This week in the NBA marks a return to normalcy. With the NBA Trade Deadline and the NBA All-Star Break out of the way, we’ve just got seven days worth of games and various scheduling spots that stand out. To me, it is something that gives me extra confidence as a handicapper. Chaos and variance are fine and are nice to exploit, but the regular rhythms of the season are pretty nice, too.
The NBA season ends on April 15 with 13 games. That means that we have a little over seven weeks left in the season. The good teams will keep fighting for seeding and regular season banners. The bad teams will keep fighting for ping pong balls. The teams in the middle will spend every night wondering how they stack up as they watch the standings. You are going to see clear motivational edges over these next several weeks.
Let’s see if we can isolate some of those for the week ending March 1:
Monday February 24
Orlando Magic at Brooklyn Nets – The Nets are at home here, which is a rarity. This is only the second home game for Brooklyn since February 5. Obviously the All-Star Break made up about a week of that, but Brooklyn heads out on the road for another four-game road trip after this one and won’t return home until March 3. They’ve been playing a bit better of late and may relish this opportunity at the Barclays Center, but there isn’t anything too endearing about this spot, especially with Orlando having two days off before the game.
Miami Heat at Cleveland Cavaliers – The Heat and Cavs just played on Saturday in South Florida and now they’ll play Monday in Cleveland. This is a standalone road game for the Heat. The Cavs, as we’ve discussed many times over, seem to be better equipped to play against good teams than bad teams these days. With a standalone trip up to a grey, gloomy city just to return home for a 5-in-8 stretch, I don’t think Miami is fully invested here. It would be the Cavs to cover for me.
Milwaukee Bucks at Washington Wizards – Maybe the Bucks are just good enough to overcome this spot and cover in a big favorite role on the road. Maybe the spot will end up being enough of an equalizer. Milwaukee plays Toronto on Tuesday, so this is as obvious of a look-ahead spot as it gets. Washington is playing a 3-in-4 and a back-to-back, so the Wizards will be the more rested team, but with this one sandwiched between the 76ers and the Raptors, I have to think Washington is in a much better spot.
Phoenix Suns at Utah Jazz – Obvious spot is obvious here. This is a 3-in-4 for both teams. For Phoenix, it is a run of three straight road games. For the Jazz, it is three straight home games. There are clearly some altitude factors here for the visiting Suns. This spot is clear enough to be priced into the number, but maybe not enough. It would be Utah or nothing.
Memphis Grizzlies at Los Angeles Clippers – This is a bad spot both ways. There is a memorial for Kobe Bryant on February 24 that will leave the city of Los Angeles covered by a dark cloud. The Clippers will be at home through that and the Grizzlies will obviously be impacted as well. On the Memphis side, they have two days off in LA before this game and we all know that there is a lot to do in that city. I don’t really like the spot for one team over another, but the game will definitely be secondary in LA on this day.
Tuesday February 25
Milwaukee Bucks at Toronto Raptors – This one is clearly a spotlight game in the Eastern Conference as the Bucks and Raptors get together. The spot very obviously favors Toronto. Milwaukee is in a back-to-back and a 4-in-6, with three of those games on the road. The Raptors started at home after the Break and won’t leave until Saturday to head to Denver. Let’s see if Toronto can take advantage of what could be a somewhat sluggish Bucks squad.
Boston Celtics at Portland Trail Blazers – I’d like to think that this is a good spot for Portland. The Celtics will have just left Los Angeles after playing the Lakers and paying their respects to Kobe. It is entirely possible that the team hangs around and heads to Portland late on Monday night. Portland, meanwhile, has been at home since the Break, while the Celtics have been out traveling around. Portland should be getting some points at home here and they are on my list of likes for this week.
New Orleans Pelicans at Los Angeles Lakers – I guess we’ll have to wait and see how the Lakers come out on Tuesday. TNT will have coverage here and, as we know, these two teams completed that huge Anthony Davis deal last year, so guys like Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram are going back to LA. Of course, those are also guys that knew Kobe, so the Pelicans will likely be in town for all of Monday’s services. I guess my thought is that we see a full effort from both teams and maybe this one is an over candidate?
Wednesday February 26
Boston Celtics at Utah Jazz – We might as well start with the obvious one, though I usually try to go as close to chronologically as possible. This is a 4-in-6 road for the Celtics with the final game in elevation at Salt Lake City. This is a 4-in-6 for the Jazz as well, but all four games are at home. The spot obviously favors the Jazz, but we’ll see how Boston does on Tuesday against Portland. A bad effort there may lead to a circle the wagons game here.
Orlando Magic at Atlanta Hawks – As we go forward, these are the types of games I’m going to want to back Orlando in. The Magic are going to be short road favorites against the bad teams as they try to get into the NBA playoffs. As a result, I think these are “must-win” types of games. This is one I feel like they can get and I feel like games such as these are going to be rallying points. I like Orlando a lot here against an Atlanta team with very little to play for.
Minnesota Timberwolves at Miami Heat – Faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaade the T-Wolves here. Hopefully Monday is ugly for Miami and we can get a slightly cheaper line. The Timberwolves are awful this season. I don’t see them being the least bit invested in a cross-conference game in a place like Miami. They have Tuesday off to hit up some local establishments or just enjoy the scenery. Basketball is secondary when it’s February and you don’t even have 20 wins. I’m on Miami here, despite what will be a big price.
Dallas Mavericks at San Antonio Spurs – That damned old rodeo. The Spurs are playing their first home game since February 1 in this one. They played road games at LA x2, Portland, Sacramento, Denver, OKC, had the All-Star Break, and then played at Utah and OKC again. Now they are finally home for a three-pack. It will have to be nice to be back home, but Dallas is simply the better team and San Antonio’s home court advantage is far from what it used to be. I’d have to look Dallas in this one.
Thursday February 27
New York Knicks at Philadelphia 76ers – Admittedly, I don’t know what to do with this game. The Sixers are certainly a deeper team, but they may not field a full lineup in a back-to-back here. Of course, they may also “load management” some guys on Wednesday in Cleveland. Keep a close eye on that. This is a B2B for both teams. I don’t know if the Knicks will pull a Cleveland Cavs and get invested in games against better teams or not. There are spots present here, but I’m not entirely sure how to handle them.
Los Angeles Lakers at Golden State Warriors – Ah, what could have been. Had the Warriors stayed healthy, who knows what this game would look like. Here’s what we do know. The Lakers are leaving home for the first time since the Break. This starts a 3-in-4 run and the next nine games are against either playoff teams or teams that have a renewed sense of purpose because of Zion Williamson. This could be a big flat spot for the Lakers. They play Memphis, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Clippers, Brooklyn, Houston, Denver, and Utah leading up to St. Patrick’s Day. I wonder how invested they actually are here.
Friday February 28
Charlotte Hornets at Toronto Raptors – Hear me out on this one, but I actually like Charlotte here. The Raptors hit the road for a while after this game, beginning with a trip to Denver on Sunday. To me, this looks like a “win and get out” game. This looks like a sleepy spot when the superior team goes through the motions and wins, but not by enough to cover the spread. The Raptors have two days rest before the game, so I also think that there is a good chance that they are priced too high in the market. Ugly dogs are uglier than sin sometimes, but the Hornets could be one here.
Sacramento Kings at Memphis Grizzlies – Are we looking at another ugly dog here? Well, we could be. The Kings are in a B2B with travel after playing Oklahoma City. That is a strike against the Kings. Another strike is that, well, they’re quite bad. That being said, the Kings draw a Memphis team playing its first home game after a long trip and a Memphis team that hosts LeBron and the Lakers on Saturday. I think the Kings are the play here against the spread.
Minnesota Timberwolves at Orlando Magic – Once again, I think these are play-on types of spots for the Magic. I think they can play the bully role and beat up on the bad teams, home or away. The Timberwolves are a bad team and I don’t think going to Florida in February is a business trip for a team like that. If Wednesday plays out as expected, maybe they show some pride here, but I’d be surprised if they aren’t blown out twice in the Sunshine State.
Washington Wizards at Utah Jazz – The Jazz wrap up their five-game homestand here against the Wizards. This is the first game of a 4-in-6 roadie for the Wizards. Generally speaking, I like backing a team in its first road game, but we’ll have to see how the week goes for Utah. Some slip-ups against either Phoenix or Boston and all of the sudden they have a little more motivation in this one before hitting the road. This is a wait-and-see type of spot.
Saturday February 29
Orlando Magic at San Antonio Spurs – Another game in which we should watch Orlando closely. The Magic draw a pretty bad Spurs team in a spot where they will be a smallish underdog. I think this one goes to the Spurs, as they finally get some downtime at home with a regular practice regiment and whatnot. Plus, it is a back-to-back for the Magic off of that Timberwolves game. It is also a standalone road game. I think the spot sets up a lot better for the Spurs.
Houston Rockets at Boston Celtics – What a fascinating matchup here. The Celtics are in that dreaded first home game back situation that has been so kind to us in the NBA and the NHL throughout the season. This is also a spotlight game against Houston and the Rockets have two days off before the game, much like the C’s. I kind of like Houston on the premise of the first game back angle.
Sunday March 1
Milwaukee Bucks at Charlotte Hornets – I wonder how this game goes. This is a 1 p.m. ET tip-off in Charlotte between the Bucks and Hornets. Milwaukee has a much bigger game on deck against the Miami Heat. Charlotte is not good, as we all know, but I really do wonder how invested and interested the Bucks are in this game. I guess I’d think more about an under than a side.
Philadelphia 76ers at Los Angeles Clippers – The 76ers head west and begin with the Sunday ABC Game of the Week with a 3:30 p.m. PT tip-off against the Clippers. The start time may actually help the Sixers get acclimated to the time change a little bit since the game day routine will be about the same in this scenario. Other than that, this is a pretty pure handicap with both teams rested.
Toronto Raptors at Denver Nuggets – The Raptors will be seeing and feeling something different for the first time in a while as they head out on the road to take on Denver. The Nuggets are coming off of a game against the Clippers, but have had a light week otherwise. So, too, have the Raptors. They’d certainly like to start this five-game trip on the right foot, but I worry about the change of scenery and the altitude. I think it’d be Denver or nothing for me here.
Los Angeles Lakers at New Orleans Pelicans – The Rapid Revenge Theory will be activated here following Tuesday night’s tilt at Staples Center. There is certainly a lot of recent history between these two with the Anthony Davis trade as he returns to the Big Easy. The fans should be rather engaged and invested for this one. With the Lakers in a back-to-back and with a cross-country flight home after the game, I kind of like the Pelicans a bit here.
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