Saturday features a six-game NBA slate with two games at 8:00 PM ET and two more starting a half-hour later. Finally, the slate closes with two West Coast showdowns. Five of the teams in action are on the back-end of a back-to-back, and none of the 12 will be in action on Sunday. Let’s survey the slate and pick the best bets for Saturday night.
Memphis Grizzlies +5 (-110)
DraftKings Sportsbook loves Luka, but this seems like way too many points. Yes, Ja Morant will be out for Memphis, and there is good reason to doubt the Grizzlies or is there? Memphis has won three in a row without Ja Morant and have covered the spread in each game. This run includes a 152-79 win over the Thunder — If you had the Thunder +72, YOU LOST! (thank you, Warner Wolf). They’ve also hit the over in eight of their last nine games (219 O/U tonight, so the over is on the radar). Memphis likes to push the pace and they’re efficient in up-tempo games — the Grizzlies rank inside the top 10 in pace and offensive efficiency. This is a bad sign for the Mavericks, who are 27th in pace and 13th in offensive efficiency.
Dallas is in a tough spot for a -5 point favorite. They’re on the second game of a back-to-back and are coming off a 107-91 loss to the 7-18 Pelicans. Dallas was favored by seven last night. That was the third time in the last four games that they have failed to cover. In all three of those games, Dallas was the favorite and Dallas lost outright, so the Memphis +180 Money Line is in play.
These two teams are trending in different directions. Memphis is hot and Dallas is struggling after winning nine of the their first 13 games. The Mavericks dropped three in a row with Luke Doncic out of the lineup, but since his return, they have not fared much better (2-3) and they’re without Kristaps Porzingis. The Grizzlies lineup does not have brand name appeal, but they’re good and they’re deep. The Mavs on the other hand, have no one outside of Doncic.
This line expects Doncic to bounce back after a bad night against a poor defense. That would definitely be expected, if it were the 2020-21 season. However, it’s 2021-22 and Doncic’s stats have dropped off in every category except Technical Fouls — near league leader last season due to lobbying and well on his way to piling up the T’s much to the chagrin of head coach Jason Kidd. Doncic’s numbers are down in Field Goal %, True Shooting %, Player Efficiency Rating, but worst of all his Plus/Minus is -5.1 this season, down from +2.5 last season and +4.1 the year before. Doncic will never have a large differential due to his role, but with little support around him, a negative Plus/Minus is not going to result in wins. He might still win an MVP because of his preposterous usage rate, but the Mavs are going nowhere in the playoffs, if they make the playoffs.
Sacramento Kings +1 (-110)
It might not yet be time to give the Kings respect, but it is time to bet them before DraftKings Sportsbook shows them respect. This is basically a pick ‘em, which is quite shocking given how poorly the Kings were playing under former head coach Luke Walton a couple of weeks ago. Now that Alvin Gentry is driving the Kings, this machine is rolling (three wins in 10 days compared to six wins in two months) and rolling fast — fourth in pace. The Clippers are ranked third in defensive efficiency, but they have struggled of late allowing 115, 124 and 123 points in their last three games. Two of those teams were top 5 in pace, and one was the Kings, who beat the Clippers 124-115 at Los Angeles on Dec. 1.
The duo of De’Aaron Fox and Richaun Holmes are underrated, partly due to Fox’s slow start and the Kings being the Kings. The Kings’ starting rotation can keep pace with just about any other team, and their second unit has emerged under the coaching of Alvin Gentry. Buddy Hield and Davion Mitchell are logging a lot of minutes and they’re putting together productive minutes. A fresh Kings’ lineup (off since Dec. 1), should be able to outrun an old Clippers’ lineup on a back-to-back.
The Clippers are on the second game of a back-to-back and are coming off an important, dare I say emotional, win over the rival Lakers. It shouldn’t be emotional because the Lakers are bad and the Clippers are good, and they were supposed to win no matter what the oddsmakers say (The Clippers were +6.5 dogs). However, the Clippers will always have a chip on their shoulder and get up for the Lakers game on the road at home. Tonight, the Clippers will not play with such vigor and some might not play at all because they are one of the older teams in the league. They’ll likely need their role players to step up again, especially offensively against the fast-paced Kings. Relying on Clippers role players for points is not a safe position.
Chicago Bulls Money Line (+135)
Brooklyn is the oldest team in the league, tied with the Lakers with an average age of 31-years-old and it shows. Both teams are frequently missing their players, but the Nets have done a pretty good job at making sure James Harden and Kevin Durant suit up every night. However, they don’t have a choice like the Lakers. Until the newly elected New York Mayor changes the Health Protocols in the city, the Nets will have to run their stars out every night while Kyrie Irving remains unavailable.
Tonight, the wear and tear of an NBA season catches up with Brooklyn. This is only their third back-to-back of the season. In the first, they lost on the back-end at Chicago by 23 points after being favored by one. They won their second back-to-back at home against Cleveland, but this wasn’t a true back-to-back because the Nets were blown out the night before by the Warriors. Durant, Harden and Blake Griffin (he was in the main rotation) did not play one minute of the fourth quarter against Golden State and were well rested for Cleveland. It’s a small sample size, but backing the Nets on the second game of a back-to-back seems like the wrong side.
Last night, the Nets core four (Harden, Durant, Patty Mills and LaMarcus Aldridge — Harden the youngest at 32-years-old) all played at least 34.4 minutes. Durant has played the sixth most minutes this season and Harden ranks 12th in the league. Meanwhile, Mills has been a 30-minute guy since joining the starting rotation in the middle of November and Aldridge has played over 28 minutes in six of the last seven games — a workload unseen since the beginning of last season.
On the other side of the court are the Bulls, who haven't played since Thursday (119-115 win over the Knicks, and a Bulls’ cover at -2). The game before, Chicago covered the -5.5 spread at home against the Hornets with a 133-119 win. Brooklyn is a slow, defensive team and all of Chicago’s offensive firepower is healthy (defensive specialist Alex Caruso has been questionable over the last week, but he rarely misses a game and played 30 minutes against the Knicks). The player to watch is Nikola Vucevic. He has been on fire since returning from COVID — over 27 points in each of his last two games with at least five 3-pointers, seven rebounds, three assists and a block. Of course it all does not have to fall on Vuc. The strength of this team is that it has four stars, and if two play well, then they win, and it’s possible for one star to lead them to victory as DeMar DeRozan did in the first matchup with the Nets.
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