NBA Best Bet ‘Starting 5’ For Friday, December 16

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The NBA is bringing it Friday with a stacked 10-game card featuring some sick matchups. Hopefully, there isn’t random injury news because I’m saying “F*** it” and betting half the slate.

My gambling looks are in the Hawks-Hornets, Nuggets-Lakers, Trail-Blazers-Mavericks, and Timberwolves-Thunder. The order of games is completely random and based on feel.

(Buyer beware: The NBA’s “load management” stuff is bogus and players are sitting out more and more games. It would behoove you to wait until the final injury reports are released before betting).

Atlanta Hawks (14-15) at Charlotte Hornets (7-21)

Frankly, both teams stink. But, Atlanta has the worst non-garbage time net rating (nRTG) at -11.4 in the NBA and the worst against-the-spread (ATS) margin at -7.2 over the past two weeks, according to CleaningTheGlass.com (CTG).

More importantly, the Hawks are missing three starters and the Hornets are getting healthier. Atlanta big Clint Capela, PF John Collins, and G Dejounte Murray have been ruled out.

Collins leads the Hawks in non-garbage time on/off nRTG at +9.1, Murray is second at +7.5 and Capela is fifth at +5.5, per CTG.

Capela’s absence looms the largest in this spot because Charlotte attempts the second-highest volume of field goals at the rim, according to CTG. Capela is a great rim protector and defensive rebounding big.

On the other hand, Hornets wing Gordon Hayward is trending toward making his return. Charlotte All-Star LaMelo Ball returned to the lineup Wednesday after missing 10 games.

Casual NBA fans perceive the Hawks to be the better team. However, the Hornets are 5-5 straight up (SU) and 5-4-1 ATS in their last 10 meetings with the Hawks.

Furthermore, Ball is the best player on the floor and usually outplays Hawks All-Star Trae Young when they meet. The Hornets are 3-2 SU vs. the Hawks when both Ball and Trae play.

Ball outscores Trae 18.2-16.0 in points per game (PPG). He outshoots Young from everywhere on the floor and Ball a much better assist-to-turnover ratio. Also, this is a much better spot for Charlotte.

Charlotte Hornets' LaMelo Ball drives to the basket against the Atlanta Hawks during the 2022 Play-In Tournament at State Farm Arena in Atlanta.
Charlotte Hornets’ LaMelo Ball drives to the basket against the Atlanta Hawks during the 2022 Play-In Tournament at State Farm Arena in Atlanta. (Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Hawks are an NBA-worst 10-26-1 ATS as road underdogs since the beginning of last season Over that span, the Hornets are 7-2 ATS as short home favorites (-4 or less) with a +3.3 ATS margin.

Finally, this is a Pros vs. Joe’s game in the betting market.

Per VSIN, more than 70% of the bets placed at DraftKings are on the Hawks. Whereas roughly 70% of the cash is on the Hornets. Let’s follow the money because professional bettors wager a lot more dough than you or I.

NBA Best Bet #1: Hornets (-140) moneyline at DraftKings Sportsbook, up to -150 before laying up to -3 with Charlotte

  • (Disclaimer: These NBA lines are super tight at the moment and I’ve taken several half-point or 1-point losses. I’m confident in the Hornets and don’t want to sweat them winning by margin.)
The Charlotte Hornets odds' vs. the Atlanta Hawks from DraftKings Sportsbook as of Friday, December 16th at 8:35 a.m. ET.
The Charlotte Hornets’ odds vs. the Atlanta Hawks from DraftKings Sportsbook as of Friday, December 16th at 8:35 a.m. ET.

Denver Nuggets (17-10) at Los Angeles Lakers (11-16)

These teams are split 1-1 SU and ATS in the 2022-23 regular-season series with the home team winning and covering both.

Styles make fights and the Lakers match up well with the Nuggets. LAL has the best shot quality in the Association because the Lakers attempt the highest volume of field goals at the rim, per CTG. 

The Nuggets have the worst defensive field goal percentage vs. shots at the rim in non-garbage time. Unlike Capela, Denver big Nikola Jokic isn’t a good rim-protecting, defensive big.

Jokic isn’t terrible on D but the Nuggets need someone elite to stop Russell Westbrook and Anthony Davis. The Lakers score the second-most paint PPG and the Nuggets are 21st in paint PPG allowed.

Denver Nuggets big Nikola Jokic plays defense on Los Angeles Lakers big Anthony Davis during the game at the Ball Arena in Denver, Colorado.
Denver Nuggets big Nikola Jokic plays defense on Los Angeles Lakers big Anthony Davis during the game at the Ball Arena in Denver, Colorado. (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)

In fact, Denver has the third-worst adjusted defensive rating in the league, per CTG. LAL is 8-5 SU vs. bottom-10 defenses in 2022 with a +2.2 adjusted nRTG and +2.2 ATS margin (ranked seventh). Also, there’s suspect line movement in Nuggets-Lakers.

As I was handicapping this game, LAL went from +1.5 to +1 at DraftKings. What makes that suspicious is DraftKings is reporting via VSIN that nearly two-thirds of the bets placed and 85% of the money is on Denver currently.

So, why would DraftKings make the Nuggets cheaper? That’s odd, right? Perhaps the sportsbooks see how poor of a spot this is for Denver and the public doesn’t.

The Nuggets are 1-4 ATS in their last five visits to LA and 4-7 ATS as a road favorite this season with a -4.6 ATS margin. The Lakers are 4-0 ATS as a short underdog (from 1-to-2.5-point ‘dogs).

NBA Best Bet #2: Lakers +1 (-110) at DraftKings Sportsbook, up to LAL -1.5

The Los Angeles Lakers' odds vs. the Denver Nuggets from DraftKings Sportsbook as of Friday, December 16th at 9:10 a.m. ET.
The Los Angeles Lakers’ odds vs. the Denver Nuggets from DraftKings Sportsbook as of Friday, December 16th at 9:10 a.m. ET.

Portland Trail Blazers (16-12) at Dallas Mavericks (14-14)

Do you know what Friday, December 16th is? Dame Time. This is a muscle memory bet for me. Every time Trail Blazers All-Star Damian Lillard plays Mavericks All-Star Luka Doncic, I roll with Lillard.

The Mavs beat the Trail Blazers 117-112. But Portland covered as a 6.5-point underdog, playing the final of a six-game road trip while missing starting C Jusuf Nurkic, and the Trail Blazers held the lead going into the final frame.

Also, it was a rare off-shooting night for Lillard who scored 29 points thanks to hitting 15-of-17 free-throw attempts but shot just 37.5% from the field.

But, this is a matchup Lillard obviously gets up for, and Dame Time clocks in at the end of games. Portland is ninth in “clutch” nRTG at +12.4 while Dallas is 22nd at -11.9. If this comes down to the wire Dame Time will activate.

Portland Trail Blazers' Damian Lillard talks with Dallas Mavericks' Luka Doncic at the Moda Center Arena in Portland, Oregon.
Portland Trail Blazers’ Damian Lillard talks with Dallas Mavericks’ Luka Doncic at the Moda Center Arena in Portland, Oregon. (Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images)

Lillard has been ballin’ this month as well. In December, he is averaging 35.3 PPG on 74.2% true shooting (.529/.507/1.000) with a 135 offensive rating. And Fridays are Lillard’s best time of the week for PPG and true shooting.

Furthermore, the Mavs revolve around Luka whereas the Trail Blazers have three other offensive players that can get buckets: SF Jerami Grant, combo guard Anfernee Simons, and Nurkic.

Lastly, Portland is 7-6 SU as a road ‘dog and 9-4 ATS with a +3.2 ATS margin and 14-5 ATS vs. teams with a winning record. While Dallas is 4-10-2 ATS as a home favorite and 5-11-1 ATS vs. winning teams.

NBA Best Bet #3: Trail Blazers +3.5 (-105) at DraftKings Sportsbook

The Portland Trail Blazers' odds at the Dallas Mavericks from DraftKings Sportsbook as of Friday, December 16th at 9:45 a.m. ET.
The Portland Trail Blazers’ odds at the Dallas Mavericks from DraftKings Sportsbook as of Friday, December 16th at 9:45 a.m. ET.

Brooklyn Nets (17-12) at Toronto Raptors (13-15)

These are two teams trending in opposite directions entering Friday. Over the past two weeks, the Nets are 5-1 SU and 3-3 ATS while the Raptors are 2-5 SU and ATS with a -7.0 ATS margin (ranked 29th), per CTG.

Also, both teams play at a bottom-10 pace and run a ton of half-court offense with isolation sets. Brooklyn is third in points per 100 half-court plays run, per CTG, and fourth in isolation offensive efficiency.

Toronto scores the second-fewest points per 100 half-court plays run, according to CTG, and has the third-worst isolation offensive efficiency. The Nets’ defensive efficiency vs. iso-ball is slightly better than the Raptors’ too.

Brooklyn Nets's Kevin Durant drives to the basket during the game against the Toronto Raptors at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
Brooklyn Nets’s Kevin Durant drives to the basket during the game against the Toronto Raptors at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

On top of that, both teams like to operate in the mid-range. Brooklyn attempts the fifth-most mid-range jumpers in the NBA and Toronto is sixth in mid-range field goal volume, per CTG.

But, the Nets have the best field goal percentage in the mid-range and the best defensive field goal rate in that area. The Raptors however rank 24th in field goal shooting from the mid-range and 18th in defensive field goal percentage from there.

The bottom line is Brooklyn has Toronto’s number. The Nets are 3-0 SU and ATS vs. the Raptors this season because they are a way better shooting team. Brooklyn has a +4.4% effective field goal rate (eFG%) and Toronto has a -5.1% eFG%.

NBA Best Bet #4: Nets (-120) ML at DraftKings Sportsbook, up to -140 before laying up to -3 with Brooklyn

The Brooklyn Nets' odds at the Toronto Raptors from DraftKings Sportsbook as of Friday, December 16th at 10:10 a.m. ET.
The Brooklyn Nets’ odds at the Toronto Raptors from DraftKings Sportsbook as of Friday, December 16th at 10:10 a.m. ET.

Minnesota Timberwolves (13-15) at Oklahoma City Thunder (11-17)

Both of these teams suck and they are playing badly too. OKC is 2-4 SU with the 25th-ranked adjusted nRTG at -5.6 over the past two weeks, per CTG. Minnesota is 2-4 SU and 26th in adjusted nRTG at -5.8.

However, the Thunder are exceeding expectations and the Timberwolves are falling short. OKC is 4-2 ATS over that span with a +1.8 ATS margin (ninth). Minnesota is 2-4 ATS with a -5.8 ATS margin (26th).

This is the last of the T-Wolves’ five-game road stand so they may be tired and Minnesota has lost three straight as underdogs. Timberwolves PG D’Angelo Russell and C Rudy Gobert are “questionable” to play so I wouldn’t be shocked if they sat.

Oklahoma City Thunder PG Shai Gilgeous-Alexander drives to the basket against Minnesota Timberwolves F Kyle Anderson at Target Center in Minneapolis.
Oklahoma City Thunder PG Shai Gilgeous-Alexander drives to the basket against Minnesota Timberwolves F Kyle Anderson at Target Center in Minneapolis. (David Berding/Getty Images)

If Russell and Gobert miss Friday, the T-Wolves will be without three starters including All-Star Karl-Anthony Towns. The wiseguys see a wounded Timberwolves team as well.

According to VSIN, more money at DraftKings is on OKC whereas more bets have been placed on Minnesota at the time of writing. This is another Pros vs. Joe’s game and the sharp money is on the Thunder.

Finally, the Thunder’s aggressive style is going to give the T-Wolves headaches. The Timberwolves are just looking to get off the road but OKC is going to apply ball pressure and attack the paint.

Minnesota is 27th in offensive turnover rate (TOV%) and the Thunder are third in defensive TOV%. Also, OKC averages the most drives per game and attempts the fifth-highest volume of field goals at the rim, per CTG.

NBA Best Bet #5: Thunder (-135) ML at DraftKings Sportsbook, up to -140 before laying up to -3 with OKC

The Oklahoma City Thunder's odds vs. the Minnesota Timberwolves from DraftKings Sportsbook as of Friday, December 16th at 10:45 a.m. ET.
The Oklahoma City Thunder’s odds vs. the Minnesota Timberwolves from DraftKings Sportsbook as of Friday, December 16th at 10:45 a.m. ET.

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Written by Geoff Clark

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