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NBA Notebook: Rockets, T-Wolves surging, DPOY race, bets, injuries and more

The NBA Notebook is back in action!

This week we’ll be taking a look at how the Rockets and Timberwolves are finding early season success, the Lakers’ historically poor first quarter starts, injury updates that impact this week's games, and the race for Defensive Player of the Year and Coach of the Year odds. 

Jump ahead here:

Let’s dive in!

Houston, we have liftoff. After years spent as the NBA’s premier bottom-dwellers, the Houston Rockets have now won six straight for the first time since 2021. So, what’s driving this incredible turnaround?

Well, it’s a bit of everything. The Rockets are one of only a handful of teams who rank in the top-10 in efficiency on both sides of the ball. The defense is built to pressure teams and force turnovers, and Dillon Brooks has continued his fine play from the FIBA World Cup on both ends.

But perhaps most importantly, Alperen Sengun is blossoming into a foundational star player. Sengun is a player of the Nikola Jokic mold, who can do it all on offense and sees plays that most players don’t.

Spreads will begin adjusting soon if this sustains, but the Rockets are still getting favorable lines given the quality of their early wins. Per Cleaning the Glass, their spread differential of +7.2 is second only to the next team we’ll discuss - the Minnesota Timberwolves. Speaking of which… 

After a discouraging start last season, year two of the Rudy Gobert experiment is paying dividends in the Twin Cities. The Timberwolves have the best defense in the NBA and have already racked up wins over the Denver Nuggets, Boston Celtics, and Golden State Warriors.

Chris Finch didn’t make optimal use of Gobert last season, but more of the issue was that Gobert looked to be on the decline physically. He looks to be moving much more fluidly this year and is emerging as the frontrunner for Defensive Player of the Year.

Switching gears, the Lakers are 5-5, but they can’t be feeling good about themselves. Not only do they have a -3.3-point differential, but they’re getting blown off the court in first quarters this season. 

L.A.’s -74 first quarter point differential was the worst of any team through eight games in NBA history, per SportsCenter research. That number grew to -80 after falling down early against the lowly Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday.

The Lakers have rallied in half their games to ultimately win, but targeting first quarter moneyline and spread props against the Lakers right now is a sound bet.

NBA Spot Bets: Targeting teams on back-to-backs

We return to the City of Angels for our first NBA spot bet. The Lakers are facing a stiff back-to-back challenge this week. After playing the Memphis Grizzlies on Tuesday, they host the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday. It is no secret that the Lakers are an older team, and those teams are typically much more impacted by quick turnaround games like this one.

L.A. is bottom-10 in points allowed per 100 transition possessions, and that is likely to plummet when facing the lightning-quick and youthful Kings. The Lakers are primed for another slow start, so the bet is on the Kings' first quarter spread.

The Chicago Bulls are hosting the Miami Heat on Saturday, November 18. The Bulls will be playing their third game in four nights and the second night of a back-to-back. Given how poorly Chicago has defended both the perimeter and the paint this year, I like some combination of Jimmy Butler to exceed his points prop and Duncan Robinson to produce from the perimeter.

The Atlanta Hawks are playing the New York Knicks on Wednesday night and I’ll be seeing if there is value in Julius Randle’s points, rebounds, and assists prop. The Hawks are going to be on a back-to-back, and Randle takes the matchups against Atlanta personally ever since they embarrassed him in the 2021 NBA Playoffs.

NBA Futures: Gobert for DPOY?

As mentioned, the Timberwolves’ ascension has Gobert finally shaking up the Defensive Player of the Year race. Gobert jumped from +1200 to leading the field at +500 over the course of this week. The Grizzlies’ continued struggles have seen previous leader Jaren Jackson Jr. dropping to third place at +800.

Ime Udoka is picking up steam in the race for Coach of the Year on the back of the Rockets’ red-hot week. Coach of the Year is all about exceeding expectations, and to this point, nobody has done that more than Houston.

But it’s also asking a lot for the Rockets to sustain this for an entire season, and it is difficult to win the award outright without a record solidly above .500. The Coach of the Year winner with the lowest winning percentage this millennium was Tom Thibodeau in 2020-21, and the Knicks won 56.9% of their games during the Covid-shortened season.

The Rockets would need to win 46 games to hit that even that low mark, after a preseason projection of 31.5. So I’m not buying in on Udoka’s chances just yet.

Injury Update: Oubre Jr., Crowder, Murray

Kelly Oubre Jr. — who was on track for a career season with the Philadelphia 76ers — was struck by a car this weekend and sustained significant injuries. While Oubre is expected to make a full recovery and has been released from hospital, the timetable for his return to play is somewhat murky.

The wings on Philadelphia that replace Oubre Jr. in the rotation are mostly low-usage players like Nicolas Batum and Robert Covington. So even as Tyrese Maxey’s points props keep rising, it might still make sense to bet on him to produce with Oubre out.

The Milwaukee Bucks’ Jae Crowder suffered a left adductor and abdominal tear and will miss at least eight weeks following surgery.

The Bucks were already starved for wing depth, and it’s going to be difficult for them to replace Crowder’s 27 minutes per game. That could see opposing teams with big guards and wings be even more effective in the next month and sophomore MarJon Beauchamp could see his role and production expand as well.

And Jamal Murray’s injury update was not good. He’ll be sidelined for 3-4 weeks with a hamstring issue, likely taking him out of All-Star consideration and quite likely out of All-NBA consideration as well. It’s an unfortunate blow given Murray’s superstar performance in last year’s playoffs. Nikola Jokic is going to be shouldering more of the scoring load in his absence, as will Reggie Jackson.

He said it

“We started to hear the rumblings that nobody is going to respect this ‘chip so we kind of just took our foot off the gas.”

- Lou Williams on why the Clippers flamed out in the 2020 NBA Bubble

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

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