By Flint Wheeler
The NBA season got off to an unpredictable start when the San Antonio Spurs stunned the basketball world by annihilating Golden State, 129-100, in the opener for both teams. Many thought the Spurs would take a step backward this season, following the retirement of Tim Duncan, but San Antonio has the league’s best record (4-0) and 2nd-best scoring margin (+15.8). Meanwhile, out East, Cleveland is also undefeated (3-0), and ranks 3rd in scoring margin (+12.7).
This is not your grandfather’s version of the Sacramento Kings this season and it’s not just because they have a brand new spanking arena. Dave Joerger has arrived from Memphis, and his players are actually allowing him to coach them. So, perhaps the dysfunction which permeated this franchise during the George Karl era has been stamped out. Indeed, none other than the NBA’s best coach, Gregg Popovich, has noticed a big difference between last year’s and this year’s Kings. After the Spurs came back from a double-digit deficit to defeat Sacramento, 102-94, Popovich commented that the Kings are “playing defense… the way they played defense in Memphis,” and was impressed that the Kings players bought in so quickly to Joerger’s philosophy.
Sacramento is 2-1 on the season, including a big 19-point win at Phoenix and a 3-point home victory over the Timberwolves. The Kings are 2-0-1 ATS this year (and 6-0-1 ATS their last seven games, dating back to the preseason). This week, they will be tested by a road trip, in which they will play five games in seven days. The game on Saturday at Milwaukee might be the best time to step in and play on the Kings, as they’ll have had the previous night off.
The Detroit Pistons suffered a major loss when their point guard, Reggie Jackson, developed knee tendinitis. Jackson will be out until December and his absence severely hampers the Pistons’ offense. Detroit has been starting Smith at the point, and signed journeyman Beno Udrih to come off the bench. The obvious problem is that neither Smith nor Udrih has Jackson’s ability to break down the defense off the dribble to create offense.
Not surprisingly, Detroit has yet to play a game Over the total and I’m not just talking about Detroit’s three regular season games, as all six of Detroit’s preseason games also went Under as well.
This week, Detroit will host games against New York and Denver, sandwiched around a road trip to Brooklyn. The Saturday night game vs. Denver looks to be a perfect time to play the Under, as all four meetings between these two clubs have gone ‘under,’ while Denver is currently ranked fifth in defensive efficiency.
The Bucks’ Khris Middleton might not be a household name, but he’s one of the league’s best young players and certainly deserving of the five-year, $70 million contract he signed 16 months ago. Unfortunately, Middleton tore his hamstring in September, and will be lost for much of the season. Even worse for Milwaukee is that its roster is bereft of wing players who can step in and replace him. So, even though Milwaukee has two other talented young players in Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker, it has been unable to adjust to the loss of Middleton.
So, the fact that Milwaukee is off to a 1-2 SU and 0-3 ATS start isn’t much of a shock. This week, Milwaukee will play games against the Pelicans, Pacers, Kings and Mavericks. I touched upon the Bucks/Kings game, above. But another solid opportunity to play against Milwaukee will be on Tuesday, when it visits New Orleans. The Pelicans have lost their first three games, notwithstanding Anthony Davis’ brilliant start (37.7 ppg). If there is a silver lining, it’s the fact that two of their losses were to (arguably) the two best teams in the league – San Antonio and Golden State. Certainly, Milwaukee will be a step down in class. And, since 2006, New Orleans is 17-3 straight-up and 12-7-1 ATS vs. the Bucks (including a perfect 7-0 ATS if the pointspread is less than 5 points).
The Oklahoma City Thunder are 3-0 this season, and have outscored their opposition by 8.7 ppg, but have played a bunch of creampuffs. Specifically, the Thunder’s wins have come against three of the league’s four-worst teams (76ers, Suns and Lakers). Their schedule will take a severe U-turn this week, as Oklahoma City will play road games against the Clippers and Warriors, before returning home to take on the up-and-coming Timberwolves.
Even though it will be stepping up in class, Oklahoma City will be worth a look in its revenge match against Kevin Durant and the Warriors. Since 1991, such teams have covered 61.8% of the time.