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NBA Notebook: Wembanyama makes history, the Heat and Hornets improve, Coach of the Year bets, and more

Welcome to the latest edition of the NBA Notebook!

This week, we’ll be looking at Victor Wembanyama making history, the streaking Charlotte Hornets, and the resurrection of the Miami Heat.

Jump ahead here:

Let's dive in!

One night after falling a single assist shy of getting the first 5x5 stat line since 2019, Victor Wembanyama went out and posted 27 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists, five steals, and five blocks.

For NBA stat nerds out there, the 5x5 — where a player achieves at least five points, rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals in a single game — is the holy grail. It suggests a complete and dynamic game, influencing all aspects on both sides of the ball.

While the triple-double has become old hat as multiple players seem to get one every night, there have only been 22 instances in which a player achieved a 5x5 in NBA history.

For prop bettors, Wemby becomes a skeleton key, capable of dominating any aspect of the game depending on matchups. His assist props seem due for a huge jump when he plays with more experienced teammates.

Next up, we turn our eyes to North Carolina. The Charlotte Hornets’ season has been dead and buried for weeks now, but there are promising signs for next season and beyond. For one thing, Brandon Miller looks like a star prospect on the wing.

Their trade deadline moves are also paying dividends. Grant Williams has revived himself as the kind of shooting forward the Dallas Mavericks signed him to be, Tre Mann is providing solid guard depth, and Vasilije Micic is showing why he was a EuroLeague MVP.

But above all that is the defense. The Hornets are 4-1 in their last five games and are holding opponents to 98.6 points per 100 in that span, best in the NBA and nearly 2.5 points better than the Minnesota Timberwolves. They’re energized, switchable, and extremely committed for a team at the bottom of the standings. That makes them an intriguing option for Under bets or the spread, where they are also outperforming lines by 16.3 points per game over their last five, according to Cleaning the Glass.

Lastly, we need to talk about the Miami Heat. The Heat were deader than dead for months this season. The Terry Rozier trade didn’t seem to work and then he got hurt. They were the NBA’s worst offense for a month. Even their defense was slipping.

But like clockwork, the zombie Heat have begun to rise from the grave as the postseason approaches. The Heat have one of the NBA’s top point differentials over their last few games, Jimmy Butler appears ready to be the superstar they need yet again, and Bam Adebayo is playing like a Defensive Player of the Year candidate.

The Heat are the proverbial team that nobody wants to play in the playoffs for a reason and seem to always outperform expectations when undermanned like they did on Monday night, stomping the Sacramento Kings without Butler.

NBA Spot Bets: RJ Barrett, Coby White, Cavs vs. Knicks

For my first spot bet, I’m looking at the matchup between the Golden State Warriors and the Toronto Raptors on Friday. RJ Barrett dominated when these two teams played last, and I suspect he’ll be in for another productive game.

Barrett added 37 points on 13-20 shooting back on January 8. He killed the Warriors in transition, punished mismatches against Steph Curry, and just generally outmuscled the Warriors.

While Draymond Green was out that night, RJ still has a stylistic matchup against Golden State. The Warriors are one of the worst transition defenses in the NBA, particularly off live rebounds. Pushing hard off a defensive board and scoring on the break is RJ’s bread and butter.

Next up, and also on Friday, I like Coby White of the Chicago Bulls going against the Milwaukee Bucks. White has made the leap this season and has an outside shot at winning Most Improved Player (+450). He is shooting a career best 39.5% from 3, but what he’s really changed is that he is using the threat of the pull-up to attack the rim and create for others.

The Bucks have improved defensively under Doc Rivers, but they do have fundamental weaknesses on the perimeter. They struggle to fight through screens, which makes them vulnerable to players comfortable shooting off the dribble in pick and roll actions. That’s why I expect White to have a big game against the Bucks on Friday. White’s an elite pull-up shooter, which is the key to busting a conservative drop scheme like Milwaukee’s.

Finally, the Cleveland Cavaliers play a pivotal game against the New York Knicks on Sunday. Since the Knicks summarily dispatched Cleveland in the playoffs, every game between the two teams has taken on special emphasis.

The Knicks remain far from full strength with Mitchell Robinson, Julius Randle, and OG Anunoby still out. In fact, New York had to get a friendly whistle just to squeak by the Detroit Pistons on Monday. Until they get some forward depth back, they are no match for the NBA’s truly elite.

The Cavs are at full strength and have made internal improvements and external additions to address the weaknesses the Knicks so ruthlessly exploited in the spring. I’m expecting Cleveland to put together a strong performance against the undermanned Knicks and would play them up to -3.5.

NBA Futures Update: Finch and Daigneault battle for Coach of the Year

Let’s check in on the Coach of the Year race. As it stands, Oklahoma City Thunder coach Mark Daigneault is the favorite at -140 with Chris Finch of the Minnesota Timberwolves trailing him at +240.

I would personally throw my vote to Daigneault, but voting for Coach of the Year rarely goes to script. So little of what coaches do is visible to voters, and even what is seen is often little understood. Perhaps more than even the race for MVP, having a compelling narrative is the crucial factor in winning the award.

Sometimes credit lags a year as well. Many thought that Monty Williams would be a near unanimous victory in 2020/21, only for Tom Thibodeau to snatch the trophy at the eleventh hour. Williams would get his due the following season. All that is to say, this award is very much still up for grabs.

Daigneault has a strong case. Young teams aren’t supposed to be this good and they have an elite rim defense despite little traditional size.

But Finch has a compelling narrative of his own. This is the best Timberwolves season ever, they are the Association's best defense in an era where that is increasingly difficult, and they have made a seemingly awkward frontcourt pairing of Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns thrive.

With these teams tied at 40-17 in the standings, whoever wins more might ultimately capture the award. That makes Finch the easy value pick at +240.

Injury Update: Trae Young, Cam Thomas out as Chis Paul eyes return

The Atlanta Hawks received discouraging news for their late-season playoff push as Trae Young has undergone surgery on his hand due to a torn ligament in his pinky finger. The injury will see Young re-evaluated in four weeks, which means the Hawks will be without his services for much of the stretch run. In his place expect Dejounte Murray and Bogdan Bogdanovic to see large usage bumps in both scoring and playmaking.

Patrick Williams is the latest Chicago Bull to succumb to a foot injury. He had season-ending surgery this week to address bone edema in his left foot and will miss the rest of the season.

Cam Thomas suffered a nasty ankle sprain on Monday night against the Memphis Grizzlies. X-rays were negative but it was bad enough that Thomas could miss significant time. If he does, expect Mikal Bridges to step up his scoring production for Brooklyn.

Lastly, Chris Paul is eyeing a Tuesday night return, having not played since January 5 with a broken hand. In terms of prop bets, Paul’s return will likely depress Steph’s assist prop numbers as he moves more off the ball.

He said it

“The absolute worst call of the season.” - Detroit Pistons head coach Monty Williams criticizing officials for missing a potential game deciding foul call against New York’s Donte DiVincenzo Monday night.

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

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