Thursday NBA Predictions, Picks & Betting Odds (Dec. 12): Will Nuggets Right Ship at Home?
Photo credit: Michael Ciaglo-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Nikola Jokic
This NBA season, I’m trying something new. I’m going to write a daily piece that highlights everything bettors and DFS players need to know for that night’s slate. For more on what to expect, read the inaugural piece.
Yesterday I finished 2-2 for +0.4 units. While I don’t want to get sucked into the past, I think it’s worth reviewing things each day.
The best way to do that is to look at closing line value (CLV), which is just measuring whether the line you bet moved for or against you by closing.
- I bet Clippers -2.5 and it closed at Clippers -3 (won)
- I bet Jazz-Wolves under 222.5 and it closed at 220.5 (lost)
- I bet Lakers-Magic (2H) under 102 (won)
- I bet Thunder-Kings (2H) under 101 (lost)
I grabbed the Clippers at -2.5 after it was announced that Fred VanVleet was not going to suit up (I thought he might). He’s been an undervalued important player this season, and I’ve been a little worried about the Raps adjusting back to Kyle Lowry as the de facto offensive engine. They continued to struggle last night, posting a 91.5 Offensive Rating (6th percentile) and a 40.2% eFG% (3rd percentile). Thankfully that was my biggest bet.
I was low on the Jazz offense, and man was I wrong on that one last night. They exploded for 127 points on a 128.3 Offensive Rating (96th percentile), notably going 45.7% from 3 and 62.5% from mid-range (99th percentile). Perhaps that was just hot shooting, although their profile looked a little better than it has this season; they took 14% of their shots from the corner.
I’ll monitor them moving forward, but it was a positive step. Emmanuel Mudiay went 2-of-3 from beyond the arc, and Georges Niang went 3-of-3. Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert and Joe Ingles all had highly-efficient games, which is the most important thing, but they also benefited from outlier shooting from role players, which is more random than you might think.
Anyway, enough on yesterday’s games; let’s get to today’s four-game slate and find some angles.
Note: For updates, see the chat at the bottom of this post.
- Overall: 128-112-1
- Spreads: 46-46-1
- Totals: 39-38
- Moneylines: 9-6
- Props: 29-22
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Betting Odds and Analysis
- 8 p.m. ET: Philadelphia 76ers at Boston Celtics (-1.5), 210
- 8:30 p.m. ET: Cleveland Cavaliers at San Antonio Spurs (-10), 219.5
- 9 p.m. ET: Dallas Mavericks (-5.5) at Detroit Pistons, 220.5
- 10:30 p.m. ET: Portland Trail Blazers at Denver Nuggets (-6), 214
Let’s run through a couple angles I’m eyeing.
76ers at Celtics
Both teams have been excellent lately, ranking in the top-six in Net Rating over the past two weeks. Philly is coming off back-to-back wins against the Raptors and Nuggets, albeit both at home, and the storyline has been the emergence of 3-and-D rookie wing Matisse Thybulle, who has gone 8-of-12 from beyond the arc in the last two on top of his tenacious defense.
All that said, those shooting numbers are likely to regress: Since Dec. 1, the Sixers are posting a high 58.5% eFG% mark on open shots. Considering their best shooter, Josh Richardson, has been in and out of the lineup lately, that’s 1) impressive but 2) likely to come come down.
That said, the Celtics have been shooting well on their own. In that same span, they’re top-10 on open shots, and on tightly-contested shots they’re posting a league-high 53.5% eFG% mark. They’re coming off a loss to the Pacers, but they’ve been pretty darn good lately against some solid teams. You could make the argument that the Sixers are overvalued because of recency bias, but you could very well make that same argument for the Celtics.
Birds-eye view, the matchup is obviously interesting. Last season the Sixers went 0-4 ATS against the Celtics. Al Horford defends Joel Embiid as well as anyone in the world, and even in a down Cs year, the Sixers just couldn’t get their number as a result. Of course, Horford then left for Philly, not just adding a great starter but also removing one of the best weapons against Embiid.
The Sixers were able to win and cover in their first meeting this season, convincingly in fact, winning 107-93. But I’m hesitant to really give that one any weight: It was opening night of the season, and the Celtics were adjusting to life with Kemba Walker at point, no Horford or Kyrie Irving and the re-addition of wing Gordon Hayward. There were kinks to work out.
The spot is also interesting. The narrative is that the Celtics under head coach Brad Stevens do best in the feisty underdog role. And there’s some truth to that: Per Bet Labs, the Celtics under Stevens are 113-87-3 (56.5%) ATS as an underdog, good for a 10.2% Return on Investment for bettors. But there are surprisingly some odd home/away splits in that sample…
- Stevens as home dog: 27-31-2, -9.5% ROI
- Stevens as road dog: 86-56-1, +18.5% ROI
I think the two biggest on-court angles here are whether Marcus Smart plays (he’s TBD after missing last game with an eye infection/illness) and whether the 76ers can limit turnovers.
On the Smart thing, the Celtics have actually been much better with him off the floor this year to the tune of 7.5 points per 100 possessions. And if you think that’s just starter/bench splits, note that Jayson Tatum has a team-high +18.1 on/off differential — 99th percentile in the league actually. The Celtics are predictably worse offensively with Smart, and their eFG% drops by 4.9%.
In particular, their 3-point shooting drops by a massive 6.6% with Smart playing, and that could be where they need to beat Philly with Embiid and Horford patrolling the paint.
Now to the 76ers: They’re the fourth-most turnover-prone team in the league, and while Embiid gets a ton of narrative blame for that, Ben Simmons has actually been the biggest problem. He leads all qualified players in the NBA this season with a massive 24.3% turnover rate. The Celtics turn teams over at the second-highest rate in the league this season. Tatum has been especially great at swiping balls, although Smart has, too, so if he’s out that could be less of a problem for the Sixers.
And, of course, things could come down to shooting luck. Tatum could legitimately be the best player on the floor, as he’s often been lately, and he can obviously get hot and burn any good defense. But maybe Thybulle and the Sixers shooters continue their torrid run.
I leaned Sixers back when they opened as a short dog and even around a pick’em, but the value is likely gone here as a small favorite. I don’t have a bet on this game currently, although that could change as a research the game more. If anything changes, you can see my picks for free in our awesome app.
Update: Al Horford is now questionable to suit up tonight. If he ends up missing the game, there’s likely some value on the Celtics, especially in that 1.5-2 range the spread currently sits.
Blazers at Nuggets
And here we have the battle of disappointing Western Conference teams. They’re obviously disappointing on the whole this year, but even lately in the last two weeks they’ve posted below-average point differentials.
The Blazers have somewhat righted the ship after a truly miserable November, going 5-3 over their last eight games, but even those wins weren’t exactly impressive against the Bulls twice, Thunder at home, Kings at home and Knicks at home. The defense outside of that New York game has remained awful, and the Blazers remain quite injured, down Jusuf Nurkic, Zach Collins and now Rodney Hood from the rotation.
And man, the Nuggets. First, they’re dealing with some injuries of their own in Jamal Murray and Paul Millsap, both of whom are questionable tonight. We have Murray at 70% to play tonight, as he took to Instagram to say he’s good to go. Millsap is more of a 50/50 proposition, and he has a team-high +22.0 on/off differential this season. In fact, that’s the top mark in the entire league.
Not all of that is Millsap, of course. The starters just have crazy splits compared to the bench, which is surprisingly been awful this season. There were thoughts that Monte Morris, an impressive rookie last year, would take a bit of a leap. Jerami Grant was an awesome find in free agency. Malik Beasley looked poise to take a step as well. Maybe they get something from Michael Porter, Jr.
That just hasn’t been the case: All of those players have significantly negative on/off differential numbers and have been the main reason the Nuggets have been so bad — well, along with terrible overall shooting, a poor offensive shot profile and a weird start to the season from superstar Nikola Jokic.
Put all that together and it’s easy to see why the Nuggets have been so frustrating and up-and-down. They’re currently down right now, having lost five of their last six games. Admittedly, all of those losses were on the road and to some pretty good teams, but the offense has been truly atrocious.
In that stretch, they’ve scored just 102.0 points/100 (27th in the league) and posted a 49.9% eFG% mark (26th). They’ve grabbed very few offensive rebounds and have gotten to the line at the second-lowest rate.
Again, they’ve faced good defenses, but these things have been problems all season for the Nuggets outside of the rebounding. Nothing comes easy for them: They’re dead last on the year in free throw rate, 25th in shots at the rim and 26th in 3-point rate. They get out in transition at a bottom-10 rate, too.
Where exactly are easy buckets coming from in this offense? That remains to be seen, which means this is a highly-volatile team right now that is very reliant on getting hot from the mid-range, which opposing defenses know.
They are facing a pretty bad Blazers defense, although let’s note why Portland has been bad in that regard. They’re actually fifth in eFG% allowed despite ranking 19th overall on defense. It hasn’t been overall shooting, it’s that they never force turnovers, never get rebounds and foul teams all the time. They also allow transition opportunities at the highest rate.
So it’s the immovable object vs. irresistible force debate: Where the Blazers suck on defense is coincidentally where the Nuggets just haven’t really prioritized their offense. Will that change tonight? Do teams change on the fly in a regular-season game, especially when it comes to fundamental things like how they operate their offense?
I’m hesitant that’s the case, which is why I’m currently leaning toward the under in this game. The market early on has been interesting on this one, though. The over is getting 51% of the bets and 96% of the money. There’s even been a steam move on the over at 213. And yet the total hasn’t budged despite those things, indicating some resistance.
I’ll keep monitoring this one to make sure I’m not on the wrong side from the sharps, and if there isn’t a rash of steam on the over to move it up (which would indicate sharp money on that side), I’ll likely grab the under this afternoon.
Projected Starting Lineups and Injury News
Note: Info as of 3:30 p.m. ET. For up-to-the-minute lineups and news, see FantasyLabs’ matchups page.
- Boston Celtics: Kemba Walker – Jaylen Brown – Jayson Tatum – Gordon Hayward – Daniel Theis
- Cleveland Cavaliers: Darius Garland – Collin Sexton – Cedi Osman – Kevin Love – Tristan Thompson
- Dallas Mavericks: Luka Doncic – Tim Hardaway Jr. – Dorian Finney-Smith – Kristaps Porzingis – Dwight Powell
- Denver Nuggets: Jamal Murray – Gary Harris – Will Barton – Paul Millsap – Nikola Jokic
- Detroit Pistons: Bruce Brown – Luke Kennard – Tony Snell – Blake Griffin – Andre Drummond
- Philadelphia 76ers: Ben Simmons – Josh Richardson – Tobias Harris – Al Horford – Joel Embiid
- Portland Trail Blazers: Damian Lillard – CJ McCollum – Kent Bazemore – Carmelo Anthony – Hassan Whiteside
- San Antonio Spurs: Derrick White – Bryn Forbes – DeMar DeRozan – Rudy Gay – LaMarcus Aldridge
- Boston Celtics: Marcus Smart (eye, illness) and Robert Williams (hip) are TBD.
- Cleveland Cavaliers: Nothing new.
- Dallas Mavericks: Delon Wright (adductor) is out.
- Denver Nuggets: Jamal Murray (foot) and Paul Millsap (foot) are questionable.
- Detroit Pistons: Nothing new.
- Philadelphia 76ers: Al Horford (knee, hamstring) is questionable.
- Portland Trail Blazers: Nothing new.
- San Antonio Spurs: Nothing new.
To bet props, I use our FantasyLabs player props tool. Follow me in the Action Network app to see my bets (or go to the bottom of the article), but the more important thing is the tool, which measures our projections for every player vs. current odds in the market and highlights the biggest edges for you.
Player props are an inefficient market, which allows casual bettors (limits are low, so pro bettors aren’t incentivized to prioritize them) to grab very +EV bets. That said, the lines move quickly. Our props tool is set up so you can always see whether there’s an edge even at the updated numbers throughout the day.
It’s one of my favorite tools we offer and should be one of your bookmarked pages if you like making a few extra bucks. Here’s a screenshot of what it looks like:
My usual recommendation: Bet unders.
Last season, 10-rated props in our tool hit at a 60.31% rate. But overs hit at a 57.08% rate vs. 66.47% for unders. For 9-rated props, 55.96% of overs were successful bets vs. 62.60% for unders.
As I have noted in the past, unders have more outs: A blowout, an injury, a poor shooting night — all will likely make the under hit. But also, props are less efficient as a market given the low limits, so they’re less likely to adjust for things like opponent and pace.
One under I think is intriguing is Kent Bazemore’s 10.5-point total.
Bazemore is now in the starting lineup after the injury to Rodney Hood. That’s a good thing for his minutes: We’re currently projecting for him right around 30. But it’s not a good thing for his usage playing with Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Carmelo Anthony and Hassan Whiteside.
He’s been at a 13% usage rate as a result over the last two games, so despite the higher minutes he’s still been way below 10 points a game. Further, tonight’s he facing a slow-paced Denver team that has been solid defensively this season. Don’t assume a role change is always positive for a player, and Bazemore is a good example of why. I’ll take the under here.
DFS Values and Strategy
It’s a tough slate today. There are just four games, and value is tough to come by. That could change certainly, as Marcus Smart, Al Horford, Jamal Murray and Paul Millsap are all either TBD or questionable. But if those guys suit up — Murray seems likely to at this point — then there won’t be any major news for which to take advantage.
You can see that in our models: After months of seeing Projected Plus/Minus values consistently above +7.0 — and honestly many in double-digits — on FanDuel Daniel Theis currently leads the slate with a +3.65 mark. On DraftKings, it’s Kevin Porter Jr. at +4.01. It’s slim pickins out there.
The lack of value creates ripple effects in the slate: Because of the salary cap, every roster decision is tied together. A lack of value, especially in the lower range of the salary tier, means it’s harder to pay up for the higher-priced studs. Luka Doncic is the most-expensive guy by far at $11,400 on DraftKings and $11,800 on FanDuel, but it’ll be hard to create an awesome lineup around him. You either have to create a more balanced lineup or take some risks.
Taking risks is obviously more palatable and even wise in tournaments. And you can even get guys with high ceilings at discounted stud rates, like Nikola Jokic, who is down at $8,800 on FanDuel. He’s hit value in three straight games, looks a little better on the court and has a positive matchup against the Blazers, who are … not good on defense. If Murray or Millsap can’t go, he’s obviously an awesome play, as would be Will Barton, Gary Harris, Jerami Grant and others.
Some of the better values, if things don’t open up, include the mid-range guys like Tim Hardaway Jr. (without Delon Wright), Josh Richardson, Luke Kennard and Jaylen Brown. A lot of those guys are score-first players with some defensive upside who could get hot in tournaments.
A night like tonight highlights just how important it is to have access to player models. There just aren’t any easy plays, which means the edge is going to come more from projections rather than reacting to news. Make sure to subscribe to our models for up-to-the-minute player projections and tools.
My Bets Currently
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