Christmas is traditionally a time for giving, but here at NBA Betting Central (the nickname that I gave to my desk), it’s also a time for learning. This week, we learned that stars don’t always get the calls, two-man officiating crews are woefully inadequate, and no lead is ever safe. All three of those lessons were hammered home on Thursday night as Houston blew a 26-point lead and lost to the Celtics 99-98. It was the first time in 179 games that they lost a game in which they led by 25 points or more. We’re still wrapping our heads around Houston’s epic collapse, but suffice it to say, there are at least two referees out there who will not be getting a Christmas card from James Harden next year.
In this week’s betting tips, we’ll examine who’s to blame for the Rockets’ heartbreaking loss and share some analytical oddities that have caught our attention. We’ll also provide you with essential insights and context to help you make informed wagers on daily games and props. Onto the numbers!
Washington Wizards (-1.5) vs Houston Rockets
Depth is the Rockets’ Red Glaring Weakness
It feels strange to call a 25-8 team a risky bet, but the Rockets have become one of the NBA’s most unpredictable teams since losing Chris Paul to a left adductor strain on November 20th. This is the second time this season Houston has been without its All-NBA point guard and, unlike in the first stretch, they’ve struggled mightily in his absence this time around. Thanks to a four-game skid, the Rockets are now 15-1 when Paul plays and 10-7 when he sits. The losing streak has exposed their thin bench and demonstrated their need for a quality backup point guard to orchestrate the offense when Harden takes a breather.
In fairness, CP3 hasn’t been the only player missing from action during Houston’s losing streak. The Rockets have also been without starting center Clint Capela, who is averaging career highs in points and rebounds, and plus/minus god Luc Mbah a Moute, who has been a cog in all of Houston’s top lineups. Once all three players return in early January, the Rockets will get back to being one of the top three teams in the NBA.
Betting Advice: The Rockets wrap up their three-game road trip tonight in Washington. BetOnline has them listed as 1.5-point favorites, but we’re inclined to take the Wizards. Washington has won two of its last three games and its starting backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal should give the Rockets fits. Both players have averaged over 19.5 points per game against the Rockets over the course of their careers and have a knack for saving their best games for the league’s top teams.
LA Lakers vs LA Clippers (-2.5)
The Clippers Are Rolling on the (Austin) River(s)
Don’t look now, but Austin Rivers has morphed into a real, honest-to-God NBA player. Doc’s son is averaging 19.7 points and four assists in December and recently dropped a career-high 38 points against the Grizzlies. Chalk it up to increased confidence and a whole lot of playing time thanks to the absence of guards Patrick Beverly and Milos Teodosic, both of whom were expected to log heavy minutes before succumbing to injuries.
Betting Advice: Expect another big game from Rivers tonight when the Clippers clash with the Lakers. The 25-year-old guard had 19 points and six assists against L.A. on November 27th and should encounter even less resistance this evening as he faces the likes of Josh Hart and Alex Caruso, a pair of players better known for their NCAA exploits rather than anything they’ve done in the pros. Bovada has the Clippers at -2.5, and it’s a safe bet that Rivers will help them to comfortably cover the spread.
Sacramento Kings (-2) vs Phoenix Suns
The Suns’ Bench Has Been a Bright Spot
There’s no sugar-coating Phoenix’s 13-23 record, but they have bounced back from a five-game losing streak by winning four of six. One of the reasons the Suns have recovered is the performance of their bench. Jay Triano’s cobbled-together unit of Isaiah Canaan, Troy Daniels. Danuel House, Dragan Bender, and Alex Len is posting an insane +30.7 net rating and have outshined the team’s starters on many occasions. Consider it a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. The recently-acquired Canaan is the only player averaging double figures after joining the team under the NBA’s injury hardship exception.
Betting Advice: The Suns have an excellent shot of stealing a win on Friday night when they take on the Kings. Phoenix’s current 4-2 spurt coincides with the addition of Canaan, and they came within a single possession of beating Sacramento during their last meeting on December 12th. We like the +2 spread available for Phoenix at BetOnline and are betting big that the Sun’s bench mob will rise to the occasion. The return of Devin Booker (who had 32 points in his first game back from injury on Tuesday) shouldn’t hurt, either.
Golden State Warriors vs Memphis Grizzlies (no line yet)
The Grizzlies Have Been Clawless Without Conley
With all due apologies to Chris Paul, no player has been more important to his team than Mike Conley. The Grizzlies are 7-5 when he plays, and 3-18 when he sits. The Ohio State alum has been on the shelf with a sore left Achilles since November 17th, and his extended absence has Memphis in a serious funk. The Grizzlies are currently in 13th place in the Western Conference and look completely rudderless since the dismissal of head coach David Fizdale on November 27th.
Betting Advice: The Grizzlies may eventually pull out of their tailspin, but it certainly won’t be on Saturday night when they take on the Warriors in Oakland. Golden State has won 14 of its last 15 games and could be welcoming back two-time MVP Steph Curry, who returned to practice this week after missing 11 games with a sprained ankle. The Warriors have beaten their last two opponents by a combined 32 points, and it’s a safe bet that they defeat the clawless Grizzlies by double digits too.
OKC Thunder (-7.5) vs Milwaukee Bucks
The Thunder Are Making Noise
It took a full quarter of a season, but the Thunder have finally figured out that they’re a far better team when Russell Westbrook goes into beast mode and everyone else gets the hell out of the way. That straight forward strategy has allowed Oklahoma City to win eight of its last nine games, and everyone (yes, even Carmelo) seems to be happier now that Russ has strapped on his blinders.
“I think the fact that Russ is just playing — not trying to defer to anybody, to any one of us — just playing his game and letting us play off him … I think he’s much more effective by doing that rather than deferring to myself or Paul,” Anthony recently told ESPN.
It’s a good thing that Anthony is on board, because he’s been the player most affected by the team’s new direction. The ten-time All-Star is averaging 2.9 fewer points and four fewer isolation plays in the month of December. It’s not the high volume, ball-dominating Carmelo we’re used to seeing, and that bodes well for OKC’s title hopes.
Betting Advice: Bet 365 has the Thunder as 7.5 point favorites when they host the Bucks tonight. That number is a little higher than you’d like to see, but OKC should be up to the challenge. The Thunder have been beating teams by an average of 13.4 points over their past five games and will be facing a Bucks team fresh off a draining come-from-behind victory against the Wolves the night before. Take the Thunder and enjoy the show!