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NBA Notebook: Doc's Bucks struggle, Celtics' title odds, SGA for MVP, and more

Welcome to another edition of the NBA Notebook!

With the All-Star break behind us, we’re officially in the stretch run of the NBA season and there are a ton of intriguing stats, trends, and odds to dig into.

This week, I’ll be taking stock of the Milwaukee Bucks’ grim outlook, one of the NBA’s last true rivalries, and I’ll explore why the Boston Celtics are poised to win it all.

Jump ahead here:

Let's dive in!

The Washington Wizards knew they were in for a few years of pain when they traded Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis this offseason, but I’m not sure they expected it to be quite this painful.

They own the league’s longest current losing streak at eight straight and they’re bottom five in both offense and defense. Jordan Poole has transformed from an intriguing building block into a nightly laughingstock.

But there have been some encouraging signs from fourth-year forward Deni Avdija. Avdija has been a do-it-all forward his entire career but limited outside shooting (and a low usage role in the pecking order) appeared to put a hard limit on his ceiling.

However, Avdija has flashed some serious upside following the trade deadline. He scored 45 points in the final game before the All-Star break and is averaging 23 points and 7.9 rebounds in February on 61.5% from the field and 50% from downtown. With the shooting coming around, he becomes a new tier of player entirely. Now that the offense consistently runs around him as a fulcrum, his points props make for an attractive betting target.

Next, I’m turning to the hot topic around the Association: the struggling Milwaukee Bucks.

Doc Rivers made history by becoming the coach of the East All-Stars despite owning a 3-7 record since taking over the team.

The Bucks have a lot of issues. Damian Lillard has not consistently played at a superstar level. Their defensive effort has waxed and waned. Giannis doesn’t seem willing to play the kind of ball screen heavy offense that would maximize his pairing with Dame. And they have the third most difficult remaining schedule according to Tankathon.

Per Cleaning the Glass, the Bucks’ point differential is equivalent to a 47.5 win team. ESPN’s BPI system has Milwaukee a little less than one win better. That makes taking the Under on their team win total of 51.5 (-115) an appealing bet.

The inverse of the Bucks situation is the Minnesota Timberwolves. Because the Wolves have had a few late game foibles lately, it’s going under the radar how dominant they have been and figure to be the rest of the season.

Their win total is set at a daunting-looking 56.5.

But their Cleaning the Glass point differential of 8.4 projects them to be a 60.7-win team. That’s without taking into account that they have the 10th-easiest remaining schedule, per Tankathon.

That isn’t considering the massive road-home disparity they have so far this year. Thirty-one of their 55 games played so far have come on the road, meaning they have 17 home games to just 10 games on the road down the stretch. All signs point to comfortably hitting the Over on 56.5 (-130).

NBA Spot Bets: Luka vs. Booker, DiVincenzo, Raptors-Hawks

While the NBA All-Star game has been largely eroded of genuine competitive fire, there are still a few player-to-player rivalries driven by real animosity. Perhaps the most notable of these is the one that developed between Luka Doncic and Devin Booker during the 2022 playoffs.

That makes the Dallas Mavericks hosting the Phoenix Suns on Thursday night appointment viewing. Outside of a game where Doncic had to leave after just three minutes of action, he’s averaging 37.2 points over his last five regular season contests against the Suns. I’m banking on a rested and motivated Doncic to put up gaudy numbers against his rival as the NBA season resumes on February 22.

Next, I’m looking at New York Knicks guard Donte DiVincenzo.

DiVincenzo’s emergence as an elite outside shooter has been one of the many things that have advanced the Knicks from a cute story to pseudo-contender status. After a much needed break for All-Star Weekend, the Knicks resume play against the Philadelphia 76ers, who are still without Joel Embiid.

DiVincenzo should be able to generate good looks against the flammable backcourt pairing of Tyrese Maxey and Buddy Hield. The Knicks generate a ton of threes on kickouts immediately after offensive rebounds and are well positioned to beat Philadelphia up on the glass. I’ll be taking aim at the Over on Donte’s 3-pointer prop if it comes in at 4.5 or below.

Lastly, I’m looking at a matchup between the Toronto Raptors and Atlanta Hawks on Friday. With little exception, Toronto’s defense has been in shambles since they traded Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby. Over their last eight games, they have a 125.1 defensive rating, second worst in the Association in that time.

Their opponent on Friday night, the Hawks, have gained viral infamy for being in games with scores so high that people around the NBA are pondering rule changes to give defenses more of a chance.

The Hawks are also one of the few teams playing Friday but not playing Thursday, meaning they’ll have fresh legs to attack the Raptors' defense. While I don’t trust Atlanta’s defense enough to blindly recommend the spread, I do suspect there is going to be good value in taking the Over on the Hawks team total for this matchup.

NBA Futures Update: Celtics' title odds, SGA for MVP

It’s beginning to feel a bit like the Boston Celtics’ championship to lose, and their steady rise in NBA championship odds to +250 accurately reflects that.

It’s not just that the Celtics are statistically the best team, which they are by any metric, it’s the potential path they have to the title is much less fraught than it seemed earlier in the season. Both the Bucks (+600) and the Philadelphia 76ers (+2500) don’t seem like serious threats to Boston at this juncture, with the ambiguity around Embiid’s health knocking them way down the odds board.

The Celtics also must feel confident against late risers like the Knicks (+2000), who are weighed down by injuries and the Cleveland Cavaliers (+2500), who have yet to prove their formula in the playoffs.

The second NBA MVP straw poll also came out one week ago, with Nikola Jokic carrying a comfortable lead with 69 first place votes and 889 points overall. He’s a worthy favorite at -150.

But I continue to believe that Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has a real chance too. SGA garnered 24 first place votes and 709 points, and there is the potential for Gilgeous-Alexander to finish ahead of Jokic if the Oklahoma City Thunder finish with the top seed in the West. At +210 his odds are a little more appealing than Nikola’s at this juncture.

Injury Update: Opportunities in New York, LeBron's ankle worries

While the Knicks' long-term injuries to Julius Randle, Mitchell Robinson, and OG Anunoby are still ongoing, they are getting big time reinforcements coming out of the break. All three of DiVincenzo, Isaiah Hartenstein, and Bojan Bogdanovic practiced on Tuesday ahead of their game against the 76ers on Thursday. Hartenstein’s return could diminish the value of Josh Hart’s rebounding props, which have been paying dividends.

LeBron James reportedly is continuing to receive treatment on his injured ankle, which could cause him to miss Thursday's game against the Golden State Warriors.

The Lakers' recent rally has been encouraging, but their inability to get much above .500 with both LeBron and Anthony Davis playing more than they have in years also reveals how fragile their position is. A serious injury to either wouldn’t just knock the Lakers down in the standings, it might push them to the bottom of the play-in race or out of it entirely.

Lastly, Dyson Daniels of the New Orleans Pelicans had surgery to deal with his torn meniscus and is expected to be reevaluated in four weeks. The nature of that timeline both suggests Daniels will be available for the playoffs and that he didn’t have the full repair, which often means a quicker return to the court but complications in the latter half of a career.

He said it

“Some guys were here, some in Cabo.”

-Doc Rivers following the Bucks’ miserable loss to the injury-riddled Memphis Grizzlies just before the All-Star break.

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

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