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NBA Notebook: Clippers stumbling, Knicks impressing on defense, Klay off the bench & more

Welcome to another edition of the NBA Notebook!

This week we’ll be taking a quick look at the Clippers’ malaise, the Knicks’ outrageous defense, Klay Thompson thriving in a new role, and much more.

Jump ahead here:

Let's dive in!

Not long ago the Los Angeles Clippers were the rising threat in the Western Conference. They’ve now gone an uninspiring 8-10 in their last 18 games without a quality win to speak of.

But it was their putrid effort on Sunday against an injury-ravaged Atlanta Hawks team that truly set off alarm bells. LA was quickly down 21 against Atlanta and never made the game competitive.

Kawhi Leonard looks tired and James Harden looks disinterested. Paul George’s intensity waxes and wanes far too often. They really miss the change of pace energy that Russell Westbrook brings off the bench, as they seem lifeless in a lot of matchups. Right now, it seems difficult to justify their +600 odds to win the title.

After a rocky period marred by injuries, the Knicks are getting healthier and are showing their true defensive potential. Over the last six games, the Knicks have a 97.2 defensive rating per Cleaning the Glass, best in the Association by a mile.

Here are the Knicks’ opponent totals over the past six games: 74, 73, 79, 93, 91, and 112. Holding five straight teams to below 100 points is unheard of in the modern NBA. The league is allowing more physicality and a hardnosed team like the Knicks are primary beneficiaries.

The Under has cashed in 11 of their last 13 games, and they make every game a rock fight.

Lastly, despite losing their franchise center in Alperen Sengun last week, the Houston Rockets are making a late season push for the play-in tournament. They’ve now won five in a row to close the gap on the Golden State Warriors to three games.

Despite this late run, playoffstatus.com only gives the Rockets a 14% chance of making the play-in tournament. But don’t let the Rockets falling short this season sour you on their future.

Per Cleaning the Glass, Houston finished dead last in expected wins relative to their point differential. That equates to them losing nearly five games more than expected, so they played at the level of a 45-win team this season and just caught some bad breaks.

With a team full of young players who are all still poised to take significant leaps, they should be a fixture in the playoff hunt again next season.

NBA Spot Bets: Jaylen Brown threes, Klay off the bench

The Boston Celtics are hosting the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday in a highly anticipated clash atop the Eastern Conference. I have my eye on Jaylen Brown to be a difference maker for Boston.

Right now is easily the best stretch of Brown’s already decorated career, as he’s averaging a hair under 30 points per game on 61.7% true shooting over his last 10 outings. His aggression inside the arc gives the team better balance and when he’s shooting this well from the outside, he takes the offensive pressure off Jayson Tatum.

Brown’s on ball defense can turn a game around too. While the Celtics ultimately lost, Brown’s defense against Jamal Murray down the stretch in the most recent matchup against Denver almost won them the game.

The Bucks lack the athletic punch to deal with Brown, and their best efforts will probably still be directed toward Tatum. Depending on where the odds come in, I’ll be looking at his points or 3-point prop.

Also on Wednesday, the Warriors are taking on their old rival, the Memphis Grizzlies. This matchup lost its shine for most of the season as the Grizz were marred by injuries, but the return of Desmond Bane makes Memphis a dangerous team again.

But I’m looking to the Warriors' side for value, specifically, I’m locked in on Klay Thompson’s heater off the bench.

Thompson getting benched was the end of an era for Golden State, but it’s a move that has benefited him as much as the Warriors. After shooting below 37% as a starter, he’s now up to 45.3% from three as a bench player through 11 games. Having Chris Paul back in the mix means Golden State also has a surplus of passing to take advantage of Klay’s off ball cutting and moving.

The Grizzlies allow more above the break threes than all but three teams, so I expect Klay to cash in again on Wednesday.

Lastly, the Detroit Pistons continue to be mired in dysfunction, injuries, and poor play. They lost a game to the Miami Heat this week despite having the ball with nine seconds to go and the shot clock turned off. Cade Cunningham inexplicably shot with several seconds on the clock, missed, and Bam Adebayo sunk a game-winning 3-pointer in return.

They now have one of the more brutal three-games in four nights you’ll see for the remainder of the season. The Pistons start with Boston on Friday then have a day off before a back-to-back set against New Orleans and then a road game against the Knicks on Monday.

That game seems primed for the Knicks to beat a tired Pistons team up on the glass, and I’ll be looking at the price for Josh Hart, Isaiah Hartenstein, and Precious Achiuwa’s rebounding props to see if there is value to be had.

NBA Futures: Bucks' title odds drop

The Celtics look like a juggernaut that nobody in the East can stop, which is why they are +220 to win the NBA championship, which as far as I have seen is the shortest odds they’ve held all year.

The Milwaukee Bucks, meanwhile, have dipped to +800, after hovering in the +450 to +500 range for much of the season. Ironically, I have been a Bucks skeptic for most of the season, but I find this shift far too much of an overcorrection.

The Bucks crushed the Phoenix Suns this week, and they did so without Giannis Antetokounmpo and by nailing a million threes. Critically, Khris Middleton made his return and looked spry, healthy, and ready to contribute to a title team.

It’s not that think the Bucks or another team are better than the Celtics, or even all that close. But it’s hard to justify such short odds when the Celtics and Bucks both play such a high variance style.

If the Bucks shoot like they did against the Suns for four games against Boston, they will advance. If Tatum turns an ankle, Porzingis has a lower body injury (which he is prone to), or they shoot 30% in two games, Boston is vulnerable even to a team like the Knicks or Heat (both +2500).

While the Celtics are far and away the best team, they haven’t proven it in the playoffs, and the margin for error even for them is much too small to justify these odds.

NBA Injury Update: Mitchell, Anunoby, Coby White

Donovan Mitchell returned to action after missing seven straight games last week but is already out again due to difficulties with the same knee that previously required a PRP injection.

Mitchell shot the ball well from distance in his two games back, but his knee is clearly hampering him. He shot just 2-12 from two and could not generate any separation inside the arc. In his absence, Darius Garland continues to raise his game and productivity after a slow start.

The Knicks are also losing a player after a brief return, as OG Anunoby missed Monday night’s game against the Warriors and is doubtful for Wednesday against the Denver Nuggets.

OG only returned for two games following a 17-game absence that required elbow surgery. His elbow appeared to be bothering him through the Knicks' previous game on Saturday, and his status for the rest of the season is increasingly murky despite getting a clean MRI. Josh Hart will be the primary beneficiary on prop markets, as he logged all 48 minutes Monday night and had his fifth triple-double of the season.

Also, Coby White has avoided major injury after he got crushed by a falling Pascal Siakam earlier this week.  Siakam blocked White's shot, and the pair fell awkwardly as White got slammed by Siakam and couldn’t walk off under his own power. He’s listed as day-to-day with a hip strain.

Lastly, Lakers reserve Christian Wood is having what likely amounts to season ending arthroscopic surgery on his knee as he will be out several weeks.

'He said it'

"All of my best wines are older than Victor. That's a true statement."

-Gregg Popovich poking fun at the youthfulness of his star player.

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

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