Will New Year's Eve bring fireworks in the NBA? Here are Three at 3's favorite bets for December 31.
1. Orlando Magic at Charlotte Hornets (-7.5)
6:00 pm ET
Although neither the Magic nor the Hornets own a winning record entering the final day of the calendar year, both teams are on pace to win more games than they did in 2017-18. And while each has evolved over the course of this season, their one prior matchup this past October provides insight as to how the two squads match up. Charlotte’s 120-88 road victory was the team’s 12th straight win against the Magic, which has covered the spread only twice over those dozen games since the start of 2016. Orlando’s lengthy defense proved ineffective against a Hornets offense that was led by Kemba Walker’s 26 points in 27 minutes. Charlotte hit 17 of 38 threes that night (44.7%) and is shooting 36.0% from deep on the season (seventh in NBA).
Since the beginning of last season, Orlando is 19-32 against the spread versus opponents that are shooting at least 36% on three-pointers, further suggesting this is a bad matchup for its defense. And if their typically strong defense is indeed compromised by Charlotte's ability to hit from long range, the Magic will likely struggle to keep pace: Orlando ranks 27th in the league (104.7) in offensive rating and has been even worse in recent weeks (101.8 in December, 29th). And while defense is not considered one of the Hornets' strengths, Charlotte ranks 14th in the NBA in home defensive rating this year. While a second straight 32-point blowout of the Magic by the Hornets is highly unlikely, Charlotte does appear to be in a position to notch its fourth double-digit home victory in as many games over the past two weeks.
Pick: Hornets (-7.5)
2. Memphis Grizzlies at Houston Rockets (-4.5)
Due in large part to the offensive play of James Harden, who is averaging 35.9 PPG and 7.5 APG since the start of December, the Rockets enter the final day of the calendar year having gone 9-1 straight up and 8-1-1 against the spread over their past 10 games. Memphis, however, will be in a position to focus the majority of its defensive attention on Harden, as the Rockets will be without Chris Paul for a fifth straight game and without Eric Gordon for the first time since early November due to a knee contusion he suffered at New Orleans on Saturday. Forward James Ennis is questionable for Monday night after having missed nine straight games with a hamstring injury. While Harden will likely be forced to take on an even larger offensive burden than he has all season, the efficiency he has posted throughout the month (44.8 FG%, 40.7 3P%) figures to take a hit. His primary partners in the backcourt will be Austin Rivers and Brandon Knight, each of whom joined the Rockets within the last week.
The Grizzlies, conversely, are healthy and better rested. NBA underdogs of between 3.5 and 9.5 points that are playing no more than their fourth game in a 10-day stretch are 44-21-2 against the spread in December games since 2014. Memphis has the defense (105.0 defensive rating, sixth in NBA) to be able to take advantage of Houston's injuries, and the Grizzlies’ offense showed signs of life (87 points through three quarters) against Boston on Saturday. Against a much weaker Rockets defense (111.2 defensive rating, 25th in NBA), the Grizzlies have a good chance of winning this one outright.
Pick: Grizzlies (+4.5)
3. Minnesota Timberwolves at New Orleans Pelicans (-5.5)
Like Harden in Houston, Anthony Davis has been a force this month, averaging 29.6 points (on 52.3% shooting) and 13.4 rebounds. His masterpiece came on Friday, when he dropped 48 and 18 on Dallas, notching a three-point play in the game's final minute to give New Orleans the 104-102 victory. The all-out performance appeared to take a toll on Davis when he took only 13 shots in 39 minutes against Houston the following night. He should be back at full strength after a day off.
Playing a second road game in as many nights will be Minnesota's Karl-Anthony Towns, who notched 34 points, 18 rebounds, seven assists, six blocks and three steals to lead Minnesota to a 113-104 yesterday’s win in Miami. The Timberwolves won’t be able to rely on their backcourt to pick up any slack, as starting PG Jeff Teague is out tonight while Derrick Rose is listed as questionable. New Orleans, meanwhile, is expected to get Elfrid Payton back for the first time in 22 games since he suffered a broken finger. For a strong betting system that supports New Orleans, consider that underdogs with a win percentages between .400 and .490 are 18-47-2 against the spread since the start of 2014 when a) facing an opponent with a losing record and b) coming off a road game in which each team scored 100 or more points.
Pick: Pelicans (-5.5)