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NBA Notebook: Celtics' historic dominance, lineup questions in Cleveland and OKC, Haliburton's struggles, and more

Welcome to another edition of the NBA Notebook!

This week we’ll be taking a quick look at Boston’s historic play, the lineup question facing the Oklahoma City Thunder, and what’s gone wrong for Tyrese Haliburton.

Jump ahead here:

Let’s dive in!

We begin with a look at the Boston Celtics’ historic dominance. An 82-38 first half against the Golden State Warriors is just the latest indication that the Celtics are on another level. They finished with a 52-point victory. It was Boston’s third win by 50 points or more this year, the first time a team has claimed three 50-point blowout wins in the same season in NBA history.

Boston has now won 11 straight and is eight games clear of the Milwaukee Bucks for first in the Eastern Conference, and virtually guaranteed the top overall seed.

The Celtics' +11.6 point differential (per Cleaning the Glass) is best in the NBA and one of the best ever. Only a handful of teams in the last 25 years have hit the double-digit mark in net rating and the Celtics are doing so in what is otherwise considered an unparalleled era of parity in the NBA.

Boston is right up there statistically with the best teams of all-time. It’s beginning to feel like Boston vs. the field is a real question, which is making their +225 odds to win it all a more enticing prospect by the day.

Next, I’m checking in on another of the East’s top teams, the Cleveland Cavaliers. Despite their 39-21 record, not all is well in Cleveland.

The Cavs just suffered an embarrassing loss to the New York Knicks who lost Jalen Brunson within the first 50 seconds and who were already without Julius Randle, OG Anunoby, and Mitchell Robinson. The team has not found a way to make Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen fit this season, and the Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell pairing is similarly awkward.

With Mitchell expected to be out for at least three more games, the Cavs could fall out of the Top-3 in the standings when once it seemed they were a lock for the two seed.

Lastly, Mark Daigneault of the Oklahoma City Thunder is a deserving favorite to win Coach of the Year at -200, but he remains untested as a playoff coach. The playoffs are a crucible, where weakness gets exposed and inflexibility can cost you a promising season in a heartbeat.

It’s become clear that the best version of the Thunder will not include starting Josh Giddey.  Giddey’s poor shooting and defensive issues make him a tough fit with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and playoff teams are going to ruthlessly attack him at both ends much like the Los Angeles Lakers did on Monday night.

The current Thunder starting lineup has an underwhelming +4 net rating, but basically every version of that same lineup without Josh Giddey is massively better.

With Cason Wallace instead, it’s +13.3. With Isaiah Joe over Giddey? +29.3. While they haven’t played enough with Gordon Hayward to gain a solid sample size yet, it’s easy to imagine that being a better fit as well.

Whether Daigneault is willing to make that move, and when, is one of the most important subplots remaining in the Western Conference.

NBA Spot Bets: Harden vs. Rockets, Haliburton's struggles, Thunder visit Heat

The Los Angeles Clippers are in Houston to take on James Harden’s former team on Wednesday night. Harden still has a strong affinity for the Rockets franchise and always tries to put on a show whenever he returns.

The injury to Russell Westbrook not only means that Harden won’t be sharing playmaking duties with Russ, but his replacement — Bones Hyland — is going to provide even better spacing for his playmaking. I’ll be looking at potential Overs for Harden's points and assists props.

The Indiana Pacers are hosting the Minnesota Timberwolves on Thursday night. I am monitoring the play and recovery of Tyrese Haliburton, who has simply not looked right since his hamstring injury earlier in the season. Haliburton was playing like one of the five best offensive players in the Association and has been nowhere close to that level since.

He clearly came back too fast in an effort to remain All-NBA eligible and is now having trouble trusting his body after re-aggravating his hamstring.

Haliburton has scored fewer than 20 points in five straight games including a goose egg against the New Orleans Pelicans last Friday. With the length of Jaden McDaniels and Nickeil Alexander-Walker, the Timberwolves present all the same perimeter problems the Pels do.

They also have Rudy Gobert manning the middle, and a defensive concept that should make things difficult on Haliburton. If his points prop comes in at 18.5 or higher, I will be taking the Under.

For my final NBA spot bet, I’m locked in on the Friday matchup between the Miami Heat and the visiting Thunder. The young Thunder team is reeling after two discouraging losses to the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Lakers, where they showed some shakiness for the first time in ages.

But the ways those teams beat the Thunder aren’t available to Miami. I expect this will be a tight spread when it opens, but I think Chet Holmgren’s ability to stretch the floor and Shai’s ability to break down the defense and gain separation should give OKC a distinct edge.

It’s also going to be Miami’s third game in four nights. I’ll be looking at the Thunder to cover at anything up to -3.5.

NBA Futures Update: Favorites separate themselves, some face late competition

It would seem that Victor Wembanyama’s 5x5 game and subsequent one on one dismantling of Chet Holmgren last week has removed what little drama remained in the Rookie of the Year race. Victor has soared to an unassailable -2500 to win the trophy, with Chet dropping to +1100.

Gobert has also likely put a bow on Defensive Player of the Year, as the Timberwolves’ defense continues to be top in the NBA and he sits at -700 (though intriguingly it is now Victor, and not Anthony Davis or Bam Adebayo second at +700).

Most of the award favorites at this point seem too established to knock off, but if there’s one who I think is vulnerable it’s Tyrese Maxey to win Most Improved Player at -600.

Maxey has had an incredible year, but his play hasn’t quite sustained at the level that catapulted him to this lead in the first place.

Meanwhile, Coby White of the Chicago Bulls has steadily made up ground. While White would be a different kind of MIP winner than there has been in several years, his year over year production makes for a compelling case. He’s certainly worth a look at +700.

Injury Update: Russ and Scottie suffer hand injuries, Mitchell missing time, Brunson's good news

A pair of broken hands headline this week's injury update.

Scottie Barnes suffered a fracture of his third metacarpal bone in his left hand in action against the Warriors this week, and following surgery, it’s unclear if he’ll return this season. That means more on ball reps for both RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley, who should see a rise in both assists and scoring.

Russell Westbrook also had hand surgery this week, and while it’s hoped he could return before the playoffs he also has no definitive timetable for his return. With Russ out that puts even more responsibility on Harden to run the offense, and Hyland is going to see some additional tick off the bench.

Donovan Mitchell of the Cleveland Cavaliers has missed two straight games and will miss at least three more due to a knee injury. Mitchell recently received a PRP injection to treat his troublesome bone bruise, raising concerns about the severity of the issue.

Lastly, Brunson appeared to suffer a serious non-contact knee injury in action against the Cavaliers, but testing has revealed a mere contusion. Brunson may miss a game or two, in which case expect Josh Hart and Donte DiVincenzo to see increased production.

He Said It

“He had the cape tucked under his seat on the bench, I guess. It was time for him to whip it out.” - Darvin Ham on LeBron James leading the Lakers to overcome a 21-point fourth quarter deficit against the Clippers last Wednesday.

Odds mentioned in this article were correct at the time of writing and are subject to change.

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