Miami remains the NBA’s hottest bet

The NBA’s trade deadline is in the rear view mirror, and the only blockbuster trade was an unexpected one. The New Orleans Pelicans acquired DeMarcus Cousins from the Sacramento Kings for a mix of uninspiring players and draft picks. Meanwhile, the one team many expected to make a move, the Boston Celtics, stood pat as GM Danny Ainge was unable to find an offer compelling enough to part with any of his highly-valued draft picks. 

The next three days will see some additional player movement as those players who are bought out will be free to sign with another team and be eligible for the playoffs. The clear winners of the trade deadline were the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers, as no team emerged as a bigger threat to supplant either from its perch at the top of their respective conferences. 

Let’s take a look at the upcoming week in the NBA.

Spread Watch

Has there ever been a turnaround by a more unlikely team than what is happening right now with Miami? (Hint: the answer is ‘no.’) 

Miami was 11-30 through its first 41 games (19-22 ATS), and nobody thought Erik Spoelstra’s team was greatly underachieving, but over their last 18 games the Heat have won and covered 16 – with an average pointspread differential of +9.44. When Miami was in the midst of its 13-game SU/ATS win streak, the criticism was that its slate of opponents was not overly difficult (notwithstanding its upset of the best team in history, Golden State). It’s true that just three of those 13 opponents had winning records (although eight had better records than the Heat), but check out the three teams Miami has just defeated on its current three-game SU/ATS win streak:  Houston, Atlanta and Indiana. All three are above .500, and the Heat covered the spread by double-digits in each of those games – by an average of 17.3 points. 

This week the Heat’s schedule will be decidedly easier as they kick it off with games against Dallas, Philadelphia and Orlando (all among the worst eight teams in the league) before finishing up with Cleveland. Will Miami’s turnaround continue? I wouldn’t bet against it – at least not on Monday – as the Heat are 10-1 SU and 8-3 ATS their last 11 versus Dallas.

Totals Watch

The Memphis Grizzlies, under former coach Dave Joerger, were a defensive-oriented ball-club. One of the reasons for Joerger’s hire in Sacramento was that Kings management wanted those principles instilled among their young players.

The results this season are decidedly mixed as Sacramento currently ranks No. 23 in defensive efficiency. But lately, the Kings have been playing very good defense as only two of the Kings’ last seven opponents have scored more than 100 points. One of those clubs was Golden State which “only” scored 109 versus Sacramento – nine points below its offensive average. 

Not surprisingly, the Kings have gone ‘under’ the total in six of their last seven games (including the last five in a row). This week, Sacramento will face Minnesota, Brooklyn, Utah and Denver. The game versus the Jazz looks to be the best candidate to go ‘under’ as Utah has held its last four opponents to 95 points or less (3-1 ‘under’) and the last three meetings between the Jazz and Kings have been relatively low-scoring affairs.

Injury Watch

Chris Paul was back on the court this past Friday versus the Spurs after missing his team’s previous 14 games as he recovered from left thumb surgery. The Clippers went 6-8 SU and 8-6 ATS in those 14 games, so his return was seen as the catalyst to pushing the Clips back up in the Western Conference standings. 

Unfortunately, Los Angeles lost 105-97 to the Spurs, but did bounce back with a hard-fought three-point overtime win versus Charlotte (although they failed to cover the spread in both games). 

For the season, Los Angeles is 28-10 SU and 19-19 ATS with Paul in the lineup, and that .736 win percentage would have placed L.A. in third place in the Western Conference if it had been able to maintain their play in the games without Paul. Their chances of catching the Rockets for the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference are growing increasingly slim as Houston is five games up in the loss column. 

This week the Clips will have a great opportunity to close that gap as they’ll host the Rockets on Wednesday before traveling to the midwest to play road games at Milwaukee and Chicago. The Clippers should rout Houston, as Los Angeles will be playing with revenge from a 140-116 loss at Houston earlier this season and .585 (or better) teams are 79-25 SU and 64-38-2 ATS since 1992 as home favorites in the regular season if they’re playing with revenge from a 24-point (or worse) defeat.

Schedule Watch

After a 22-8 start to the season, in which Toronto outscored its opponents by 9.0 points per game, Dwane Casey’s men stumbled greatly. Toronto lost 16 of its next 26 games so management decided to make some changes. 

The first was a Valentine’s Day trade with the Orlando Magic to acquire Serge Ibaka. Then, this past Thursday, GM Masai Ujiri dealt Jared Sullinger and a couple of 2nd round draft picks to Phoenix for P.J. Tucker. The addition of Ibaka and Tucker greatly improves Toronto’s defense. Ibaka is a great rim protector while Tucker is a tough-minded, versatile defender. 

Since bringing in Ibaka, the Raptors have gone 3-0 SU and 2-1 ATS and have held their opponents to just 96 ppg – more than 10 points below the offensive average of those three teams. 

This week, Toronto will travel to Madison Square Garden to play the Knicks on Monday, before a home-and-home series with the Washington Wizards on Wednesday and Friday. The Wizards are currently the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference so these two games are among the biggest games left on Toronto’s schedule. The Raptors have won all five of the meetings between these two clubs the past two seasons.

Look for Toronto to extend its win streak vs. the Wizards to six games, as Toronto will have a scheduling advantage on Wednesday. The Wizards will be playing without rest, while the Raptors will be rested. The Raptors are 89-62 SU and 81-65-3 ATS at home when rested against an unrested foe. 


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