NBA Odds & Picks for Celtics vs. Nets: Value on Boston in Marcus Smart’s Return (Thursday, March 11)
Omar Rawlings/Getty Images. Pictured: Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics.
Celtics vs. Nets Odds
|Moneyline||+120 / -134|
|Time||7:30 p.m. ET|
The Brooklyn Nets will try to pick up right where they left off before the All-Star break, gunning for their 11th win in 12 games on Thursday against the Boston Celtics. That win may be tricky, considering Boston will be returning one its best defenders in Marcus Smart.
With the Celtics back to a rested and full roster, could they capitalize in a good spot against a banged up Nets team? Let’s see what the numbers say.
The Celtics will be glad to get Smart back in the lineup for this game. The starting guard has missed the past 18 games, and in that span Boston has gone 9-9, though four of those wins came on the trot heading into the break.
Without Smart, the team’s defense and intensity have been lacking. Going back 15 games, the Celtics have ranked 21st in defensive efficiency, allowing 114.7 points per 100 plays, which is a drop-off from their season-long ranking of 16th (111.7 Defensive Rating). Given those numbers, it’s not surprising that Boston’s Defensive Rating is 2.5 points better per 100 possessions with Smart on the floor this season, according to NBA.com, with a 2.8% higher Turnover Rate. Defense will be key against a team as strong offensively as the Brooklyn Nets.
In those aforementioned four straight wins, the Celtics managed to cover in just two games, and managed to cover in just seven of the 18 games Smart missed. Boston’s poor 17-19 record against the spread has to come as a shock to even the staunchest of Celtic critics, considering how fantastic this team has been covering spreads under Brad Stevens.
Things can only get better from here, and that includes Boston’s play on the road. The Celtics have gone an abysmal 6-13 ATS on the road this year, though as underdogs they’ve been 7-6 ATS, one of the most profitable spots to take them.
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Some teams had the benefit of getting healthy over the All-Star break. The Nets did not.
Not only did Kyrie Irving and James Harden play on Sunday, cutting into their rest time, Brooklyn will still be without Kevin Durant for this one due to an injured hamstring. Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot is listed as doubtful due to right knee soreness, and Jeff Green is questionable due to a shoulder. On top of all this, newly-acquired forward Blake Griffin won’t be ready yet to suit up.
This leaves the Nets in the exact same spot as they were in prior to the break, which was still a pretty good one. The Nets won 10-of-11 heading into the break, and got hot without the services of Durant. The majority of those wins came against short-handed or poor defensive clubs, so Thursday’s meeting should be a good test of where the Nets are without KD.
An interesting split I’m looking at here is how the Nets’ most important players perform coming off a long layoff. We know that without Harden and Irving, this Nets offense would lose all luster, and its defense would no longer have a mask for how bad it is. So, it’s worth checking in on the pair’s numbers.
Harden is averaging almost the exact same number of points, but is shooting a poor 34% on three or more days’ rest, down from 36.5% for his career. Irving, meanwhile, has seen a 3.3% increase in his 3-point shooting and a 2-point increase in his Defensive Rating in these games.
So, there’s reason to believe we see the best version of Irving in this one, while Harden could come out of the gates flat.
This game screams Celtics cover, but Boston’s road record is tough to overlook. I’ll make it easier on you. The Nets have gone 5-7 ATS as home favorites this season, one of the only bad spots to bet them. At home in general, they’ve covered just 10 times in 19 games. I’m willing to rule that the negative trends offset in this case, creating a neutral environment for this game.
With that said, on paper, the Celtics should not only cover here, but win the game outright. Boston has been so much sharper on both ends with Smart, in particular on defense. And, if there’s one facet of your game you want to shore up before traveling to Brooklyn, it’s your defense.
The Nets have made their money on the offensive end over their past 11 games, scoring a league-best 121.8 points per 100 possessions. Their defense, however, has remained largely unimpressive. Brooklyn’s moderately improved defense has only grown to allow one fewer point per 100 possessions over its winning streak, and still ranks fifth-worst in the NBA. If Boston’s defense comes to play here, it should have the clear edge up against one of the softest units in the league.
I’m very inclined to take the points here with the return of Boston’s spark-plug. Going back the last two seasons, the Celtics have won four of five games where Smart’s returned from an absence, and I expect them to once again be rejuvenated in Brooklyn.
Smart should do his best to neutralize the threat of Irving, and Harden may very well fall into a shooting slump as he’s been known to do after a layoff of three or more days.
That, in conjunction with a poor defensive showing, should be enough to give Boston a much-needed ATS win on the road. I’d take this up to a PK.
Pick: Celtics +2.5 (-110)