Following the wrapping up of the inaugural In-Season Tournament, the NBA will see things get back to normal as teams are trying to build momentum going into the holiday season.
The Los Angeles Lakers surged past the surprisingly scrappy Indiana Pacers to win the NBA’s first-ever In-Season Tournament. That led to a rarity on the schedule last Sunday: there was no action among teams in the league. But that was never going to be the case for long.
Starting Monday, the schedule will begin again in earnest as teams jockey for position as the season ends its first quarter. The most shocking thing right now may be that the Minnesota Timberwolves and Oklahoma City Thunder are sitting in the top two spots in the Western Conference.
Here’s a look at a few games on the NBA schedule that are worth betting on this week.
The Lakers weren’t off to a dream start this season. But things in the NBA change quickly, and they have recently for Los Angeles. The Lakers have won three straight games and are now 14-9.
Tuesday night, Los Angeles will take on Dallas, which is above Los Angeles in the standings but has played two fewer games than the Lakers. Everyone has to be relieved with how the Mavericks have started the year. There was some apprehension about how Kyrie Irving would fit in with Luka Dončić.
Dončić averages over 31.9 points per game, and Irving averages over 23.0 points per game. Dallas is 11-10 against the spread. The Mavericks are a high-flying team and have seen the total go over in 15 of their 21 matches. People had similar concerns about Los Angeles that they did about Dallas.
The Lakers are a veteran-laden team and can’t afford to have many injuries. However, frequently-injured centre Anthony Davis has been able to contribute in major ways. He scored 40 points to help Los Angeles beat Indiana to win the In-season Tournament.
Dallas has won the only meeting between the two teams this season, 104-101.
Trading for Chris Paul was a strange move for the Golden State Warriors. Some thought that the veteran point guard could help the ageing Warriors transition from a more up-tempo team to an offence focused on a half-court approach. So far, Golden State’s experiment has been struggling.
The Warriors’ results with Paul haven’t been great so far. Golden State has a losing record and has seen its offensive efficiency suffer. The Warriors are 25th in the league in field goal percentage, only making 45.2 per cent of their attempts. Golden State’s opponent on Tuesday night has also had its growing pains.
The Phoenix Suns also reinvented its roster in the offseason, trading Paul and adding Bradley Beal. Early returns have been mixed, but the Suns haven’t been healthy either. Phoenix has already beaten Golden State twice this season. The Suns are 9-12-1 against the spread this season, while 14 of their 22 games have exceeded the total.
The Thunder and Kings are two young, up-and-coming teams. Sacramento had its first moment on the big stage in years last season. The Kings had some bad injury luck to open this season but have seen things stabilise since De’Aaron Fox returned to the lineup.
Oklahoma City is a dynamic offensive team. There aren’t too many areas of the court where Sacramento can’t be counted on to knock down shots. The Thunder is the top free-throw shooting team in the league, making 85 per cent of their attempts.
Oklahoma City is also sixth in the league in points per game, second in 3-point percentage and third in field goal percentage. The Thunder are excellent against the spread, compiling a 14-7 mark. Twelve of Oklahoma City’s 21 games have gone over the total.
Sacramento has become a top-10 scoring offence while not being efficient at all. The Kings average 116.4 points per game but also allow 116.7 per contest. Sacramento will need to figure out a way to be tighter in defence to win more games.
Sacramento is 11-9 ahead of the spread this season. The Kings have also seen 11 of their 20 games go over the total.
The Indiana Pacers’ run to the In-Season Tournament final may have been most important for Tyrese Haliburton. Haliburton ended up being the Pacers’ star performer of the competition. The Pacers will need Haliburton’s best effort when Indiana takes on Western Conference-leading Minnesota on Friday.
Over the past seven games, Haliburton, who averages 26.9 points per game, has scored 20 points or more. In four of those games, Haliburton has scored 30 or more points. In those seven contests, Haliburton put up 44.
The Pacers are hoping to build on their performance during the in-season tournament. Indiana had lost three of its past four matches before beating Miami on Dec. 2 to kick off a three-game winning streak. Indiana is 12-8 against the spread this season.
Minnesota is one of the hottest teams in the NBA. The Timberwolves have won six straight games straight up. Minnesota is 4-2 against the spread during its current winning streak.
The Timberwolves’ defence has been where Minnesota has excelled. Minnesota has been limiting its opponents to 105.2 points per game, which is the top mark in the league. The Timberwolves also limit their opponents to 42.8 per cent shooting from the field, which is also the top mark in the league.
Minnesota is just a middle-of-the-pack 3-point shooting team, but it has a few players that can score consistently going toward the rim. Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards scores 24.4 points per game, while Karl-Anthony Towns scores 21.9. There was a thought that Minnesota would be a good team this year, but only a few thought it would get the top seed.
There is plenty of fighting the Timberwolves will need to do to keep the position they’ve established. Beating strong teams like Indiana at home is an excellent place to start.