NBA Friday: Value lies with the league’s top three defensive teams

NBA Friday: Value lies with the league’s top three defensive teams article feature image
Friday features a massive slate of games with the top three teams in defensive rating appearing to hold the most value.

Last night:

After being down big in the first half, the Warriors came through to easily cover the -8 spread and hand the Spurs their fourth consecutive loss. Like the Warriors, the Lakers started slow but came back to cover the +6.5 and cap off a 2-0 night.

With 12 games on the slate tonight, there were a plethora of options, but I’ve picked out three lines I like the look of.

Raptors (4-3) @ Jazz (5-3)

The Jazz were written off by most people over the summer, but a 5-0 record at home has them sitting pretty at fourth in the Western Conference. As usual, defense is their most significant strength.

With a 98.1 defensive rating ranking second in the league, Utah is keeping teams to 94.4 points per game.

Seven games into their season, the Raptors are scoring 109.3 points per game but have relied heavily on Serge Ibaka (14.3 ppg) and Jonas Valanciunas (12 ppg) so far. With Kyle Lowry struggling through his 37.2 percent shooting, the two bigs have been picking up the slack.

Tonight they will be up against Rudy Gobert, Ekpe Udoh and Derrick Favors.

I’d be surprised to see Ibaka or Valanciunas play a significant role offensively in this game with the responsibility palmed off to Lowry and DeMar DeRozan.

With Lowry’s struggles and Utah’s defense capable of shutting down DeRozan’s mid-range game, I really like the look of the Jazz line after it opened at -1.5

Pick: Jazz -1.5

Heat (3-4) @ Nuggets (4-4)

Denver’s offense is finally starting to fire, averaging 117 points per game in their last four. Nikola Jokic has had a "slow" start putting up 16.1 points, 11.8 rebounds and five assists per game, but it’s Gary Harris that has sparked the recent flurry of points.

He’s dropped 16.6 points on 51.2 percent shooting in Denver’s last five to get them back to .500 after a 1-3 start. He’s also putting up some defensive numbers that suspend belief.

With Hassan Whiteside and the Miami Heat visiting, I like the look of the Nuggets at -5.5.

Whiteside has played only one game since missing five and will be dragged away from the basket by Jokic who regularly sits at the elbow. That takes away Miami’s best defensive player from where he works best and allows Harris, along with Will Barton, Jamal Murray and Emmanuel Mudiay, to cut to the basket all night long.

Along with Whiteside being taken away from the basket, James Johnson being listed as doubtful worries me. Paul Millsap could take fill-in starter Okaro White to task and produce the high-scoring game Denver has been waiting for.

As the Nuggets start to show signs they could live up to the hype, I’m buying in.

Pick: Nuggets -5.5

Celtics (6-2) @ Thunder (4-3)

The 206 points total line jumped out at me straight away in this one.

Boston has allowed their opponents to score the fewest points in the NBA so far this season at 93.8 points per game. Oklahoma City is only 1.9 points per game worse off in third. The two teams also rank in the same spots in defensive rating across the league.

The Celtics and Thunder are similarly put together, both rely on the point guard and wing players to anchor scoring and defense.

Kyrie Irving vs. Russell Westbrook is the marquee matchup of the night, but Paul George vs. Jayson Tatum and Carmelo Anthony vs. Al Horford are the two head-to-head battles that will decide this one.

No matter who comes out on top, I think it’s going to be low-scoring with two – if not all three of those matchups – canceling each other out.

The Thunder haven’t been all that consistent as they work George and Anthony into the offense, while the Celtics haven’t been putting up big totals at all this season. I don’t see this one as a shootout, and the trends point that way, too:

  • Under is 8-2 in Boston’s last 10 games against teams with winning records
  • Under is 4-0 when Boston’s opponent scores 100-plus points in their previous game
  • Under is 5-0 in Oklahoma City’s last five against the Eastern Conference
  • Under is 7-1 following a straight up Oklahoma City win

Pick: Under 206 points

Bulls (1-5) @ Magic (6-2)

  • Bulls average 90 points per game (30th)
  • Magic average 114.9 points per game (second)
  • Magic shoot 48.9 percent from the field (second)
  • Magic are 3-0 when playing at home

Cavaliers (3-5) @ Wizards (4-3)

  • Otto Porter is listed as day-to-day
  • Cavaliers are on a four-game losing streak
  • Cavaliers opponents have a 54.8 effective field goal percentage (28th)
  • Wizards are ranked first in turnover percentage at 12.4 percent

Bucks (4-4) @ Pistons (5-3)

  • Pistons are 6-2 against the spread
  • Pistons are ranked first in turnover percentage at 12.4 percent
  • Bucks shoot 48.5 percent (third)
  • Bucks average 37.9 rebounds per game (30th)

Pacers (5-3) @ 76ers (4-4)

  • Myles Turner is still listed as out
  • Both teams are 6-2 against the spread
  • Pacers score 111.5 points per game (fifth)

Rockets (6-3) @ Hawks (1-7)

  • Dennis Schroder is listed as probable
  • Hawks are 2-6 against the spread
  • Rockets shoot 44.0 3-pointers per game (first)
  • Rockets shoot 31.4 percent on 3-pointers (27th)

Suns (4-4) @ Knicks (3-4)

  • Kristaps Porzingis is listed as day-to-day
  • Knicks are second in rebound percentage at 27.6 percent
  • Suns are 3-1 since firing Earl Watson
  • Suns opponents score 116.6 points per game (29th)

Pelicans (3-5) @ Mavericks (1-8)

  • Mavericks are on a four-game losing streak
  • Mavericks are 2-7 against the spread

Hornets (5-3) @ Spurs (4-3)

  • Spurs are on a four-game losing streak
  • Gregg Popovich was ejected last night
  • Hornets are 5-3 against the spread
  • Hornets lead the league in rebounding with 50.1 total rebounds per game

Nets (3-5) @ Lakers

  • Lakers are playing the second night of a back-to-back
  • D’Angelo Russell’s first game against his former team
  • Both teams are 4-4 against the spread
  • Lakers have a 100.5 offensive rating (27th)

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