Friday’s NBA Experts Picks: Our Staff’s Favorite Bets for Rockets vs. Magic, Pelicans vs. 76ers, More
Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: New Orleans Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram (14).
There are nine games on the NBA schedule for Friday night and our experts are betting totals and spreads four specific matchups:
- 7 p.m. ET: Houston Rockets at Orlando Magic
- 7 p.m. ET: Los Angeles Lakers at Miami Heat
- 7 p.m. ET: New Orleans Pelicans at Philadelphia 76ers
- 7:30 p.m. ET: Indiana Pacers at Atlanta Hawks
See what bets they’re making below.
Odds as of Friday afternoon and via DraftKings, where Action Network users get a risk-free bet up to $500.
Matt Moore: Rockets at Magic
- Spread: Rockets -6
- Over/Under: 222.5
- Time: 7 p.m. ET
The Rockets are obviously an offensive dynamo. That’s not hard to figure out. But there has been a trend of the market exaggerating their games in terms of the total this season, especially on the road vs. Eastern Conference teams lacking firepower.
And it’s not just this season, either, it’s a consistent trend for the Mike D’Antoni Rockets:
The trend is showing this season as well; the under is 5-1 in Rockets road games vs. the East.
If we want to get into the weeds, the Rockets’ biggest vulnerability is at the rim. Houston ranks 23rd in points per possession on attempts around the rim that aren’t post-ups, via Synergy Sports. And while they are middle of the pack in terms of frequency of shots allowed at the rim, they rank sixth-worst in field goal percentage allowed there, via Cleaning The Glass.
What’s the one thing the Rockets do more than any other team, besides shoot 3s? Isolate. The Rockets spend 23.8% of their possessions running isolation including passes, according to Synergy. That’s 11.7 percentage points higher than the No. 2 team on the list (Trail Blazers), and that gap is greater than the gap between Portland and the bottom of the list.
Hey, what do you know, the Magic are the No. 2 team in defending isolations including passes, thanks to also being 12th guarding spot-ups. Now, guarding Harden is not like guarding any other iso player, but it’s still notable.
So the Magic can’t make shots at the Rockets’ weak point, but have the ability to stymie what the Rockets do well. Houston can put up a big number with their offense and the Magic can still score in the low 100’s to get the under. With a number up above 220, the value is on the under.
The Play: Under 222.5
Matt Moore is 641-638-16 (50.1%) overall betting on the NBA. You can follow him in our free app.
Brandon Anderson: Lakers at Heat
- Spread: Lakers -5.5
- Over/Under: 212.5
- Time: 7 p.m. ET
Remember that night Luka Doncic hit the step-back over LeBron James and the Lakers had finally been conquered? The Lakers have won and covered all five games since, and they’re now 16-8 against the spread this season. Do you realize exactly how good a LeBron team in Los Angeles has to be to give positive value ATS?!
The Heat are the one team every numbers guy has been waiting to fade back to the pack, so there’s some margin for error there. As good as Miami has been, the Heat have not impressed over the past week against the Hawks, Bulls, and Wizards. Miami is still missing Justise Winslow and Goran Dragic, and LeBron has always played Jimmy Butler well head-to-head.
The Lakers are 22-3. If they win this game on national television on Friday night, they’ll officially be on a 73-win pace. And then maybe, MAYBE, the media will finally start to give the Lakers the attention they deserve.
Let’s just hope LeBron wasn’t enjoying himself too much on South Beach last night.
The PICK: Lakers 5.5
Rob Perez: Pelicans at 76ers
- Spread: 76ers +8.5
- Over/Under: 222.5
- Time: 7 p.m. ET
New Orleans has not won a game this month. That’s a fact. The Philadelphia 76ers have not lost once at home all season. That is also a fact. To make matters worse, the Pelicans were barely competitive in many of those losses.
Every advanced statistic and narrative suggests this should be yet another bloodbath. But the tall towers in Las Vegas did not build themselves. The 76ers are only a handful of hours removed from winning a war in Boston on national TV, one which saw Joel Embiid erupt after being called out by the world for not fulfilling his potential.
Speaking of ‘back’, however, this is the second leg of a back-to-back — which Embiid traditionally sits out. He’s playing tonight, and I have to question the 76ers’ motivation to care about this contest after taking one of their biggest eastern conference competitors to the woodshed last night.
I smell a whiff of letdown. The Pelicans may not win straight up, but expect their best performance of December tonight with the inverse from Philadelphia. What that equates to is a line that should be a heck of a lot less than +8.5.
The PICK: Pelicans +8.5
Bryan Mears: Pacers at Hawks
- Spread: Pacers -6
- Over/Under: 224.5
- Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
There were such high hopes for the Hawks entering the season. Trae Young’s second year. A building chemistry with big John Collins. New draft additions in De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish. A smart front office and coaching staff built around a modern game and modern players.
But now, the Hawks sit 6-19 with a -9.7 point differential, a mark only behind the Knicks and Warriors for the worst in the league. They’re 24th on offense and 29th on defense.
The season didn’t start out absolutely terribly. They won their first two games of the year against fellow hopeful playoff East teams in the Pistons and Magic. After six games they were a respectable 3-3 with losses to the Heat twice and Sixers. But then in that final Miami game they lost John Collins. A few days later, against the Kings, they allowed a 131.7 Defensive Rating.
Since then, things have gone off the rails. Since that Kings game on Nov. 8, they’ve gone 3-15 with a league-worst -11.9 point differential. They haven’t been good offensively with a 22-ranked 108.1 efficiency mark, although it’s not vomit-inducing bad.
Their defense has been, however, which in that time frame has allowed 120.1 points per 100 possessions, easily the worst mark in the league. For reference, the Cavs last year had the worst defense, allowing 117.7; the Hawks are nearly 3.0/100 points worse, which is astounding.
And it’s hard to blame things on poor luck outside of injuries. Per Cleaning the Glass, the Hawks have an expected eFG% rank (based on shot location and other factors) of 27th. They’re allowing a ton of shots at the rim, and while they’ve done OK defending there, they’ve been egregious everywhere else. Hunter might be the only positive defender on the team, and even that’s debatable considering he’s a rookie prone to mistakes.
In their last two games, the Hawks have allowed 135 and 136 points to the Heat and Bulls, respectively, who aren’t exactly offensive powerhouses. They’ve been especially bad in transition, where they’ve allowed easy opportunities the fifth-most in the league and have been the worst in efficiency on such possessions. If you want an easy shot, the Hawks will likely give you one.
There’s also some reason for optimism for the Hawks offense moving forward. First, their offensive profile is good, which is why they have an expected eFG% rank of eighth. They’re actually 22nd, and they’re likely going to have a discrepancy all season long given the guys taking shots. But even those players struggling — Cam Reddish and Jabari Parker, to name a few key ones — are not terrible shooters and should likely regress.
Further, the Hawks continue to ramp up minutes for Kevin Huerter, who missed 11 games in November but has gotten up around 25 minutes in each of his last three games and is now starting again. He’s their second-best shooter outside of Trae, and he showed a lot of potential as a catch-and-shoot option around Young’s pick-and-rolls last year.
There have been two steam moves on the Hawks today and none on the Pacers, which means sharp bettors are somewhat bullish on Atlanta today, at least so far this morning. I would be hesitant to believe those bettors are bullish on the defense, so I’m taking that as a positive sign for the offense.
All of the factors listed above lead me to the over here, and I like it at anything below 224.
The PICK: Under 224.5
Bryan Mears is 400-314-10 (56%) overall betting on the NBA. You can follow him in our free app.