As the festivities come to an end and 2018 draws near, the NBA landscape starts to become clear. Pretenders will struggle to navigate the middling months of the season, while the contenders make themselves known.
More importantly for us, the strange early-season trends start to level off.
The Celtics are no longer covering the spread like they are offended by the line Vegas sets. The Thunder are finally starting to look like the super team they were billed to be. Meanwhile, the Bulls have managed to bounce back from their 3-20 start to improve to 12-22 — not that most Bulls fans are happy about the sudden burst of regular wins.
Despite the anomalies starting to subside, betting on the NBA is like spearfishing in muddy water at the best of times, but tonight, there are two clear picks from the nine-game slate.
Hawks @ Raptors
The Hawks aren’t a popular team for punters. They’ve only taken over 50 percent of the tickets in three of their 34 games, and they just so happened to go 3-0.
With only 39 percent of tickets tonight, that trend doesn’t help us, but with their line at +11, there are some numbers to suggest the public is going the wrong way.
When Atlanta’s line is above +9.5, they have covered at an 80 percent rate (4-1-1). Admittedly, that’s a small sample size. But across the league, teams are covering the spread at 57.3 percent when the opposition is swallowing double digits.
With how the Hawks have been scoring of late, the Raptors are going to need to pile on the points to cover the -11 line.
The Hawks have averaged 104.1 points per game for the season, but they’ve upped that number to 114 points per game in their last three. As a result, they are looking for their third win in a row tonight.
You guys know who is tied for the longest winning streak in the east?
The Atlanta Hawks.
— Atlanta Hawks Reddit (@ATLHawks_Reddit) December 28, 2017
The Raptors, on the other hand, are trying to avoid a third straight loss after a rough last two games. They lost to the Mavericks and Thunder only scoring 100 points per game and producing a 112.4 defensive rating that would usually rank them 30th in the league.
As a top-three team in the East, we can expect the Raptors to bounce back, but covering -11 against an in-form Hawks team seems a step too far.
Pick: Hawks +11
Suns @ Kings
With a pair of inconsistent and unpredictable teams going head-to-head, it appears as though the public is avoiding the lines on this game like the plague. Right now, it’s seeing the least amount of action across all nine games today, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any value.
Zach Randolph’s total points and rebounds line is set at 22.5, and I like him to go way over.
Randolph leads the team in usage rate at 27.3 percent, so we can already assume he will have plenty of opportunities to influence this game. Add the fact the Suns play the second-fastest pace in the league (100.8), and Randolph will see even more possessions come his way.
The only predictability with the Kings is that Randolph will start and suck up an extraordinary amount of possessions
— Josh Lloyd (@redrock_bball) December 28, 2017
He’s averaging 15.5 points a night on the back of a career-high 53.8 effective field goal percentage so far this season.
Tonight is the night we could see him really put up some points, as Hashtag Basketball has the Suns giving up the most points to opposing power forwards in the league at 24.8 per game.
To add to Randolph’s favorable scoring outlook, there’s a good chance he reels in a few more than the 6.9 rebounds he’s averaging this season.
The Suns are 27th in opponent rebounding numbers, allowing 45.6 total rebounds per game.
This game is built for Randolph to turn back the clock and pull off one of the classic 20 and 10 games we grew accustomed to between 2003 and 2011.
Pick: Randolph over 22.5 total points and rebounds