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NBA Notebook: Celtics-Bucks and Knicks-Heat bets, award races, injury update and more

Welcome to our Thanksgiving week edition of NBA Notebook!

This week, we’ll look at a pair of teams who are struggling to close games, another team whose offense is rounding into shape, injury updates for Bradley Beal and Marcus Smart, and some scintillating spot bets to target. 

Jump ahead here:

Let’s dive in!

If you read last week’s NBA Notebook, you’ll remember I noted that the Los Angeles Lakers were pioneering new ways to get off to horrible starts. Well, the opposite trend has been building in Phoenix.

The Suns have been horrific at closing games so far this season. Through 13 games, the Suns have a -24.3 net rating in fourth quarters. They’ve choked away massive leads in numerous games, and frequently give their opponent a shot to win it at the end.

It’s possible this trend begins to normalize now that Devin Booker is off the injury report, but betting the opposing team's fourth quarter spread when playing Phoenix is smart money until further notice.

An equally Jekyll and Hyde situation is unfolding in Orlando. The Magic are built to win with defense, and that’s exactly what they’re doing. But their flaws, namely a lack of shooting and playmaking from their guards, seem to play out almost exactly the same in every contest. 

They jump out on teams in the first half (+22 net rating in first halves), but, almost without fail, give up a huge part of their lead in second halves. Their second half net rating is an abysmal -17.2. Canny bettors can play both sides and bet the Magic first half moneyline, then their opponent to cover in the second half.

Lastly, after starting out the year shooting poorly at the rim, the Knicks are rounding into form. The team that had the NBA's third best offense last season is finally reappearing. 

Over the last two weeks, the Knicks have had the best offensive rating in the NBA at a stunning +124. They’re beasting teams on the glass, seldom turn it over, and now that they’ve started to hit their threes, they’re blowing teams out of the water. 

NBA Spot Bets: Pacers-Raptors, Holiday vs. Lillard, 2023 playoff rematch

The Raptors are facing a dreaded stretch of three games in four nights this week, with their final road back-to-back coming against Tyrese Haliburton and the speed demons of Indiana. The Pacers are the third-best transition offense in the NBA so far this season, and Haliburton is drawing warranted comparisons to Steve Nash and the "7 Seconds or Less" Suns.

Toronto has done a decent job defending the break this year, but they’ve also been prone to sloppy starts. Coming in with dead legs against the NBA’s premier running team has me gauging the value of a first quarter moneyline or spread bet for the Pacers on Wednesday.

Also on Wednesday, we have a grudge match of epic proportions as the Boston Celtics host the Milwaukee Bucks for the first time this season. This is a game between the two preseason favorites in the Eastern Conference and top two current favorites to win the 2024 NBA title. With the Bucks finally beginning to look like contenders in recent weeks, both teams will treat this game as a measuring stick of their progress.

Celtics guard Jrue Holiday has consistently found ways to bother Bucks guard Damian Lillard in the past, including in an infamous playoff series back when Holiday and the Pelicans swept Lillard and the Trail Blazers in the 2018 first round. I’m going to see what value there is in taking a Lillard points Under here.

Lastly, I’ll be looking to the In-Season Tournament matchup on Friday, November 24 between the Miami Heat and New York Knicks. This marks the first time these two teams have played since the Heat defeated the Knicks in six games in last year's playoffs. For those who don’t recall, all six of those games were complete wars of attrition. No total score in any of the six games exceeded 216 points, and multiple games failed to exceed 200. 

These teams have the goods to make each other play in the mud, so I’ll be keeping an eye on the total points market to see if it comes in north of 221, and will pounce on the Under if it does.

NBA Futures: Sengun for Most Improved? 

While Nikola Jokic begins to gradually separate himself from the pack in the MVP race, where he’s now +220 to win the award, there’s little notable movement atop other futures markets this week.

However, two names caught my eye. While Tyrese Maxey remains the odds-on favorite to win Most Improved Player at -105, I believe Alperen Sengun is a worthy dark horse candidate. Sengun’s odds jumped from +2800 a week ago to +1000 on Tuesday morning. He had several performances this week that made it clear that he is a star in the making.

A small bet on Sengun protects against a possible injury or fall-off from Maxey. Sengun has been much better than Scottie Barnes or Cam Thomas, who currently have shorter odds to win the award, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him with the second-shortest odds by this time next week.

On the Coach of the Year front, last week I expressed skepticism about Ime Udoka’s candidacy. This week I’m spotlighting a candidate rising in the rankings with a real shot to win it all - OKC’s Mark Daigneault. 

Unlike the Rockets, the Thunder look like a team on track to win 50 games, and Daigneault is one of the most respected young coaches to never sniff the award in the past. At +600, he’s my favorite value bet on the board.

Injury Update: Smart, Simmons, Beal

The injury-plagued Memphis Grizzlies took another brutal blow, as it was announced Marcus Smart's foot injury would keep him out for three to five weeks. It’s possible the Grizzlies will be too many games underwater to compete for a play-in spot by the time Ja Morant returns.

Ben Simmons has another nerve injury in his back and will continue to miss time. I think the Nets stand a chance of being better without him. Simmons is still terrified of driving to the rim and hit just one free throw in the six games played. With him not clogging the paint alongside Nic Claxton, the Nets' offense should tick up a bit.

And for the fifth consecutive week, the injury report for the Phoenix Suns brings no relief. After making a brief two-game return, Bradley Beal’s back issues flared up again. He’s now on track to miss at least three more weeks of action. 

That means Kevin Durant is likely to keep up his sky-high usage from the season so far, making him a threat to surpass his points prop each and every night.

He said it

"We've got to be realistic about the situation. It's hard to just be like, 'Oh we're good, we're good,'. Because we're bad. We've got to address that.” 

- Cade Cunningham after the Detroit Pistons notched their 11th straight loss this week

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

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