Welcome to another edition of the NBA Notebook!
This week I’m looking at Joel Embiid’s historic offense, why the Orlando Magic can’t score, and a few spot bets for NBA Rivals Week.
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Let's dive in!
70 points. Joel Embiid really scored 70 last night, capturing the Philadelphia 76ers scoring record and completely overshadowing what was also one of the best games of Victor Wembanyama’s career.
Embiid is just the ninth player in NBA history to top 70, though the third to do so just in the last 18 months.
Too often Embiid is dismissed as a generational offensive scorer because he gets a lot of free throws. But this is a defining trait of just about every NBA superstar scorer, and Embiid also doesn’t need the foul line to be impactful. Forty-nine of his 70-point masterpiece last night came from shots made from the field. A whopping 13 of his made shots were jumpers, including just one three.
He’s essentially Kobe Bryant but 280 pounds and seven feet tall. He is unstoppable from the nail or the elbow. He’s grown his passing game to such a degree that opposing teams can’t easily double him. He’s a rightful leading candidate for MVP at +100, and the 76ers are a real threat to win the whole thing.
The Magic, on the other hand, are almost devoted to avoiding jump shots at all costs. They take more shots at the rim than any other team, which is good, but in turn shoot almost no threes.
That makes the Magic utterly reliant on scoring in the paint and easy to scheme for opposing defenses. Outside of Jalen Suggs, and he’s only a spot up guy, they just don’t take or make threes - or shots outside the paint - to any effective degree.
They’ll look to upgrade their shooting at the guard position in the coming years, and Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner will need to develop their outside shots as well.
Consider the Under or taking the spread against the Magic when they square off against teams that play with elite rim protection like the Minnesota Timberwolves, as their offense can simply short circuit completely.
Lastly, the New York Knicks are in the midst of a defensive revolution. The addition of O.G. Anunoby has unlocked the Knicks’ defense. Only the Cleveland Cavaliers have a better defense since the Anunoby trade, and their schedule has consisted largely of home games against sub-.500 teams.
The Knicks are coming for a Top-5 defensive rating and that makes them a dangerous team. They’re beginning a long stretch of games at home including many against sub .500 teams, against which they have a 17-0 record. Time to buy them to win Over 48.5 games at +100 before that number jumps.
It is NBA Rivals Week, and one of the juiciest games on the schedule is a rematch from the best playoff series last year between the Golden State Warriors and the Sacramento Kings. For my featured spot bet this week, I’m looking at shorting the scoring production of Domantas Sabonis.
The Warriors showed the blueprint for limiting the impact of Sabonis during their seven-game series last spring. The Warriors played way off Sabonis, daring the reluctant outside shooter to take threes or long twos, and that allowed them to chase aggressively over screens in his hand-off game with little consequence.
While the Warriors have struggled this season, they have Draymond Green back, and he will be highly motivated and is the key to unlocking the ability to defend Sabonis. I will be looking at Sabonis’ points prop, taking the Under if it goes below 20.5.
Next, the Charlotte Hornets are playing a road back-to-back against the Utah Jazz on Saturday. The Jazz have one of the NBA’s best defensive guards with Khris Dunn running point and a notorious home-court advantage at high altitude.
LaMelo Ball will be shouldering more of the playmaking load than ever with the trade of Terry Rozier to the Miami Heat as well. All those factors mean he could fatigue and fall prey to some of Dunn’s ball-hawking. I’ll be keeping an eye on Ball's turnover props for potential value.
For my final spot bet, I’m keying in on one of the only genuine rivalries in the sport between the Knicks and the Heat. The Knicks still want revenge for their six-game defeat in last year’s playoffs and on Saturday I think they’ll get it.
The Heat will be playing their third game in four nights and will be just one game removed from the second end of a back-to-back against the Boston Celtics. Miami is an older team and an injury-prone one too, so it’s easy to see them getting worn down prior to their game against the Knicks. I’m keeping an eye on the spread here and will take it up to -4.5.
This week we’re revisiting Embiid’s MVP odds. Joel was listed at +700 coming into the week but has catapulted into a commanding first place lead at just +100 odds. It’s not hard to see why.
Embiid and Nikola Jokic faced off in Philadelphia this week, and while the game was close until the final five minutes, Embiid put the team on his back down the stretch, dominating the Nuggets and sealing a quality win against the reigning champs. Embiid then followed that up with his 70-point game on Monday night and continues to break all manner of records as his 30-point games streak extends to 20 straight.
Is now the time to jump on the Embiid MVP bandwagon? I still don’t think so. I remain skeptical that Embiid will play enough games to qualify, as he can only afford to miss seven more to remain eligible. Still, I can’t argue too strongly against taking him because he’s playing better than anyone in the NBA on a per-minute basis right now.
Jokic remains a solid play at +250, and I still think that Giannis Antetokounmpo is wildly undervalued at +1200. The Bucks and 76ers play two more times this season, and each is a chance to drastically shift the MVP odds just as Embiid’s did after he defeated Jokic.
Clippers center Ivica Zubac has a serious calf strain and will be re-evaluated in four weeks. That means more minutes for the Clippers’ less impactful bigs, and the removal of James Harden’s best pick and roll partner. I would potentially look to short Harden’s assist prop the next few games while the rest of the big man rotation tries to fill Zubac’s shoes.
The Indiana Pacers seemed to bring Tyrese Haliburton back from his hamstring strain too soon. Haliburton didn’t look comfortable on the court in his first game back and immediately missed the next game and is questionable for Tuesday night’s matchup against Denver. Muscle injuries are notoriously easy to aggravate, and the Pacers will likely exercise caution with their star guard having already been burned once.
Trae Young entered the concussion protocol after a collision on Sunday against the Cavaliers. It’s unclear how long he’ll be out, but concussions are always a scary injury, and it could linger.
Lastly, Knicks center Isaiah Hartenstein had to leave the game against the Toronto Raptors this week due to an ankle sprain and is day to day. If he misses time a play on Julius Randle’s rebounding is a good place to look for value.
“That was a disgusting performance of defense and immature basketball.” - A furious Chris Finch after the Minnesota Timberwolves choked away an 18-point lead to lose to the Charlotte Hornets Monday night.
Odds mentioned in this article were correct at the time of writing and are subject to change.