NBA Odds, Picks & Projections: Bets for Grizzlies vs. Blazers, Nuggets vs. Warriors & More (Friday, April 23)
Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: Nikola Jokic.
For the 2020-2021 NBA season, I’ll be publishing my projections for every NBA game on the Wednesday and Friday slate. Here’s what you’ll find in my model: projected team totals, projected combined totals, projected spreads for the matchup and the implied odds for the moneyline.
Note: My projections won't be updated in real-time throughout the day, but Action's PRO Projections tool is dynamic and will reflect the latest injury and lineup news.
I’ll also be highlighting some of the slate’s most intriguing matchups with in-depth, game-level analysis that goes beyond the numbers.
NBA Projections Model
NBA Odds & Picks
Although projections give us a solid baseline for what a number should be, it's also important to handicap each matchup for things that the numbers can't tell us.
Check out my analysis for tonight's seven-game slate.
Washington Wizards at Oklahoma City Thunder
The Washington Wizards are one of the hottest teams in the NBA. They’re winners of six straight and eight out of their last nine games, including an 11-point fourth quarter comeback in the final seven minutes last time out against the Golden State Warriors.
We're finally seeing the Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook experiment become what we envisioned when the season. Because of that, it appears Washington has a solid chance at making the play-in game. Beal is second in the league scoring at 31 points per game and Westbrook is averaging a triple-double for his fourth season.
The trade deadline acquisition of Daniel Gafford has been huge. The addition of a rim-protecting big who can block shots on defense and run the floor and catch lobs on offense has been great. In just 17.9 minutes of action, Gafford is averaging 12.2 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.1 blocks, making a big impact on defense. The Wizards were 27th in Defensive Rating this season, giving up 114.4 points per 100 possessions, but since March 25th, the Wizards have a Defensive Rating of just 107.3. Gafford’s presence has been a big part of that.
Despite how well the Wizards are playing, laying 10 points is new territory for a team that has struggled for most of the season. The Oklahoma City Thunder are tanking however, sitting Shai Gilgeous Alexander, Al Horford and possibly Luguentz Dort for this matchup.
The results haven't been pretty as the Thunder are dead last in Offensive Rating, scoring just 104.7 points per 100 possessions this season in their non-garbage time minutes, according to Cleaning the Glass. Over the past two weeks, their Offensive Rating is a mere 101.9.
The defense has also fallen off a cliff, as well, but this is still a team that can defender the perimeter. Oklahoma City ranked sixth in opponent 3-point percentage (35.5%) and 13th in opponent midrange shooting percentage (41.9%).
Despite the presence of Beal and Westbrook, the Wizards are still just 24th in Offensive Rating (109.5). Much of the Wizards improvement has come from their defense which is holding teams to 105.5 points per 100 possessions over the past two weeks, second in the NBA.
Overall, this is a game with two bad offenses and one that is historically bad. My model makes this total 230 so it feels priced right based on full-season numbers, but I like this game to go under.
Memphis Grizzlies at Portland Trail Blazers
I think the wrong team is favored here and this line should be closer to a pick'em than Blazers -3. My model makes this game Grizzlies -2.9, assuming that both teams are fully healthy. Jonas Valanciunas is absent for this game and it appears that the market is pricing that heavily here which I don't agree with.
I know Damian Lillard is one of the best players in the league and capable of winning a game by himself, but I'm not sure he's the same player we've seen for much of this season. He's been playing through a hamstring injury, which is not ideal when Ja Morant is on the other end of the floor.
This is a matchup between two teams that aren't performing the way their point differentials says they should be. Although the Blazers are 2 1/2 games above the Grizzlies in the standings, Memphis is simply the better team. Despite having a 29-28 record, their Pythagorean Expectation says they're performing more like a 31-26 team. The Blazers on the other hand have a 32-26 record despite a Pythagorean Expectation of just 28-30, which means they're over performing their point differential by four games.
The Blazers are fifth in Offensive Rating (117.4) and 29th in Defensive Rating (117.5) in their non-garbage time minutes, according to Cleaning the Glass. They are a fringe playoff contender based on their 22-10 record in the clutch where they have an 128.3 Offensive Rating, 98.8 Defensive Rating and a 29.5 Net Rating. These things usually regress over time and with back-to-back one-point losses we're slowly starting to see this team come back to earth.
Portland has lost three straight games, including five out of its last six and seven of nine. Jusuf Nurkić has never really been the same since returning from injury this season, and Lillard not being himself is a concern. The trade for Norman Powell has been an upgrade for this Blazers team as he's a better ball handler, creator, playmaker and defender than Gary Trent Jr. For as bad as the Blazers' defense has been this year, they've improved slightly over the past two weeks, allowing just 114.7 points per 100 possessions, which is 20th among NBA teams.
The Grizzlies are 15th in Offensive Rating (112.5) and ninth in Defensive Rating (111.3) in their non-garbage time minutes according to Cleaning the Glass. Despite blowing games they should have won against the Mavericks, Nuggets and Clippers, this team is really playing well.
Morant hasn't skipped a beat after his stellar rookie season, despite dealing with injuries to start the year. Grayson Allen is in the midst of the best season of his career, and the Grizzlies also welcomed the return of Jaren Jackson Jr. on Wednesday.
I think we're getting points with the better team. I also think there's some value on the under considering these two teams are fighting for playoff seeding and this is the first of a two game series. With Lillard not being the same guy he was earlier this season facing a Grizzlies defense, which is ninth in Defensive Rating, I don't see this being a very high scoring game.
Denver Nuggets at Golden State Warriors
The last time these two teams played, Jamal Murray suffered a torn ACL which ended his season and potentially changed the outcome of the Western Conference Playoff race. For a Nuggets team that already traded Gary Harris and is dealing with the absence of Monte Morris, they're pretty short on guards outside of the 5-foot-10 Facundo Campazzo and PJ Dozier.
While Denver did sign Austin Rivers, I don't have a lot of confidence in this team's ability to defend guards. Ja Morant put up 36 points and 12 assists, a hobbled Damian Lillard still put up 22 and five and more relevant to this game, Steph Curry lit them up for 53 points on 14-of-24 shooting with four assists. Coming off Wednesday's 7-of-25 performance against the Wizards and returning home, I'm expecting a big game from Curry to say the least.
The last time these teams played, the Warriors put up 116 points on 1.15 points per possession. The Nuggets, who performed well under expectation, scored just 107 points on 1.06 points per possession. I have trouble believing that this Warriors defense will hold Nikola Jokic and this Nuggets offense that output again.
It would be nice if we all collectively reached the point where they stopped looking for other candidates to give the MVP Award to and just recognize how good Jokic has been this season. He put up 25 points, nine rebounds and five assists just two nights after scoring 47 points, grabbing 15 rebounds and dishing eight assists in Tuesday night's double overtime win against the Grizzlies.
The Nuggets haven't skipped a beat offensively in the absence of Jamal Murray as they're scoring a whopping 117.4 points per 100 possessions in the last two weeks. In today's NBA, teams can score but only four other teams have performed better: The Clippers, the Knicks and the Nets. Nonetheless, the Nuggets are in the top five in shooting percentage in every area of the floor, including the rim (67.7%, third) the midrange (45.3%, second) and from behind the arc (39%, fifth).
The Nuggets are one of the slower-paced teams in the league, but the Warriors play the second-fastest pace in the league this year at 103.64 possessions, so I'm expecting a ton of possessions. The last time these two teams played, there were 100 possessions and they scored 223 points despite a below average performance from the Nuggets. I played the over 227.5 earlier this morning but I think there's some value on the over 228.5.