Jazz vs. Celtics NBA Odds & Picks: Fade Utah Against Healthy, Resurgent Boston (Tuesday, March 16)
Cato Cataldo/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: Kemba Walker.
- The Jazz were the team of the first half of the season, while the Celtics just struggled to get by.
- But Utah has lost four of six while Boston has won five of six.
- Given their trajectories, is it time to fade the Jazz? Brandon Anderson breaks it down below.
Jazz vs. Celtics Odds
|Moneyline||-195 / +165|
|Time||7:30 p.m. ET|
|Odds as of Monday evening and via PointsBet.|
We’ve got a good one Tuesday night on TNT when the Utah Jazz tip off a big East Coast road trip with a visit to Boston’s parquet court to face the Celtics.
The Jazz appear to have cooled off in a big way. Utah won 22-of-24 games, but the Jazz have lost four of their last six, including a big weekend loss to the Warriors.
The Celtics, meanwhile, are starting to heat up. Boston has won five of six and moved right back up to the upper-middle tier of the East, right where the Celtics expected to be.
Can the Celtics keep the momentum going, or are the Jazz just too good for Boston?
Despite their recent swoon, the Jazz still lead the NBA with a 28-10 record, though they’ve certainly slipped back toward the pack. Utah began the season 4-4 and went 2-4 over its recent games. None of that looks anything too shocking until you stick that 22-2 stretch of games in between.
So what exactly do we make of the Jazz? Is this 2-4 stretch just a blip on the radar, or is it a sign that the blistering 22-2 team has faded back to just really good?
Utah still ranks first in the NBA in 3-pointers made and attempted, but the Jazz have fallen below 40% on 3-pointers for the first time in forever, dropping all the way down to third-best in the NBA on percentage. Every player but Rudy Gobert in the top seven of Utah’s minutes rotation still sits at 37% or better on 3-pointers this season. The Jazz have been shooting the lights out.
That shooting was always going to regress to the mean at some point, and it’s starting to do that. Utah has shot worse than 40% on 3s in five of these last six games. That’s not exactly terrible, but that’s below Utah’s season percentage, and the Jazz have shot worse than 35% in two of those games, both losses.
If Utah starts shooting just “pretty well” instead of lights out, that significantly changes the offensive ceiling. The Jazz offense ranks third in Offensive Efficiency, per Basketball Reference, but the two major strongholds are 3-point shooting and elite offensive rebounding. Expect the offense to regress to the mean a little more going forward as the shooting cools off.
The defense should be more reliably great. Utah also leads the league in fewest 3-point makes and attempts allowed. Turns out, if you make the most 3s in the league and allow the fewest, you’re probably going to win a whole bunch of games.
The Jazz allow the most 2-point attempts in the league at more than 60 per game but hold opponents below 50% on them, the second-best percentage in the league. That’s the profile of a really tough defense. If opponents can’t get their 3-pointers off and can’t score in the paint, it makes life difficult.
The Jazz force the fewest turnovers in the league by design, but they rarely foul and allow the second-fewest assists per game. Utah’s defensive formula is stifling, and it looks much more sustainable for the long haul than the blazing-hot 3-point shooting on offense.
There’s another reason to start wondering if we’ve overrated Utah ever so slightly. The Jazz have been remarkably healthy. Other than Mike Conley missing those couple weeks, they’ve basically had their entire rotation in play all season, and that’s during a season in which almost every other team has been ravaged by injuries and health protocols.
It’s reasonable to expect that injury luck to even out, along with the hot Jazz shooting. The question is whether that’s enough to pick against them this game.
While just about everything has gone right for the Jazz so far this season, you could argue just about the opposite has been true for the Boston Celtics. The Celtics are at 20-18, and honestly, that practically feels like a victory at this point considering how rocky the season has been.
Kemba Walker missed the first chunk of the season and is still working his way back to full health. Marcus Smart missed more than a month and is just getting back up to speed, coming off the bench the past two games. Those two missed 16 and 19 games. Jayson Tatum missed only five games when he had COVID, thanks to some wonks in the schedule, but he’s talked about how hard the disease hit him and is clearly still working back to top form too.
The Celtics built their entire team identity last season around five star guards and wings. One of them, Gordon Hayward, walked for nothing in free agency, and three of the other four have had serious health issues this season. Only Jaylen Brown has been healthy, and he’s had a breakout All-Star campaign.
Those four Celtics stars — Walker, Smart, Tatum and Brown — have played only four games together all season, and arguably none of them are at full strength. Two of them were Walker’s first games back while he ramped up, and the other two are the pair since the All-Star break, as Smart works his way back off the bench.
All of that means that there are almost certainly brighter days ahead for these Celtics. So when Boston finally has its four core guys back and has suddenly won five of six games, that should get our attention.
The season-long metrics don’t matter a whole lot here, because they don’t represent the full-strength team. We know the Celtics are really good at offensive rebounding, but the rest of the numbers are pretty middling.
We also know the Celtics are traditionally one of the best teams in the league defending the 3-point line. They rank just outside the top 10 in 3-point percentage on defense right now, but year after year, Boston is the one NBA team that consistently beats the odds and forces opponents into misses.
That could matter against a team that shoots as many 3s as Utah.
This feels like a spot to fade Utah a little and bank on these Celtics to start to get their season on the right track.
Boston is the exact sort of team that can push the Jazz toward 3-point regression, especially with Smart back to annoy shooters, and Utah’s tough defense may not be quite as effective against a Celtics offense that ends up playing a lot of iso ball and making tough jumpers anyway.
Boston has played 15 games this season within five points. That’s practically half of the Celtics’ games, and Boston is 8-7 in those close ones. I like the Celtics to keep this one within five, too. The Jazz have played in five such close games all season and they are 2-3 in that spot, so if we are playing Boston to cover, then we should sprinkle a small portion of our bet on the outright win at +176 on the moneyline too.
This might be the closest we’ve seen to full-strength Boston all season. Let’s see what the Celtics can do.
Pick: Celtics +5 and a small portion on the +176 moneyline