NBA Predictions, Picks & Betting Odds (Wednesday, Dec. 18): Injury Uncertainty Creating Betting Value
Photo credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond
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 2-0 for +1.0 unit. 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 Nets -130 and it closed at Nets -135 (won)
- I bet Hawks-Knicks over 224.5 and it closed at 225.5 (won)
Both bets hit, and we got a little CLV in the process. I got tied up last night and wasn’t able to grab the third game of yesterday’s writeup — under in Suns-Clippers — but that hit as well. Unfortunately I wasn’t around to grab those Pacers odds when it was announced Anthony Davis was out, either.
It’s been a tough start to the season for betting based on injury news and beating the market, but it’s starting to turn around, as it was always going to. It seemed like every day an injury would move a line 3-4 points, but the injured team would still cover. Either that was fluky and likely to change or the NBA global betting market is wildly inefficient.
It’s highly likely that the reason is the former and not the latter, and last night was a nice turnaround for things.
Anyway, let’s dive into today’s slate and find some angles.
Note: For updates, see the chat at the bottom of this post.
- Overall: 141-117-2
- Spreads: 53-49-2
- Totals: 42-40
- Moneylines: 12-6
- Props: 29-22
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Betting Odds and Analysis
- 7 p.m. ET: Chicago Bulls at Washington Wizards (-1.5), 229.5
- 7 p.m. ET: Charlotte Hornets at Cleveland Cavaliers (-3), 212.5
- 7 p.m. ET: Toronto Raptors (-3.5) at Detroit Pistons, 217
- 7 p.m. ET: Miami Heat at Philadelphia 76ers (-8), 209.5
- 8 p.m. ET: Memphis Grizzlies at OKC Thunder (-6.5), 219
- 8 p.m. ET: New Orleans Pelicans at Minnesota Timberwolves (-7), 231
- 9 p.m. ET: Orlando Magic at Denver Nuggets (-9.5), 204
- 9:30 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics (-2) at Dallas Mavericks, 217.5
- 10 p.m. ET: Golden State Warriors at Portland Trail Blazers (-9.5), 220
Today’s a great day to find value based on impending injury news. Let’s run through a couple angles I’m eyeing.
Raptors at Pistons
Both Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond ended up sitting out for the Pistons on Monday, and Detroit fell to the lowly Wizards, 133-119. They’re both questionable to suit up today.
The Pistons’ most-used lineup this season — Bruce Brown, Luke Kennard, Tony Snell, Griffin and Drummond — has been nothing short of awesome, posting a +27.9 Net Rating in 196 possessions together. They’ve been especially great defensively, allowing just 88.4 points/100, and the combination of the skilled big men plus Kennard’s shooting and leap this year has made them just fine offensively, too.
But the lineups without Griffin and Drummond have posted a -4.2 Net Rating. They’ve been solid offensively, posting a 114.3 Offensive Rating in those 720 possessions, but the defense has fallen off a cliff. They’ve grabbed very few defensive rebounds and have been bad defending the paint — not surprising since they were without their two starting big men.
If they’re both out, the Raptors are more than just 3.5 points better than them, even on the road. In fact, the Raptors are better than that even if just one sits out.
The Pistons also really struggled Monday in transition, and that’s not a great sign against a Raptors team that is one of the best in that regard. On the year, 18.9% of their possessions have come in transition (second-most in the NBA), and they’re second behind the Rockets in efficiency on those possessions.
The Raptors have one significant weakness, which is rebounding; Marc Gasol is still a very smart player, but he’s getting up there in age. That would be a big factor in favor of the Pistons given Drummond’s prowess on the boards. But if he’s not playing, and especially if Griffin is out as well, then that weakness — really the only one — is mitigated for the Raptors.
The Raps have been up and down lately, but I’m not very worried. They lost four of five prior to two-straight wins over the weekend against the Nets and Cavs. But those losses came against the Heat, Rockets, Sixers and Clippers. And notably, it came during a stretch where Fred VanVleet was out and Kyle Lowry was returning. There’s been an adjustment.
VanVleet is doubtful tonight, which isn’t ideal — he’s a very important player for them and one of the more underrated players in the league — but they’re figuring things out. And most importantly, this line is just way off if either (and especially both) of the Pistons guys are out.
Pelicans at Wolves
This is an interesting game given the poor play of both teams and the injury to Karl-Anthony Towns, who is questionable tonight.
Over the last two weeks, the Pels and Wolves rank 28th and 29th, respectively, in Net Rating. The Pels have lost 13 straight, including last night at home to the Nets in overtime. The Wolves have lost seven straight.
During the past two weeks, the defenses have been especially egregious; in fact, the Wolves have posted a top-five offense in that span, so that shows how bad they’ve had to play defensively to be 29th in overall Net Rating. In that span, they’ve allowed 128.0 points per 100 possessions, easily last in the league. In fact, the 29th-ranked team, the Wizards, allowed 122.1. It’s been an abomination of a defensive stretch.
Combine that with a still-good offense, the Pelicans defense and the pace of these teams — they are both in the top-seven in seconds per play — and it’s no surprise this total is up at 231.5. In fact, it should probably be even higher than that given the play.
Of course, both teams have had pretty brutal schedules, which is an important caveat. The Pels looked better last night against the Nets, even if they ultimately did not win or cover by losing overtime so handily.
But here’s where things get more confusing: The Wolves’ most-used lineup — Jarrett Culver, Andrew Wiggins, Treveon Graham, Robert Covington and Towns — has been very good, posting a +14.1 Net Rating. They’ve been pretty good on both ends of the floor, honestly.
This is really about Towns. With him on the floor this season, the offense has scored 115.7 points per 100 possessions — 92nd percentile in the league. With him off, however, the Wolves have been down at 99.1 points/100 — fourth percentile in the league. Yes, you read all of those data points correctly. You could make the argument that Towns is the most valuable offensive player in the entire league.
My opinion: Given the magnitude of Towns’ importance, I think sportsbooks are hedging here. If he plays, this over/under is too low. If he’s out, then the under potentially provides some value, although my favorite bet in that situation would be the Pels against the spread — it’s currently +7.
Make sure to monitor this situation; we’re going to get some value either way. The best way to do that is to use our new Labs NBA Insiders tool, which gives instant updates on injury news, provides analysis on what it means, gives probability to play for major guys and much more.
Heat at 76ers
I’ll admit: I have yet to figure out the Heat. They continue to chug along despite playing a few guys heavy minutes most casual fans had never heard of entering the year. They’re 19-8 although just 11th with a +4.3 Net Rating.
They hung tight with the Lakers the other night, but struggled to close out the Luka Doncic-less Mavs and then loss in Memphis on Monday. Today they’ll continue to be without Goran Dragic and Justise Winslow, two of their most important players.
I’ve gone over it a million times, but a quick recap. The Heat have an expected eFG% rank of 13th, but they rank third in actual eFG%. They’re getting incredibly lucky on both ends of the floor when it comes to shooting.
They also have weird, notable betting splits.
- Heat overall ATS: 17-9-1
- Heat as a favorite: 11-4
- Heat as a dog: 6-5-1
- Heat at home: 10-2
- Heat on the road: 7-7-1
- Heat against teams below .500: 8-3
- Heat against teams at or above .500: 8-6-1
That last one doesn’t even fully represent their season, as that record was against teams above or below .500 at that time — not now. Against the Celtics, Nets, Nuggets, Rockets, Lakers, Bucks, Sixers and Raptors — all the legitimately good teams they’ve played — they’re 4-6 ATS.
They have won just three of those outright: Against the Nets (meh), the Rockets (the infamous Rockets in Miami for the weekend game) and the Bucks (impressive, but first week of the season). The resume looks impressive overall, but it has flaws the more you dive deeper into it.
This is also an interesting matchup on the court. The Heat this season allow the most 3-pointers in the entire league. That can be problematic, but it may not be an issue against the Sixers, who take the fourth-fewest 3s in the NBA. The Heat are last in opponent FG% at the rim, which could be a much bigger deal against Joel Embiid and is something to certainly watch.
The two biggest flaws of these teams offensively right now is turnovers: They’re both in the bottom-five in turnover rate. The Heat are actually not a big transition team, and they’ll likely need to step up in that regard.
In the first game between these two teams, they got nothing in transition, and they also posted a 58.2 Offensive Rating in the halfcourt. That was with Dragic playing, mind you.
The Sixers are a tough matchup for the Heat, so it’s not surprising to see sharp bettors on that side — and on the under given the first game’s results. I think the line is probably about right now after the movement, although note that the Sixers do match for this current Pro System trend:
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 – Semi Ojeleye – Daniel Theis
- Charlotte Hornets: Devonte’ Graham – Terry Rozier – Miles Bridges – Cody Zeller – Bismack Biyombo
- Chicago Bulls: Tomas Satoransky – Kris Dunn – Zach LaVine – Lauri Markkanen – Wendell Carter Jr.
- Cleveland Cavaliers: Darius Garland – Collin Sexton – Cedi Osman – Kevin Love – Tristan Thompson
- Dallas Mavericks: Jalen Brunson – 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
- Golden State Warriors: D’Angelo Russell – Glenn Robinson III – Eric Paschall – Draymond Green – Willie Cauley-Stein
- Memphis Grizzlies: Ja Morant – Dillon Brooks – Jae Crowder – Jaren Jackson Jr. – Jonas Valanciunas
- Miami Heat: Jimmy Butler – Kendrick Nunn – Duncan Robinson – Bam Adebayo – Meyers Leonard
- Minnesota Timberwolves: Andrew Wiggins – Jarrett Culver – Josh Okogie – Robert Covington – Karl-Anthony Towns
- New Orleans Pelicans: Jrue Holiday – JJ Redick – Brandon Ingram – Kenrich Williams – Derrick Favors
- OKC Thunder: Chris Paul – Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – Terrance Ferguson – Danilo Gallinari – Steven Adams
- Orlando Magic: Markelle Fultz – Evan Fournier – Aaron Gordon – Jonathan Isaac – Nikola Vucevic
- 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
- Toronto Raptors: Kyle Lowry – Norman Powell – OG Anunoby – Pascal Siakam – Marc Gasol
- Washington Wizards: Isaiah Thomas – Bradley Beal – Isaac Bonga – Davis Bertans – Ian Mahinmi
- Boston Celtics: Marcus Smart (eye), Robert Williams (hip), Gordon Hayward (foot) and Vincent Poirier (finger) are out.
- Charlotte Hornets: Nicolas Batum (hand) said he’ll be available.
- Chicago Bulls: Chandler Hutchison (shoulder) is TBD. Wendell Carter Jr. (abdomen, tailbone), Zach LaVine (shin, illness) and Ryan Arcidiacono (elbow) are available to play.
- Cleveland Cavaliers: Kevin Porter Jr. (shoulder) is questionable.
- Dallas Mavericks: Luka Doncic (ankle) is likely to miss a couple weeks.
- Denver Nuggets: Paul Millsap (quad) is questionable.
- Detroit Pistons: Blake Griffin (knee) and Andre Drummond (eye) are game-time decisions.
- Golden State Warriors: Eric Paschall (hip) will play.
- Memphis Grizzlies: Grayson Allen (ankle) is questionable.
- Miami Heat: Justise Winslow (back) and Goran Dragic (groin) are out. Derrick Jones Jr. (migraine) is questionable.
- Minnesota Timberwolves: Jake Layman (toe) remains out. Karl-Anthony Towns (knee) is questionable.
- New Orleans Pelicans: JJ Redick (groin) is TBD.
- OKC Thunder: Nothing new.
- Orlando Magic: Nothing new.
- Philadelphia 76ers: Joel Embiid (illness) and Furkan Korkmaz (knee) are not on the injury report.
- Portland Trail Blazers: Mario Hezonja (back) is questionable. Nassir Little (back) is probable.
- Toronto Raptors: Fred VanVleet (knee) is unlikely to play.
- Washington Wizards: Rui Hachimura (groin) will miss at least 5 games. Moe Wagner (ankle) is out.
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 Ian Mahinmi 9.5-point total.
Mahinmi is standing out as a value for DFS thanks to Wizards injuries, but that doesn’t mean he’s an automatic over bet for his props. We’re currently projecting him around 25 minutes, which is a solid number, but note that Mahinmi is just not a high-usage player.
We’re projecting him for a 14.4% usage rate, and he’s entirely reliant on dump-offs for production. That could certainly happen, but it’s tough to bet overs on a player who is incapable of creating anything for himself. I think Mahinmi will be out there to battle with the Bulls bigs and to grab rebounds. He’s yet to hit the over on this mark all season, and I’ll hit the under here.
DFS Values and Strategy
Interestingly, it’s not a slate big on studs. There are only six players priced at $9,000 or above on DraftKings, and two of those guys — Karl-Anthony Towns and Andre Drummond — are currently questionable to suit up.
We’ll have to wait on news on those guys; it looks like they’re true 50/50 decisions as of right now. If they’re absent — include Blake Griffin in there, too — then a lot of value would open up. Guys like Derrick Rose, Markieff Morris, Christian Wood, Andrew Wiggins, Jeff Teague and Gorgui Dieng (among others for the Wolves) would be intriguing values on the big slate.
If there’s low-priced value with those studs out, it likely means roster construction will set up for a stars-and-scrubs approach with the other studs. Bradley Beal looks like a guy to buy against the Chicago Bulls, as do Joel Embiid and Kristaps Porzingis, the latter who exploded for more than 50 FanDuel points in his first game without Luka Doncic on Monday.
There’s quite a bit of value even before those pieces of injury news: With Rui Hachimura and others out for the Wizards, both Davis Bertans and Ian Mahinmi stand out as values. In fact, those players currently lead the entire slate in Projected Plus/Minus on FanDuel. Other values include Jalen Brunson, Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier.
For cash games, the optimal play will likely be to wait on the injury news, gobble up all of the value and then pay up for the studs like Beal, Porzingis and Embiid. That means in tournaments it’s probably wise to pivot to other studs with high ceilings like Nikola Jokic or Damian Lillard.
It’s a super compelling slate with a ton of value and potential value still to come due to all of the injuries and plus matchups. Make sure to subscribe to our FantasyLabs models and check out our new Labs NBA Insiders tool to get up-to-the-minute information on injuries and projection changes.
My Bets Currently
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