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NBA Notebook: In-Season Tournament preview, bets, injury update, and more

Welcome to a Halloween edition of our NBA Notebook! 

This week we’ll be taking a look at some intriguing early trends, injury updates that impact this week's games, how the James Harden trade affects the Los Angeles Clippers' title odds, and a mini-preview of the first-ever In-Season Tournament.

Let's dive in!

Despite a new coaching staff and some roster turnover, the Raptors’ offensive woes are the same as ever, or worse. Toronto has begun the year as the worst halfcourt offense in the NBA. Per 'Cleaning the Glass', they are averaging a putrid 77.1 points per halfcourt play on their way to a 1-3 record.

The loss of Fred VanVleet is being keenly felt, as he was their only point guard capable of shooting off the dribble and playing pick-and-roll. Opposing teams are packing the paint and daring Toronto to shoot, and their attempts to open the floor through a combination of handoffs, screens, and hard cuts are already coming undone.

The Raptors' saving grace is that they make whoever they play almost as bad as they are on offense, making them a strong consideration for an Under bet when playing a team with suspect perimeter shooting.

The best teams against the spread so far this season have been the Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers, and…Detroit Pistons? The Pistons are surely the surprise team to start the season. Under Monty Williams, they have established a defensive identity and are cobbling together enough offense thanks to Cade Cunningham and Jalen Duren’s work in the pick-and-roll. 

Heading east, Tyrese Maxey was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week and is showing signs of superstardom. He’s averaging 30.3 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 6.3 assists on a blistering 68.8% true shooting percentage so far. 

With James Harden finally getting traded to the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday night, Maxey is likely to continue thriving in his expanded role. His ability to inject pace into a sometimes sluggish 76ers offense makes him a strong stylistic compliment to Embiid, and, as I’ll get into below, has put him in pole position to win Most Improved Player.

NBA Spot Bets

On Friday, the New York Knicks will complete a brutal stretch of three games in four days against Central Division teams. Following a back-to-back against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday and Wednesday, they head to Milwaukee to take on the Bucks in the first game of the In-Season Tournament. 

The Knicks have had a grueling early schedule and got blown off the court in a road back-to-back against the New Orleans Pelicans on Saturday. I’ll be looking at taking the Under on scoring props for Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle on Friday, as dead legs make for tough shooting nights.

The Raptors have a similarly brutal stretch of games this week with a road game against the Bucks on Wednesday, followed by the 76ers on Thursday. Toronto had no answers for either Joel Embiid or Maxey on Saturday, and now the Raptors going on the road with a serious rest disadvantage. I like both Embiid and Maxey again to have strong scoring performances against the Raptors.

The Pistons are also on a road back-to-back against the Pelicans this Thursday, and while they’ve looked good early, their schedule has been favorable until now. I’ll be backing New Orleans to cover.

NBA Futures Update

If you were hoping to back Maxey for Most Improved Player, you’re far from the only one. Tyrese began the season as +1400 to win the award, had shortened to +350 early on Monday, and is now just +190 following the Harden trade. If he stays healthy, it appears to be his award to lose.

The Clippers have seen their title chances jump from +1600 to +1200 after posting a strong start to the season, and now adding Harden. It remains to be seen what kind of shape Harden is in after a strange, drama-filled offseason, but there’s little doubt about the value his playmaking could provide for L.A. 

This week is also the beginning of the inaugural In-Season Tournament, which kicks off with seven group stage games on Friday, November 3. Eight teams from six groups (one winner from each group and two wildcards) will advance to the single-elimination knockout rounds, with the semifinals and finals played in Las Vegas.

Groups are based on last season's regular season records, which has created a distinct advantage for the already-stacked Boston Celtics. By being grouped with the Brooklyn Nets, who functionally have nothing in common with the team that earned their 45-37 record last year, the Celtics are the best bet to cruise through the group stage.

Yet the Celtics are only -150 to win their group, despite matching up against against the Nets, Chicago Bulls, Toronto Raptors, and Orlando Magic, none of whom are a lock to make the play-in, let alone playoffs.

I also like Boston at +900 to win the tournament outright. They have one of the best rosters in the NBA, but unlike other top teams, their star power is diffused. Given that these aren’t seven-game series, even a minor injury can change fortunes dramatically for most teams. The Celtics can lose a star, or even two, and still have two All-NBA-type talents ready to go. That immunizes them from a level of random misfortune compared to their opponents.

Injury Update

It’s been a troubling start for the Phoenix Suns’ new star trio of Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, and Bradley Beal. While Durant has suited up for every game, Beal is yet to see the floor with a back injury. Booker (foot) has only played in one game and remains doubtful for Tuesday. 

Not that the Portland Trail Blazers were expected to compete for a play-in spot this season, but those slim chances took a serious blow when they announced Anfernee Simons would miss 4-6 weeks due to a thumb injury.

Cleveland has also been hard hit by injuries. Jarrett Allen has yet to play, and Darius Garland has now missed multiple games with a hamstring issue. Garland and Donovan Mitchell are both officially questionable for the highly anticipated back-to-back against the Knicks, who knocked them out of last year’s playoffs. 

And the Sacramento Kings, who were famously healthy last season, have suffered their first setback with De’Aaron Fox out indefinitely due to an ankle sprain he suffered against the Lakers on Sunday.

He said it

Despite the Denver Nuggets winning in lopsided fashion, Nikola Jokic had high praise for Chet Holmgren after their first matchup. It was one specific piece of lifestyle advice that made headlines: “I think he needs to be a little bit fatter, to be honest.” 

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