Sunday’s NBA slate features seven games to choose from, starting with the Thunder vs. the Wizards at 12:30 p.m. ET and concluding with the Clippers vs. the Nets at 9:00 p.m. ET. Some of these games will have massive implications for the final spot in the Western Conference playoffs, which should lead to some exciting basketball.
Here are five of my favorite bets to target on Sunday’s slate.
Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Washington Wizards:
This game means absolutely nothing to the Thunder. OKC is already without Steven Adams and Dennis Schroder, who have been two of the team’s most important players this season in terms of Net Rating differential. With that in mind, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Chris Paul and Danilo Gallinari play a limited number of minutes.
Even if they don’t, the Thunder got absolutely stomped by the Grizzlies without Adams and Schroder, losing that contest by 29 points.
The Wizards have lost every single game in the bubble but have yet to be embarrassed. Washington also leaned a little heavier on some of their key players in the team’s last game, so they can keep this game close if the Thunder don’t give it their full attention.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Thunder C Steven Adams (leg) will NOT be available to play today vs. the Wizards despite initially being called available. Nerlens Noel (ankle) also will not play.
New Orleans Pelicans vs. San Antonio Spurs:
The Spurs have been a completely different team in the bubble without LaMarcus Aldridge. San Antonio has played at the fourth-fastest pace and also ranks third in offensive efficiency. Where the Spurs have struggled is on the defensive end, particularly in three-point defense.
With that in mind, I think the Pelicans are actually a pretty good matchup for the Spurs. The Pelicans are simply middle of the pack in terms of three-point shooting, opting instead to do the majority of their damage at the rim. The Spurs have been significantly better in terms of rim protection with Jakob Poeltl manning the center position in place of Aldridge.
Boston Celtics vs. Orlando Magic:
I absolutely love this spot for the Celtics. The general narrative is that Boston has struggled in the bubble but the Celtics actually rank first in Net Rating. That number is a bit inflated by blowout wins over the Nets and Raptors, but the Celtics have been one of the better teams in basketball all season.
Head coach Brad Stevens has also stated that he’d like to play his starters “regular minutes” in two of the final three games to ensure that they’re operating at peak levels heading into the playoffs. Considering that the Celtics didn’t need the starters for much work in the final game, I would be surprised if Boston chose to rest anyone today.
The Celtics should be able to take care of business against a Magic team that frankly isn’t very good.
Portland Trail Blazers vs. Philadelphia 76ers:
This should be a very interesting matchup between two teams with something to prove.
The Blazers absolutely gave away a game vs. the Clippers on Sunday, which dropped Portland to 1 1⁄2 games behind the Grizzlies for the No. 8 seed. The Blazers also own just a slim lead over the Suns and Spurs for the No. 9 seed, so a win is needed today if the Blazers want to continue to control their own destiny for the playoffs.
On the 76ers’ side, Philadelphia needs to start to prepare for life without Ben Simmons. It’s become increasingly likely that his surgery on his knee will be season-ending. Luckily, the absence of Simmons might not be as detrimental as it seems on the surface. The 76ers have posted a Net Rating of just +0.9 with both Simmons and Joel Embiid on the court, but that number jumps to +9.8 with Embiid on and Simmons off.
I think the public is probably overrating the ability of the Blazers and underrating the ability of the 76ers without Simmons. I’ll happily grab the points here.
Sacramento Kings vs. Houston Rockets:
The Rockets are going to be shorthanded again today, with both Eric Gordon and Russell Westbrook already ruled out. That said, James Harden should be more than capable of picking up the slack. No one in basketball combines his average of volume and efficiency. Of all the players who have averaged at least 65 touches per game this season, no one averages more points per touch than Harden.
The one big weakness that the Rockets have is on the glass, and the Kings are not the team to exploit that. Sacramento ranks just 21st in team rebound rate this season and will be without starting center Richaun Holmes. The Kings can try to go small and outscore the Rockets, but that’s like trying to beat Magnus Carlsen at chess.
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