Here are three smart wagers for Friday night in the NBA:
1. Dallas Mavericks at Toronto Raptors (223.5)
7:30 pm ET
The Raptors are 23rd in the league in pace, and the Mavericks rank in the league's middle third at 11th. That doesn’t mean this game will be played in the 90s, but it does suggest that this contest won’t look like some of the up-and-down shootouts fans have gotten used to seeing in the NBA early in the year. Plus, both Dallas and Toronto have quite a few players that pride themselves on their defense. For the Mavericks, both Wes Matthews and DeAndre Jordan are highly regarded defenders. Jordan, in particular, is important when looking at the total, as he is the Mavericks’ rim protector and will make the Raptors work in the paint. Dallas also seems likely to get Harrison Barnes back from a hamstring injury that has sidelined him for the early part of the year. Barnes is an excellent two-way forward, and he should be ready to go in this one.
As for the Raptors, it’s no secret that Kawhi Leonard is one of the best defensive players in the league—if not the best. But Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam and Serge Ibaka are five other key rotation pieces that get after it on defense. You can go through any team in the league and simply list defenders, of course, there aren’t many games that feature as many plus players on that end as this one.
In the last 10 games between the Mavs and Raptors, the under has cashed seven times. They've played nine total games this year, only three of which went over the high point total set for this game.
Pick: Under (223.5)
2. Milwaukee Bucks at Minnesota Timberwolves (+2)
8:00 pm ET
The Bucks are hot to start the year, as everything new head coach Mike Budenholzer has brought to the team is working. Giannis Antetokounmpo has taken his game up yet another level, averaging a career high in assists and leading the league in rebounding (16.5 per game). Khris Middleton is also playing some of the best basketball of his life, averaging a career high in points (24.3) thanks to a new emphasis on making sure his feet are behind the three-point line when he shoots. Middleton has always been a good shooter—from everywhere on the floor—but he is launching 7.8 threes per game this season, which is up from last year’s career high of five threes attempted per game.
With all of that said, the Timberwolves are still a good basketball team and home-court advantage should play a huge role here. In the last 10 games played between these teams, the home squad is 7-3 straight up. In betting a spread of 2, you're essentially choosing the winner for this one.
On top of just the history of these teams, the Timberwolves match up well with the Bucks. Karl-Anthony Towns will be the best big on the floor in this game, and Lopez is simply not capable of staying in front of him for long stretches. Jimmy Butler’s ability to play both ways at a near-elite level will make life on either Giannis or Middleton a lot tougher. Just be on the lookout for the injury report, as Butler (illness) and Andrew Wiggins (right quad contusion) are both questionable to play. If both are out, stay away from this game entirely.
Pick: Timberwolves (+2)
3. Washington Wizards at Sacramento Kings (+5)
10:00 pm ET
The Wizards have gotten the best of this head-to-head series in recent years, going 7-3 straight up and 6-3-1 against the spread in the past 10 meetings. But there are reasons to believe that Sacramento will right the ship tonight. The first is that the Wizards are a miserable 19-35 against the spread when playing as a favorite since the start of last season. The team simply doesn’t play very well when there are any expectations. And then there’s the fact that this Kings team isn’t as bad as in years past. Sacramento left a poor taste in people’s mouths with a 20-point loss to the Pelicans in its second game of the year, but the Kings have mostly been competitive this season—as evidenced by their 3-2 ATS record. De’Aaron Fox is one of the main reasons they’ve taken a small step forward, as the second-year guard is averaging 17.6 PPG and 6.6 APG early on. Fox is going to be extremely important in this one, as he is one of few guards in the league with the speed and size to match up with John Wall physically. In rookie Marvin Bagley III and the talented Willie Cauley-Stein, the Kings should easily win the battle inside—especially with Dwight Howard sidelined for Washington. The only thing Sacramento will need to do is make sure the Wizards’ shooters are accounted for at all times. Bradley Beal, Kelly Oubre Jr., Otto Porter and Markieff Morris can all space the floor, and the four of them were a huge part of the reason that the Wizards upset the Blazers in Portland on Monday.
Pick: Kings (+5)