NBA Betting Preview: Championship contenders collide on Saturday night
A host of championship contenders face each other on Saturday night, starting in Cleveland, where no one will want to play the home team come May. Right now, it's a different story, as the Cavs continue to stumble, writes Mark Kirwan....
"Cleveland are giving up 109 points per game at home, and rank 29th in the league at home in defensive efficiency. Though they're still healthily placed in the East, third behind Boston and Toronto, their recent form - four wins in their last thirteen game - is troubling."
Oklahoma City Thunder @ Cleveland Cavaliers
January 20, 20:40 GMT
Live on Betfair Video and BT Sport 2
Reports the Cavs are looking at former Grizz point guard George Hill will not help the age profile of this roster, the oldest in the league. Hill would represent an upgrade to their second unit back court, and could be a difference maker come playoff time, but the Cavs are lacking energy in recent weeks, and adding 31-year-old Hill will not help that.
Cleveland are giving up 109 points per game at home, and rank 29th in the league at home in defensive efficiency. Though they're still healthily placed in the East, third behind Boston and Toronto, their recent form - four wins in their last thirteen games - is troubling.
The Thunder have had similar struggles, their hastily assembled line-up taking time to find consistency. They've been helped in recent weeks by an easier run of games, and even then some of the losses they've suffered must rank as disappointing.
Their underlying numbers suggest they should have a better record than they do. On average, they outscore their opponents by 3.5 points per game. Only Golden State, Houston, Toronto and Boston are better, yet OKC currently sit 10th overall in the NBA standings, tied with the Wizards on .556 in the standings.
Assuming they can keep up that scoring margin, they should earn a few more wins in tight spots in the second half of the season, and that could see them put pressure on San Antonio and Minnesota above them.
Cleveland are on a desperate run against the spread, covering just three times in their last twenty(!) outings. That trend cannot continue, but I'd still take OKC +4 on the Handicap market in this spot at [1.89].
Golden State Warriors @ Houston Rockets
January 21, 01:40 GMT
Live on Betfair Video and BT Sport 3
Golden State continue to excel, shrugging off some surprising losses early in the season, and a series of knocks to their leading players, to lead the league with just nine defeats.
The frequent injuries to stars are a concern long-term - Draymond Green and sixth man Andre Iguodala are both expected to be absent tonight - as the years of lengthy postseason runs could be catching up with this roster.
Despite this, they're still scoring heavily, leading their opponents tonight by one full point per game, and the rest of the league by three more, and their opponents have the second lowest shooting percentage in the league. Only Boston's opponents score fewer shots on average.
For Houston, they're almost fully healthy now, James Harden returning from a seven-game absence in the win over Minnesota on Thursday. The Rockets are 16-0 in games where Harden, Chris Paul and Clint Capela are active. That streak will be tested tonight.
This is the last meeting between these two sides of the regular season. We can't assume they'll meet in the Conference Finals, but at first and second in the West currently, they're giving it their best shot. Klay Thompson will likely cover Harden here, and that match up could be decisive, with the Houston forward still rusty after his lay off.
A win for GSW here would break their franchise record of fourteen consecutive road victories. I would look at Over 235.5 on the Total Points market at [2.1] in what should be a back-and-forth game.
Toronto Raptors @ Minnesota Timberwolves
January 21, 02:10 GMT
Live on Betfair Video
Toronto continued their impressive recent form on Friday night with a performance that stifled the Kawhi-less San Antonio Spurs, limiting LaMarcus Aldridge to seventeen points.
Kyle Lowry scored 24 points and DeMar DeRozan 21. Center Jonas Valanciunas was pivotal in their defensive effort, holding Aldridge scoreless in the second and fourth quarters, while also picking up a double-double, with 15 points and 11 rebounds.
This is the kind of performance that makes the Raptors look a more threatening force this season than in previous years. They demolished Cleveland recently and lost a tight game to GSW by just two points after. They have only lost three times at home all season, and that form could carry them to a Conference Finals.
Their road form is also improving as well, with three wins in their last four. This is good news because they face a Timberwolves side, led by Jimmy Butler's 22 points per game, who are building an impressive home record of their own.
The Timberwolves don't quite look like they can make it to the very top-tier this season, but they are trending in the right direction. With Leonard out indefinitely for the Spurs, there is an opportunity behind GSW and Houston to steal the third seed.
Toronto's visit is a real test of Minnesota's ambitions. They had a shot at Houston on Thursday, which they missed. Getting back on track at home against an impressive Raptors unit would be a boost ahead of a three game road trip to the Clippers, Blazers and Warriors in the coming week.
Given the Raptors recent form, I think the +3.5 line is generous and would take [1.92] on the Handicap market.
1pt on Oklahoma City Thunder +4 on the Handicap market at [1.89]
1pt on Over 235.5 on the Total Points market at [2.1]
1pt on Toronto Raptors +3.5 line is generous on the Handicap market at [1.92]