “shooter” conversation, but consistency is his problem. Now, he’s over 32% from beyond the arc in three of his first four months this season, but we’ll see if that holds in March.
The Boston Celtics continue to be interesting without Kyrie Irving on the floor. They’re better defensively, and their offense can step up at times. Terry Rozier continues to prove he’s an up-and-coming starter-level point guard on the cheap. — Matt Moore
Betting market: Two steam moves have been triggered on the Celtics thus far, one at +3 and one at +2. Both have come from books with sharp reputations (Bookmaker and ABC) and the market has adjusted accordingly, with the Pelicans now just a one point favorite across the board. — Mark Gallant
What the metrics say: The injury hits keep coming for the Celtics. Irving remains out with a knee issue, and Marcus Smart had thumb surgery on Friday. They did get Al Horford back, but it’s unclear when Jaylen Brown and Daniel Theis will join him. Matt mentioned that the Celtics have had moments without Kyrie (and that’s true), but the season-long numbers remain putrid: They’ve been 9.1 points per 100 possessions worse offensively with him off the floor, and their effective field goal mark has dipped by 4.1 percent in those minutes. One important factor is that the already-slow Celtics get out less in transition without Kyrie, and that’s certainly the way to beat the Pelicans, who rank 30th in transition defense and are on the second leg of a back-to-back. If this gets into a half-court battle, that will favor Anthony Davis and the Pels. — Bryan Mears
Trend No. 1 to know: New Orleans is playing on a back-to-back. Late in the season (March-April), when teams with winning records meet, the squad on a B2B has gone 152-196-6 (44%) ATS. — John Ewing
Trend No. 2 to know: The Pelicans are coming off a 107-101 loss to the Rockets last night and are playing a back-to-back at home against Brad Stevens and the Celtics. This season, Boston is 9-2-1 ATS (82%) facing an opponent on a back-to-back, having covered four straight games in the spot since Christmas Day. — Evan Abrams
HOUSTON ROCKETS (-7) AT MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES | O/U: 221.5
7 p.m. ET
What I’m watching for: Much like their last matchup, keep an eye on the over. Once the floodgates open on Minnesota’s defense, the Timberwolves don’t close. They just can’t contain the 3-point line against anyone, and they can’t make enough 3s to keep up. These games just get away from Minnesota, and the Wolves don’t have a counter to deal with that 3-point differential. The Rockets have outscored them by 60 points from 3 over the last two meetings. — Matt Moore
What the metrics say: The Wolves don’t have good history against the Rockets this season: They’re 0-3 straight up, and the most recent affair was the game in which Jimmy Butler tore his meniscus. The Wolves just haven’t been able to stop Houston at all: The Rockets have scored 122.8, 135.9, and 129.0 points per 100 possessions against Minnesota this season, and that was mostly with Butler playing. Per Cleaning the Glass, the Wolves’ defense has been 9.8 points/100 worse with Butler off the floor, which is one of the most drastic marks of any player this season. They’ve allowed an effective field goal rate 3.7 percent higher in those minutes, and they’ll be especially vulnerable against James Harden, who actually struggled to be efficient in the first three meetings. And Minnesota still wasn’t particularly competitive in those games. — Bryan Mears
Trend No. 1 to know: Minnesota lost its previous game to Houston, 120-102. Late in the season (March-April), teams that lost their previous head-to-head matchup to an elite team (win rate of 75% or higher) by more than 10 points have gone 64-53-1 (55%) ATS in the rematch at home. — John Ewing
Trend No. 2 to know: Tom Thibodeau is 36-23-1 ATS (61%) when facing a team with an Offensive Rating above 110. He’s the second-most profitable coach in the NBA in this spot since getting his start with the Bulls in 2010.— Evan Abrams
PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS AT LA CLIPPERS (-2) | O/U: 219.5
10:30 p.m. ET
What I’m watching for: The Clippers are on the edge of real danger here. A loss and a Pelicans win would put them 2.5 games outside of the 8 seed in the West. Portland’s got a chance to salt away a playoff spot and secure home court if they can keep this unlikely win streak going.
The best matchup here will be Ed Davis vs. Montrezl Harrell, a battle of royally brutal beasts. — Matt Moore
What the metrics say: The first two matchups between these teams were defensive slugfests, totaling just 207 and 200 points. This is actually a fascinating matchup: Both teams have real flaws this season, but neither team is poised to take advantage of them. The Clippers are terrible in transition; the Blazers don’t run. The Blazers are great at defending the 3-point line; the Clippers don’t really take them. This game will likely come down to whether Damian Lillard continues his MVP-like tear of late. He’s led the NBA with 30.9 points per game over his past 10, during which he’s drained more than four 3s per contest and averaged nearly 10 free throw attempts. The Blazers have been 9.8 points/100 better with him on the floor, and he somehow has them sitting third in the Western Conference playoff race. If that version of Lillard shows up, the Blazers will likely add to their ridiculous 12-game win streak.— Bryan Mears
Trend to know: The Blazers currently own the 3-seed in the Western Conference and have been very efficient at covering the spread this season. Portland is one of the top-five most-profitable teams ATS, but a majority of those covers have come against inferior ATS opponents.
- Versus teams above .500 ATS: 16-17-1 ATS, -1.8 ATS differential
- Versus teams below .500 ATS: 17-9-2 ATS, +2.3 ATS differential
So where are the Clips this season? They stand 37-31 ATS, good for 54.4 percent. — Evan Abrams
Top photo via Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports