Thunder leads NBA’s biggest betting surprises

For almost four months, the NBA season has been humming, though overshadowed by the behemoth that is the NFL. But now, all eyes will begin to turn toward the Association as it enters the second half of the season.

Understandably, many bettors will be watching some teams for the first time this season, so what better way to tip off coverage heading into the All-Star break than by starting with some of the biggest betting surprises and disappointments of the NBA season …

Pleasant Surprises

Oklahoma City Thunder

There is absolutely no argument here. Oklahoma City has been the most pleasant surprise of the season for bettors. Where do you begin? The Thunder surpassed their win total of 31¹/₂ with last Friday’s victory over Detroit. They are the best ATS team in the league by a wide margin, covering the spread at a whopping 64.8 percent, and they have an astounding 21-8 ATS record (72.4 percent) as an underdog entering Thursday’s game at New Orleans. Billy Donovan finally got a team he can coach up, and he is showing how good he can be.

Oklahoma City has terrorized opposing teams with its three-guard lineup of Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Dennis Schroder. According to Cleaning The Glass, when that trio is on the floor together, the Thunder are outscoring the opposition by 33.3 points every 100 possessions. That is absolutely insane! In the big picture, Oklahoma City does not move the needle. It is 200/1 to win the NBA title and 100/1 to win the West at William Hill. But on a daily basis, this is a team worth backing, and in a first-round playoff series against Utah or Houston, the Thunder would be very live to win.

Memphis Grizzlies

Right behind the Thunder are the young, talented and very fast Grizzlies. It begins and ends with Ja Morant, the odds-on favorite to win Rookie of the Year. Morant entered the year at 4/1 to win the award, behind only Zion Williamson of New Orleans. Williamson’s injury and Morant’s dominant play have led to Morant now being the 1/7 favorite at William Hill.

As a team, Memphis is covering spreads at a 56.6 percent clip, but the team has really taken off in the last month and a half. A big part of what the Grizzlies do is tempo, and over those 20 games they have the third-quickest pace in the NBA, behind only Milwaukee and New Orleans. Just as impressive has been their improvement on defense. In the first 33 games, Memphis allowed 112.3 points every 100 possessions. But through these 20 games, its defensive rating has improved to 107.4, fourth-best in the league over that stretch. Oh, and the Grizzlies already have surpassed their 27¹/₂ season win total.

Honorable mention: Dallas Mavericks, Miami Heat, Toronto Raptors.

Dissapointments

Golden State Warriors

Entering the season, Golden State was thought to be a fringe playoff contender with Steph Curry and Draymond Green still available and D’Angelo Russell coming in from Brooklyn. Then Curry broke his hand in the fourth game of the season, and everything changed.

The Warriors were the first team to clinch a decision on their win total this season, sealing the Under on 48¹/₂ wins when they lost to Denver on Jan. 16. Give credit where it is due, though, as Steve Kerr has done a fantastic job keeping his team competitive on a night-to-night basis. The Warriors rank 29th in net rating (-8.6), but since Dec. 20 they have a 15-11 ATS record, showing the fight Kerr has instilled during a lost season. The future is not as bleak. Curry will be back at full strength next season. So will Klay Thompson. And they are currently one of three teams with a 14 percent chance to win the top overall pick in the draft.

Philadelphia 76ers

Yes, Philadelphia currently is a playoff team and will remain one unless the unthinkable happens. But this franchise expected to be much higher in the standings. The 76ers hold the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference, and that is mainly due to Indiana’s current six-game losing streak. Philadelphia is just seven losses from clinching the Under on its season win total of 54¹/₂, and its road record is identical to the Knicks’ and Hornets’. This has all been reflected in futures odds. The 76ers entered the season at 12/1 to win the NBA title and 2/1 at William Hill to win the Eastern Conference. Currently, they are 22/1 to win the championship and 7/1 to win the East.

This is the ultimate buy-low spot for futures odds on Philadelphia. The 76ers have reason to be optimistic. The acquisitions of Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson give them two desperately needed shooters, and Joel Embiid and Josh Richardson have missed time due to injury. A run to the Eastern Conference finals is still very much in the cards for Brett Brown’s team, and wouldn’t any bettor like an 7/1 ticket to hedge if that comes to fruition?

Honorable mention: Atlanta Hawks, Chicago Bulls, Houston Rockets.

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