The Dallas Mavericks are slight favorites over their Texas rival, the Houston Rockets for Friday's NBA bubble opener in Orlando, which looms large in the Western Conference playoff picture.
Houston sits in sixth in the wild West, with Dallas a mere 1.5 games behind. With only eight contests left on the regular-season slate, though, these squads are in critical situations to improve their postseason seeding.
Read on for abe Insights' betting preview for a truly tantalizing tip-off. Below you'll find the best odds available at publication, analysis of the major wagers and advanced stats to help inform your betting decisions.
Date: Friday, July 31
Time: 9 p.m. ET
Implied Probabilities: Rockets 48%; Mavericks 55%
Spread: DAL -2
Moneyline: HOU +110; DAL -120
The injury bug really bit the Mavs hard in 2019-20, as they lost numerous role players along the way. At least coach Rick Carlisle's squad knows how to weather the adversity, and did enough to hang tough in the West.
Less clear is how Houston will respond to the sprained ankle Eric Gordon suffered on Tuesday. He's the only real explosive scoring threat beyond James Harden and Russell Westbrook, and he's vital on the defensive end as well. It's a big blow to the Rockets, as Gordon could be out for as long as two weeks.
115.8 vs. 113.4: Fancy that. Dallas and Houston rank first and second respectively in points scored per 100 possessions. The Mavs' inside-out duo of Kristaps Porzingis and sudden superstar Luka Doncic make them dangerous no matter who they face in the bubble, and these figures support that notion.
15.2 vs. 10.3: It's somewhat simplistic, but important. These stats are the combined points per game Harden and Westbrook earn in free throws, versus what Doncic and Porzingis account for on average. Doncic ranks fourth in free-throw attempts, but Harden is first, and Westbrook is 16th.
28.6 vs. 26.2: This is one area the Rockets don't want to be superior in, but are: offensive rebound percentage allowed. They're in the Association's bottom five, while the Mavs rank eighth-lowest, largely thanks to Porzingis and Doncic combining for 18.8 boards a night.
Once the Rockets shipped away center Clint Capela, they lost a big interior defensive presence, an elite shot-blocker, a tremendous rebounder and the only dynamic big man they had.
Although the small-ball approach fits coach Mike D'Antoni's up-tempo offensive system well, it leaves Houston vulnerable in the paint. That's where Porzingis can really do damage, using his size to get inside and also bothering shots by Harden and Westbrook around the rim.
The Rockets and Mavs attempt the first- and second-most 3's in the NBA. Dallas is superior in proficiency, at 36.9% versus Houston's 34.8%. The dynamic distributor Doncic (8.7 assists), has Seth Curry, Tim Hardaway Jr. and even Porzingis to find for clean catch-and-shoot looks from beyond the arc.
Often, Harden is in isolation, trying to do his patented step-back move and is taking a contested, off-balance shot. Even casual NBA fans know Westbrook's shot selection has never been his strength, and he's shooting only 25.4% from deep this season.
What this one should really come down to is how generous the refs are with their whistles. If Harden and Westbrook get to the free-throw line at a high rate, it'll offset presumptive 3-point inefficiencies. However, Doncic is so good at taking it to the rack and either finishing or dishing — and the Rockets don't really have anyone down low to stop him.
Both legs of the NBA's bubble doubleheader on Thursday went way under the point totals. They were hotly contested, and signs of rust were evident. Not to mention, it was the first time any of these players participated in an actual, legitimate game in the venue.
The reason that's relevant is, well, Houston is first in the NBA (36-28) in terms of its total scores hitting the Under, per TeamRankings.com. Dallas is actually fourth at hitting the Over. Thus, it's anyone's guess. Wagers should be split about evenly around the total, but expect the unknown elements of Orlando to skew wagers slightly to the Under.
The spread and moneyline tell this duel is essentially a 50-50 shot. Of course, that's often not the reality. In these instances, hedging bets isn't really valuable. If this is a Lone Star State slugfest, why not double down on the small spread and moneyline with the Mavs, the more proficient and diverse team?
Note: Odds current as of 12:15 p.m. ET on Friday, July 31.
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