Moore’s Sunday NBA Betting Picks & Angles: James Harden Is the Pendulum
Tim Warner/Getty Images. Pictured: James Harden (13) of the Houston Rockets.
Betting angles for Sunday’s games based on matchups and trends …
Odds as of Sunday at 12:45 p.m. ET and via DraftKings, where Action Network users get a risk-free bet up to $500.
Rockets vs. Nuggets
- Spread: Nuggets -1.5
- Over/Under: 226
The angle: All depends on Harden
So this thing opened with the Rockets as 1-point favorites, which makes sense given that James Harden is questionable with a thigh bruise, it’s an early game in altitude, etc.
Given that the Rockets are 8-2 straight up (SU) and against the spread (ATS) vs. the Nuggets since the start of the 2017-18 season, with an average line of Rockets -3.5 and an average margin of victory at +12.8 for Houston, that makes sense.
But immediately after it opened, the sharp money flooded the market on Denver. As of this writing, 54% of the tickets are on Houston but a stunning 84% of the money is on the Nuggets, moving the line all the way to Nuggets -1.5.
That sure suggests someone somewhere knew, or at least thought, that Harden was going to miss this game.
Harden fundamentally shifts this matchup more than most. The Nuggets’ defensive scheme relies on putting two-on-ball in pick and rolls and rotating. You can’t do that if a guy just isolates and roasts you all the time. Denver’s biggest problem isn’t actually Harden, it’s Clint Capela. They have to put so many resources toward stopping Harden that he effortlessly lobs to Capela over and over.
Denver doesn’t have a lob-interrupter. Its wings are all undersized, and if they overhelp to box Capela out, the corner three is open which is just as bad with how Harden can reverse the ball. It’s even worse with Mason Plumlee out; his athleticism actually had started to find a solution next to Jerami Grant in the last matchup.
But if Harden is out, the line has to stay tight because of how good the Rockets are and with how Russell Westbrook is playing … but Westbrook is fundamentally a different, and better, matchup for Denver.
Between 2017-18 and 2018-19 before his trade to Houston, Denver went 7-1 SU vs. Westbrook’s Thunder, and 8-0 ATS. It has had a remarkable amount of success against him. Torrey Craig bothers him with his physicality.
Now, Westbrook will still find the lob to Capela routinely, but he’s not as good of a lob passer having worked with more-earthbound Steven Adams for years. He prefers the bounce pass to the cutter in the dunker spot.
All this to say: if Harden plays, bet the Rockets. If Harden’s out, bet the Nuggets.
This seems simple and obvious but bear in mind that Harden’s been in an incredible slump and oftentimes a star player’s absence boosts a team’s effort. But the matchup tilts heavily based on Harden’s availability. The money indicates he’s going to be out, but if he suddenly is listed as playing, you might be in a tough spot.
THE PLAY: Nuggets -1.5 if Harden is out, Rockets ML at any number south of -200 if Harden is playing.
Raptors vs. Spurs
- Spread: Raptors -2.5
- Over/Under: 222
The angle: Can DeRozan’s revenge tour continue?
The Spurs are 2-1 SU and 3-0 ATS vs. the Raptors since DeMar DeRozan was traded to San Antonio in the Kawhi Leonard deal. It’s clearly an emotional deal for him. The average ATS differential is a stunning +8.2 against a +2.5 average spread.
DeRozan is in the midst of his strongest play of the season.
I’m not crazy about the spread play, however. Toronto is, objectively, a better team. It is 5-2 ATS on the road as less than a 6.5-point (or two-possession) favorite.
What I do like is San Antonio’s total over at 109.5 (PointsBet). The Spurs have averaged 115 points vs. the Raptors with DeRozan and he’s on a tear.
THE PLAY: Spurs Over 109.5
Celtics vs. Pelicans
- Spread: Celtics -1.5
- Over/Under: 231.5
The angle: Even a God of Thunder has limits
Check out our Celtics-Pelicans guide for more on this game.
Clippers vs. Magic
- Spread: Clippers -3.5
- Over/Under: 218
The angle: Clippers vs. top-tier defense
The under is 6-2 in Clippers away games this season vs. teams with a defensive efficiency below 105. The Magic have a top-15 defense guarding both the pick and roll and spot-up weapons. They have the ability to vary their coverage depending on who they’re up against, and enough length to make it tough on the Clippers’ ball-handlers.
And you’re covered if Orlando can’t handle the Clippers. The Magic have the third-worst offensive rating after the opponent makes a field goal, scoring just 100 points per 100 possessions.
So either the Magic slow down the Clippers and the under hits, or the Clippers put a decent-but-not-huge number and the Magic score under 100.
THE PLAY: Under 219
Pacers vs. Trail Blazers
- Spread: Trail Blazers -2
- Over/Under: 220
The angle: What’s up, danger
The Blazers are 7-9 ATS this season as home favorites, including 3-5 vs. Eastern Conference opponents. The Pacers are at the end of a West Coast road trip. But teams in that spot are 82-84 ATS this season, bucking a historical trend.
Malcolm Brogdon is out with a concussion, but the Pacers should be favored here. The Blazers just haven’t been good, or consistent enough, to carry a line of more than a point.
Terry Stotts has been one of the best January coaches against the spread, and yet he’s gone just 3-9 ATS this month, showing just how dire things are for Portland.
Aaron Holiday is an underrated backup for Brogdon in this spot. The Pacers are 5-8 ATS without Brogdon … but 5-3 ATS on the road without him.
A fishy line, a bunch of confusing trends, a weird spot … all of this means you should stay away.
THE PLAY: Walk away, Renee