NBA Betting Trends, Notes & Stats: Lakers, Kings Improved Power Ratings, Moneyline Underdogs, More
Getty Images/Matt Roembke, Action Network. Pictured (L-R): Jayson Tatum, Joel Embiid, Domantas Sabonis, Rudy Gobert, LeBron James.
It's great time for our weekly look at power ratings and trends around the associating as we enter Rivalry Week in the NBA. The trade deadline is also right around the corner, which will eventually impact these ratings and some trends I'll get to late.
As always, these are based on my projections for the spread vs. an average team on neutral court, with manual adjustments for injuries and team direction. These are not to be confused with power rankings, a wholly subjective exercise.
Here's where things stand this week.
NBA Power Ratings
1. Boston Celtics (+5)
The Celtics have stabilized and are surging once again. They’re no longer the unstoppable offensive force they were in December, but their defense is returning to elite form. They rank seventh in offense over the past two weeks, and that’s more than good enough to get it done with the best defense over that same span.
2. Philadelphia 76ers: (+4)
The 76ers are almost entirely under the radar despite a career campaign from Joel Embiid scoring (33 points per game) and in efficiency (career-high 54% from the field) so far this season.
The Sixers have the third-best halfcourt defense in the league, and their overall Defensive Rating is only two points worse with James Harden on the floor despite the minutes spent facing opposing starters.
3. Brooklyn Nets (+4)
At full strength, I have the Nets as the No. 1 team. They’re elite on both ends of the floor with Nic Claxton, a serious Defensive Player of the Year candidate. But they get downgraded a full three points without Kevin Durant in the lineup.
4. Denver Nuggets (+3.5)
Denver is probably better than this rating. I haven’t given them an adjustment even though they were a horrific defensive team and middling offensive team for the first month and a half of the season. They would be on par with the Nets and Celtics if I made that adjustment.
Does any team in the West have more solutions to problems or present more challenges for their opponents than Denver?
5. Cleveland Cavaliers (+3)
They have slid a bit with Donovan Mitchell out of the lineup, but when the Cavaliers are fully, they are well within range of the top teams. I’ve started to wonder if the Cavs are the dark horse that will make more noise than we expect. They’re the only team with the balance on offense and defense that can match up with the Celtics.
6. Sacramento Kings (+2.5)
Light the Beam! The Kings are just six wins away from topping their lowest preseason under and just eight wins away from their closing mark of 33.5. Sacramento now has a five-game lead over the Clippers in the Pacific division and are the favorites at +170. What a world.
7. Dallas Mavericks (+2.5)
Dallas is 16-31-2 against the spread this season, indicating that their underlying metrics present them as a better team than their record. So I don’t feel great about having them here. Christian Wood’s absence matters, but the reality is they need an upgrade, don’t have the assets to get one, and they know it.
8. Minnesota Timberwolves (+2.5)
The Timberwolves may surprise you here, but they’re actually really solid: 16th in offense, 14th in defense, and top-10 on both ends in the halfcourt. Their schedule has been incredibly easy, and Karl-Anthony Towns is still without a timetable for return, but this team is going through it and finding ways to stay afloat.
9. Memphis Grizzlies (+2)
How is the second-best team in the West this low? Pretty simple: they can’t score in the halfcourt. This is actually the highest my numbers have had the Grizzlies rated in two seasons, a testament to how good their defense has become.
As the losses to the Lakers and Suns show, however, the Grizzlies are vulnerable on the road; Memphis is 4-11 ATS on the road against teams with a .400 win percentage or better.
10. Utah Jazz (+1)
Utah’s fall hasn’t been a plummet — there’s no whistling sound as the Jazz fall back to the ground — it’s been a gradual decline. Ultimately, the Jazz are a 3-point variance team that is too dependent on shots falling. They are only seven games ahead of the San Antonio Spurs in the loss column and could very well reach top-five lottery odds if they made moves in that direction. Will they?
11. Oklahoma City Thunder (+1)
Look out. After starting 11-18, the Thunder have gone 12-6 (7-3 in their last 10) and are tied in the loss column for the No. 6 seed. They have the third-best defense over the past two weeks. Mark Daigneault can coach, man, while Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is just the man.
12. Chicago Bulls (+1)
Chicago is better on defense (12th) than offense (19th). That’s both impressive in the first part and alarming in the second. The Bulls could really use a floor-spacing wing, but then, couldn’t everyone. They need additions from the types of players who are the hardest to add in the market right now.
13. Atlanta Hawks (+1)
Heads up, Atlanta’s gonna go on a run. They’ve been without Bogdan Bogdanovic, Clint Capela, John Collins, DeAndre Hunter, or multiples of those players for large stretches of the last two months.
When healthy, their intended starting five is top five in Net Rating. We’ll see what happens at the deadline.
14. New York Knicks (+0.5)
The Knicks are either surging or spiraling, never anything in between. They have lost four straight after winning three in a row and seven of eight. Don’t be surprised if New York looks to shake a few things up at the deadline on the edges of the rotation.
15. Los Angeles Lakers (+0.5)
IT’S ALIVE! The Zombie Lakers are back and have won 20 of 35 since starting 2-10. LeBron James has done his part; he’s carried the team back from the brink and into the playoff picture.
Will the front office do their part and get him some reinforcements? Do they want to trade Russell Westbrook when he’s playing this well? (Note: they pulled off a trade with the Wizards that will send Kendrick Nunn to Washington for Rui Hachimura)
16. Golden State Warriors (+0.5)
The reigning champions are 16th. They just can’t get it done on the road (unless they’re on a back-to-back without Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green against the Cavs for some reason). Oddsmakers still strongly feel they're going to be there at the end, but the sun is starting to get low in the sky this season, and they still haven’t put it together.
17. Washington Wizards (Even)
I wrote the following just hours before today's news about the deal between Washington and L.A.
If the Wizards trade Rui Hachimura, it’s a mistake, and whoever trades for him is making a great trade. The Wizards have a lot of players who could help other teams; their best long-term path would be to cash in on them for future assets, but ownership has never indicated it will go that direction.
It appears they might be going in that direction, but we see just how far down that road they decide to go.
18. Portland Trail Blazers (Even)
Yikes. Portland is in complete free fall. That plummet I said the Jazz are not experiencing? The Blazers are. They started 10-4. They’re 11-21 since. You wonder if there will be lineup changes and if those lineup changes will lead to roster changes.
19. Milwaukee Bucks (Even)
Yes, the Bucks are still here. Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo are expected to rejoin the team on court this week. Antetokounmpo has missed an alarming number of games with knee soreness lately, and Middleton tried coming back from injury and immediately went back out again.
These next few weeks will be telling. If they’re going to suddenly gear up and go on a run, it needs to start soon.
20. Miami Heat (Even)
Miami’s kind of trudging their way back. They moved into sixth in the East with the win over the Pelicans and the Knicks' loss Sunday. This is the 24th-ranked offense, schedule-adjusted.
They might win the division or get a decent seed, but there’s not enough offense here to make a real run. Multiple teams are interested as to whether they’ll make Kyle Lowry more available in talks.
21. Phoenix Suns (-0.5)
Phoenix is here because of injuries. It’ll take a little while to get the gang back together, but when healthy, this team was at the top of the West. Their injuries have not been the normal assortment.
They’ve been without four or five backcourt players and their starting center. There are bigger questions they have to sort out, but this team will be back closer to 10 or higher by the end of February.
22. Los Angeles Clippers (-1)
The Clippers can beat the Mavericks, that much we know. Everyone else? We’re not sure. This is the second-worst offense, schedule-adjusted, in the league. That’s still insane for a team with this kind of talent.
One bright spot is Norman Powell, who was big in the win over the Mavericks. If the Clippers can get healthy, they’re still dangerous, but they will have to figure out how to score.
23. New Orleans Pelicans (-2)
This number is manually adjusted for the Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram injuries, but that impact has also hit them hard over the past two weeks.
They’re having real problems creating offense lately (28th in offensive rating). They’ve gone over their team total in just five of the last 15 games.
24. Orlando Magic (-2)
The Magic are 14-9 ATS at home and 13-5 as a home dog. They’ve shown a solid ability to hang within the number. They are also 16-8 straight up when they cover, so you might as well sprinkle the moneyline if you like them to hang.
25. Indiana Pacers (-3)
Without Tyrese Haliburton, this team is a mess. They really need his ability to organize the offense because without him, it’s effectively a pick-up game at the speed they like to play. Without Haliburton, the Pacers are 1-7 ATS, and unders are 5-3.
26. Toronto Raptors (-6.5)
The Raptors got a win against the Knicks on Sunday to win the season series. That counts as a bad loss for the Knicks; that’s how bad the Raptors have been.
27. Detroit Pistons (-6.5)
I miss Cade Cunningham.
28. Charlotte Hornets (-7)
The Hornets are 11-10 ATS as a road dog, 5-9 as a home dog. So if you’re going to bet them, only bet them in the absolute worst of spots.
29. Houston Rockets (-8.5)
This is the worst team in the league. The Spurs have a worse rating by a few fractions of a point, and the Rockets have better long-term assets in Alperen Sengun and Jabari Smith (and, depending on how much you think he’s Devin Booker 2.0, Jalen Green), but the Spurs have a semblance of organizational structure and discipline. The Rockets are basketball cringe.
30. San Antonio Spurs (-8.5)
The Spurs are 7-4 ATS against a line of +9.5 or longer. So even the worst team in the league can hang this season against the big number.
NBA Betting Trends
The Sunset of Moneyline Dogs
I mentioned the Magic above as a team that wins outright when they cover, and this season I’ve noted that teams that cover are winning outright more than ever.
Before this season, going back to 2003, dogs that covered won outright 63.5% of the time in the first 41 games. In the final 41 games, that number drops to 61.6%.
Teams won 72% of their games outright as dogs if they covered this season in the first 41 games, and in the 51 games played for teams past 41 so far, that rate has already dipped to 67%.
This season has been wild in terms of parity, but over the course of a season, the market will correct toward the accurate assessment and preseason anchors become less heavy vs. in-season data.
So be a little warier, as lines become sharper and teams start to pivot towards draft positioning more and more.
The Live Wire Kings
Sacramento continues to roll and, as noted above, has moved to a favorite to win the Pacific Division. What’s interesting is they’re a terrible first-quarter team, especially on the road. Sacramento is 6-13 against first-quarter spreads on the road this season but 13-7 ATS overall away from the Beam.
Sacramento is 7-7 ATS vs. the closing line on the road when they lose the first quarter, 5-0 vs. the closing line when they win the first frame. (They are 1-0 ATS when tied after the first.)
So there’s probably good value betting the Kings live against what would typically be a longer line after the first quarter when on the road.
The best live team, though? How about the 76ers at home. The Sixers are 7-4 (64%), the best in the league when trailing after the first quarter at home against the closing number. Even wilder, the Sixers are 6-5 ATS against the closing number at home vs. the closing line when the opponent’s largest lead is double digits.
The best straight-up team when trailing by double digits? The Cavaliers are 7-5 at home when trailing by double digits and 11-16 straight up overall.
One team you shouldn’t bet to make a wild comeback? The Knicks. The two worst teams on the moneyline when trailing by double digits are, predictably, the Spurs and Rockets. But the Knicks are third, having gone 2-18 straight up when trailing by double digits.
After the Thunder
One of my favorite trends this season continues to be great. Teams, after playing OKC this season, are 14-28-4 (33.3%), and 1-6-1 ATS in their last seven games.
The next two spots to fade? Denver, in their first road game in over a week, is on the road against the Pelicans on Wednesday, with the Pels desperate to get back on track with two days of rest, and the Hawks, at home against the Clippers on Saturday.
A Word of Warning
Things are about to get a little wonky. The first three weeks of January are when teams are either trying to survive their worst injury stretch (Suns) or finding their best version (Nuggets). But this last week and then heading into the first few weeks of February are fraught.
Two things happen concurrently: trade talks begin in earnest, which can distract players, and the All-Star Break gets closer. We’ll go through the trends next week, but the first two weeks of February get real messy with favorites relative to his point in the season and through the rest of the year.
Just be aware of teams that are in positions to be distracted (the Raptors, Hawks, and Mavericks are three that come to mind) and be on the lookout for teams that look like they just want to reach the break and take some time off.