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NBA Notebook: Opening week bets, stories, injuries, and more

Welcome to the inaugural NBA Notebook. This column will touch on all things NBA betting, including key trends, odds, futures movement, matchup-defining injuries, and everything else you need to be informed about during the 2023/24 season.

This week we’ll be taking a quick look at: 

Let’s dive in!

NBA Preseason Takeaways

There is always a danger in overrating the importance of preseason basketball. But while win/loss records are meaningless (with apologies to the 4-0 Toronto Raptors) there are insights to be gleaned.

The first is that Chet Holmgren and Victor Wembanyama are clearly ready for primetime already. 

The Oklahoma City Thunder are committing to Holmgren as their full-time starting five, and the 21-year-old pivot has a huge opportunity to impact the game on both ends. His skinny frame means he’s going to take a beating, but his determination to recover on every play makes him a menace around the basket.

Wembanyama, for his part, has looked every bit the generational prospect he’s been billed as. His defense already has opposing teams doing specialty drills to prepare for his otherworldly length, and his creativity and skill on offense saw him average nearly 20 points in 20 minutes per game during the preseason. Wembanyama is the favorite to win Rookie of the Year and could be poised to break some NBA rookie records.

Elsewhere in preseason news, Giannis Antetokounmpo signed a surprising three-year extension with the Milwaukee Bucks. Giannis locking in so far ahead of his free agency was unexpected given how much money he potentially gives up as a result, but is clearly a direct result of the Bucks going out and acquiring Damian Lillard. Whatever happens on the court this season, that trade is already a massive success for the Bucks.

Lastly, James Harden remains away from the team and seeking a trade from the Philadelphia 76ers. While stipulations in the Collective Bargaining Agreement make a complete holdout unlikely, Harden’s “will he, won’t he” behavior has the 76ers in serious limbo. 

Not only that, but Joel Embiid only suited up for a single preseason contest and looked notably rusty. However good the 76ers end up being, they’re likely in for a slow start. Given that their debut is against the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday, that could be a painful first game.

NBA Spot Bets

For this week’s NBA Spot Bets, I’m zeroing on the Denver Nuggets’ elite home-court advantage and casting a skeptical eye on two teams who had unusual preseason travel demands.

The NBA season officially tips off with the Nuggets hosting the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night, and I think Denver is being undervalued here. Not only is Nikola Jokic looking aggressive this season and Jamal Murray is finally entering the season healthy, but there is also genuine bad blood here. With both teams motivated to play, I lean toward the one that has been proven to be flat out better recently, which is Denver.

The moneyline for Tuesday (-210) is surprising given how dominant the Nuggets are at home. Denver is now 40-6 straight-up in its last 46 home games, making them one of the surest bets in basketball, and great value at this price.

Tuesday night's opener is one of our games to watch in the opening week of the NBA season.

For Wednesday’s slate, there are two games I have my eye on that might be an early opportunity for bettors. Both the Dallas Mavericks and the Minnesota Timberwolves traveled to Abu Dhabi earlier this month as part of a preseason showcase. In year’s past teams that make these trips that involve heavy international travel tend to start out sluggishly. 

So, bettors might consider taking the San Antonio Spurs +3.5 (-110) against the Mavericks on Thursday, both as a vote of confidence in the Spurs rookie phenom and the travel hangover for Dallas. Not only that, but as I’ll detail in the injuries section, the Mavericks are already banged up and facing some critical roster uncertainty for their opening night.

In addition, the Wolves made the same trip, and while they looked a lot better than Dallas, they’re playing a feisty Toronto Raptors team on the road on Wednesday. The unbeaten Raptors were one of the teams that made the best impression on me during the preseason and should prove a stiff challenge for the road weary Wolves.

NBA Futures Update

This section of NBA Notebook will detail odds movement for the NBA’s championship race as well as some of the critical Awards races including MVP, Rookie of the Year, and more. This week we’re laying the groundwork by looking at the NBA title odds on the eve of the regular season.

The Milwaukee Bucks lead the NBA title race at +350, with the Boston Celtics (+400), Denver Nuggets (+450), and Phoenix Suns (+600) not far behind. But I’d be wary of betting on either the Bucks or the Celtics here for two simple reasons. 

For one, we’ve yet to see these versions of these teams work in a playoff setting. That alone makes a Nuggets bet more appealing, as their formula was good enough to go 16-4 during last year’s playoffs to claim the title.

Secondly, if you believe the Bucks and Celtics are the two best teams in the NBA, their chances are necessarily depressed because they likely have to play each other just to get to the Finals. 

The gap in quality between the Nuggets and the Suns is much greater, and as such the Nuggets are a better bet to make the Finals over any team on the board. At these odds I favor the Nuggets to go back-to-back.

View the latest odds to win the 2023/24 NBA Championship here.

Injury Update

The single biggest injury news this week was the shocking announcement that Steven Adams will miss the entirety of the Memphis Grizzlies’ season due to his failed knee rehab. That puts an immense amount of pressure on a roster that is already going to be missing Ja Morant for 25 games due to suspension. 

For this week’s player props then, consider Over 13.5 points as well as Over 10.5 rebounds by former Grizzlies big man Jonas Valanciunas when Memphis plays the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday. 

With no Larry Nance for the Pels, JV is likely to have a large role. Valanciunas showed in this summer’s World Cup that he can dominate inside and on the glass, especially against Jaren Jackson Jr., who struggled in the same tournament with bigger pivots.

Mavericks superstars Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving headline the end of the injury report in terms of potential impact. Irving is nursing a groin injury which can be fickle to heal, and Doncic is questionable with a calf injury, an issue that has cost him significant time in the past. Don’t be surprised if both sit against the Spurs as the risk of aggravating these injuries is high.

He said it

“I take back everything I said. And I knew he was gonna be successful in the league but I thought it was going to be tougher than what he’s making it look right now. I mean he still hasn't played the league yet but some of the stuff he’s doing right now, dog.”

- Los Angeles Clippers All-Star Paul George reflecting on Wembanyama’s preseason performance.

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

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