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NBA Notebook: Why scoring is down, Tatum's struggles, KAT's injury impact

Welcome to another edition of the NBA Notebook!

This week we’ll be taking a look at why scoring is down across the NBA since the All-Star break, Jayson Tatum’s clutch struggles, and how the Karl-Anthony Towns injury changes the NBA title picture.

Jump ahead here:

The Orlando Magic broke the season low for points in a game on Friday when they lost to the Knicks, 98-74. That record lasted all of two days until the Knicks were then defeated by the Philadelphia 76ers 79-73.

These low scoring games punctuate a clear trend since the All-Star break: scoring is down all over the league.

The source of the offensive decline is obvious looking at the numbers; it’s almost all coming from a reduction in free throw attempts. Teams are taking on average about five fewer free throws per game since the break. Shifting playstyles and randomness can’t account for a change this dramatic, this is instructions from on high.

While they have said nothing publicly, the NBA clearly sent instructions to officials to allow more contact from defenses. It’s a change I welcome, but one bettors need to be aware of as they consider betting on totals for the rest of the season.

Next, I want to return to the matchup earlier this week between the Boston Celtics and Denver Nuggets that oddsmakers believe may be an NBA Finals preview. It was a high level, competitive game, but as they do against just about everyone the Nuggets made more plays down the stretch.

If there is a speck of dust on the diamond that is the Celtics, it’s the looming worry of their potential meltdowns in the clutch. While there are numerous culprits, the biggest problem is that Jayson Tatum has not been effective. Tatum’s burgeoning MVP candidacy was all but killed this week when he had just 15 points and five turnovers against the reigning champs. It’s not just limited to this game either.

Tatum is shooting 31.3% through 26 clutch games this season and he shot 35.1% from the field in 32 clutch games last season. If there is a reason to be skeptical of the Celtics leading title odds at +225, this is it.

It’s time to give some love to the New Orleans Pelicans, the best team in the West that nobody seems to take seriously. The Pels have rallied from their disappointing effort in the In-Season Tournament and have the fifth-best net rating in the NBA and are Top-10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency.

But if you look at the numbers just since December 1, the Pels are just one of three teams who rank Top-5 on both sides of the ball. That is typically the recipe for an inner circle contender. They are really good.

And yet the difficulty with trusting the Pelicans to live up to those numbers in the playoffs is twofold. One, you can never count on their health. And two, their defense allows the second most threes in the Association, and yet opponents are hitting them at the second-worst rate.

The former they control, the latter is mostly luck. That strategy could come back to bite them in the first round.

NBA Spot Bets: Finals rematch, Sabonis vs. AD

Last week was an NBA Finals preview, on Wednesday it’s a Finals rematch between Denver and the Miami Heat. The Nuggets are a different class of team than Miami, but they’re still not a great bet to cover.

The Nuggets rarely blow opposing teams out for a team of their caliber, and the Heat never let go of the rope. That typically makes the Heat spread a solid option, but the Nuggets moneyline has also paid out consistently. The Nuggets are 9-1 against Miami over their last 10 games.

Also on Wednesday, the Los Angeles Lakers and Sacramento Kings play another game with massive seeding implications. The two teams are 1.5 games apart in the standings, and a Kings loss will hurt their chances of catching Phoenix for the final guaranteed playoff spot.

I’m looking at potential scoring and rebounding prop bets for Domantas Sabonis. Sabonis has downright dominated the matchup against Anthony Davis, going 9-0 against him in his career. His physicality lets him push AD around in a way almost nobody else does.

Lastly, I’m zeroing in on the Minnesota Timberwolves who have a tough stretch this week. The Timberwolves play three games in four nights and all at altitude.

They play two against the Utah Jazz followed up by a back-to-back against the Nuggets. Given the blows they have taken to their roster this week, that is as grueling a run as any team has this month. The altitude makes every game in Utah and Denver a complete grind, and the wear and tear on Anthony Edwards is going to be severe.

I’ll be looking at taking the Timberwolves team total Under against Denver on Tuesday or Ant’s points prop Under depending on where the lines come in.

NBA Futures: T-Wolves have a chance without Towns?

How have Minnesota’s odds been impacted by the news that Karl-Anthony Towns will miss significant time?

The Timberwolves have seen a drop from +1800 to +2000 odds to win the title, and I don’t think that is low enough. That puts their chances on par with the Oklahoma City Thunder, who are healthy and statistically dominant.

The Wolves at +2000 puts them well above the New York Knicks (+2500) and Cleveland Cavaliers (+2800), who are a Celtics injury away from being able to go toe to toe with any Eastern Conference team in a single series.

More to the point, the Wolves just have no shot without Towns. The playoffs begin on April 20, and Towns won’t be reevaluated until just days before.

He could miss the entire first round or longer, and then have to ramp up mid-series against the Nuggets, Thunder, or Clippers. I don’t see any chance that Minnesota wins one of those matchups without a fully functional Towns.

While you never want to bury a team completely before the playoffs, Towns’ injury couldn’t have come at a much worse time for a Minnesota team desperate to taste playoff success.

Injury Update: Towns, Mathurin, Sengun & more

There has been an avalanche of serious injuries over the past week.

The leading story is that the Towns’ meniscus tear required surgery. The Timberwolves are hopeful he returns early in the playoffs, but it’s hard to imagine he’ll be in All-Star form if he does. Naz Reid is the one to watch for newfound potential prop value.

Bennedict Mathurin suffered a torn labrum that will require season ending surgery. It’s a blow to the Indiana Pacers' chances to chase the playoffs in the East. It likely means more production for Aaron Nesmith and Andrew Nembhard.

Saddiq Bey is the latest Atlanta Hawk to suffer a serious injury, tearing his left ACL. It’s truly unfortunate timing for Bey, who enters the offseason as a restricted free agent.

The Brooklyn Nets also announced that Ben Simmons will miss the rest of the season due to his ongoing nerve impingement. Much ink has been spilled about Simmons, a lot of it fair and a lot of it not, but I think it’s been an undersold element of his decline how much injuries have been responsible for his derailed career.

We’ll close with a couple pieces of good news. After needing a wheelchair to be helped off court on Sunday, testing has revealed that Alperen Sengun has avoided major injury and will not need surgery. His timeline to return is yet to be determined.

Finally, having missed 17 straight games OG Anunoby has progressed to full contact practice and is officially questionable for tonight’s game against the 76ers.

He said it

“Public humiliation has done nothing but mold me into the killer that you all see today. I never lack confidence. I never fear confrontation. I want all the smoke.”

-D'Angelo Russell following his 44-point game against the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday.

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

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