- Much has been made about about the Celtics' offensive struggles this season, but their league-best defense deserves some attention, too.
Another 2-1 night on Thursday, and Three at 3 is now on a streak of 29-10. Here are three more bets against the spread to close out the week, with Raptors-Celtics in Boston highlighting Friday night's slate of games.
1. Utah Jazz at Philadelphia 76ers (-3)
7:00 pm ET
This isn’t going to be an easy game for the Jazz, as the home crowd in Philadelphia will be fired up to see Jimmy Butler in a Sixers uniform for the first time. But coming off of a 50-point loss (yes, 50) to the Dallas Mavericks, Utah is too prideful of a team to not come back strong on the heels of an embarrassment.
Since the beginning of the 2016-17 season, the Jazz are 43-27 against the spread when facing teams that allow at least 106 points per game. Philadelphia’s defense had just been turning a corner before making the Butler trade, but it should now be expected that this team will need a little extra time to figure things out. The Jazz will take advantage of that by continuing to run a Quin Snyder offense that features an absurd amount of off-ball movement. The Sixers will have to be on their toes all game, and it’s going to be tough for them while trying to integrate Butler and Wilson Chandler, who is now being forced into a significant role faster than he expected.
Joel Embiid—who has been playing like a true MVP candidate this season—will have his work cut out for him against reigning Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert. Philadelphia has the luxury of dumping the ball inside and watching Embiid go to work against a mismatched defender most nights, but that won’t be the case here. And Joe Ingles—one of the league’s most underrated players—should be able to give either Butler or Ben Simmons some trouble on Friday. Ingles is one of the league’s most versatile defenders, and he stretches opposing defenses with his shooting when the Jazz have the ball. Look for the Jazz to impose their will tonight, and don’t be shocked if they win outright with redemption on their minds after the disaster in Dallas.
Pick: Jazz (+3)
2. Toronto Raptors at Boston Celtics (-2)
The start of the season hasn’t gone as planned for the Celtics, but this team is going to figure it out eventually. The Celtics are currently ranked just 24th in the league in offensive efficiency, and that’s a ranking that's almost certain to improve. With talented offensive players like Kyrie Irving, Jayson Tatum, Al Horford and Gordon Hayward, the Celtics will find a way to score the ball efficiently.
While still in the process of finding what works on offense, the Celtics have stayed afloat by dominating on the other end of the floor. Boston currently has the league’s best defensive efficiency rating, which is good news considering the Raptors are third in the league in offensive efficiency. The Celtics must dig in and play another good defensive game, and they know the importance of this one. Despite not playing their best ball early in the year, Boston was able to win and cover when hosting an elite Milwaukee Bucks team on November 1. So for all their struggles, the Celtics are still more than ready to win big games at home—where they are 4-1 straight up and 3-2 against the spread on the season. Boston is 9-0 against the spread when coming off a stretch in which it has lost four or five of its last six games since the start of last season, and 12-3 against the spread when avenging a loss of at least 10 points in that span. (The Celtics lost 113-101 in Toronto on Oct. 19.) Brad Stevens is too good of a coach to allow his team to slip for an extended period of time, and he'll be especially determined to stop one of the East's few true contenders from getting the best of Boston twice in a row.
Pick: Celtics (-2)
3. Portland Trail Blazers at Minnesota Timberwolves (+1.5)
Minnesota might have given up the biggest name in the Jimmy Butler trade, but the team got back some nice pieces in Robert Covington and Dario Saric. Plus, Butler's departure will, at least in the short term, function as addition by subtraction for this team. Butler was always a plus when he was on the floor for the Timberwolves, but it has become more and more clear that Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins couldn’t stand having him around. In the two games since trading Butler, Towns is averaging 25 points and 18.5 rebounds per game. Meanwhile, Wiggins averaged 18 points and 6 rebounds in those two contests. Wiggins’s numbers haven't skyrocketed, but he has looked a lot more confident with the ball and seems energized on the defensive end of the floor. As long as Towns and Wiggins are playing well, the Timberwolves have the supporting cast to stay competitive. Covington, in particular, stands out as one of the league’s better 3-and-D role players. Minnesota’s crowd has rallied around its reshaped roster, so expect this team to continue riding a wave of momentum for another week or two. With the Blazers still a bit drained coming off a rough road loss to the Lakers on Wednesday, the Wolves are an appealing bet as a home underdog.
Pick: Timberwolves (+1.5)
Overall Record: 42-25-2