NBA Top Picks February 25: The Thunder Are Booming in Houston

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Jalen Williams #8 of the Oklahoma City Thunder shoots over Moritz Wagner #21 of the Orlando Magic. Julio Aguilar/Getty Images/AFP

NBA Pick: Thunder -6 (-110) at BetOnline (visit our BetOnline Review)

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Thunder -6 (-110)
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After checking out the betting odds for today’s NBA slate, I’ve found three games interest me: Magic vs. Hawks, Thunder vs. Rockets, and Spurs vs. Jazz.

For your best bets, I will recommend investing in Orlando, OKC, and Utah

Orlando Magic vs. Atlanta Hawks

Sunday, February 25, 2024 – 07:00 PM ET at State Farm Arena

Atlanta’s Offense

Atlanta’s offense is rather one-dimensional. They lack guys who are efficient scoring at the basket and are therefore one of the least efficient teams within five feet of the basket.

Instead of scoring inside, they primarily want to shoot threes. They attempt the sixth-most threes per game.

Orlando’s Defense

I like Orlando’s defense because it is focused on taking away opposing three-point shot attempts. The Magic allow the fifth-fewest three-point attempts overall and the fourth-lowest frequency of wide-open three-point attempts.

These stats indicate that Orlando ably runs opponents off the three-point line and prevents them from garnering propitious three-point shooting opportunities. The Magic will make Atlanta’s offense uncomfortable by forcing it to score inside where it does not want to focus on scoring.

Orlando’s Offense

The Magic primarily want to score at the basket. Orlando relies on strong ball movement, good passing, and good off-ball movement – often in the form of cuts – to work together to be efficient inside.

The Magic make the third-most field goals within five feet of the basket.

Atlanta’s Defense

Offenses are abusing Atlanta’s pick-and-roll coverages, its lack of defenders who are comfortable guarding perimeter scorers, and its lack of rim protection.

The Hawks are perhaps easiest to exploit when their defenders are spaced out, which especially happens when their center gets drawn away from the basket.

Offenses are finding ways to drive inside for a lot of easy baskets against the Hawks’ defense. Atlanta allows the second-most field goals within five feet of the basket.

The Magic will score a lot by taking advantage of Atlanta’s defensive vulnerability.

NBA Pick: Magic -1 (-110) at BetOnline

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Magic -1 (-110)
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Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Houston Rockets

Sunday, February 25, 2024 – 07:00 ET at Toyota Center

OKC’s Form

The Thunder enter tonight’s contest on four-game SU and ATS runs. Dominating both offensively and defensively, they beat the Kings and Magic by 14 points, the Clippers by 22 points, and the Wizards by 41 points.

Given their current form, they are a strong bet against anybody right now.

Houston’s Spot

Unlike the Thunder, Houston is in a bad spot tonight. The Rockets are a must-fade because they are coming off a win.

They’ve lost their last eight games following a victory.

OKC’s Balanced Offense

On the surface, the Thunder offense seems to be balanced, ranking 16th in three-pointers attempted.

While they have efficient three-point shooters, such as Luguentz Dort and fellow guard Isaiah Joe, they also have guys who get to the basket effectively, such as point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who converts 67.3% of his field goals within five feet of the basket.

The Importance of Three-Pointers

The overt sense in which the Thunder offense is balanced easily belies the extent to which it relies on making three-pointers. The Thunder offense shoots the three-ball well in general and relies heavily in doing so.

This is especially true lately, as the Thunder have non-coincidentally increased their three-pointers made per game average by a drastic amount at the same time as they continue to build their win streak. Currently, they rank tenth with 13.5 made threes on the season, but they average 16.7 made threes in their past three games.

Among other things, the Thunder love to drive and kick. This particular tactic is great given their balance. Teams have to respect their inside scoring ability, but then OKC ball-handlers will use that respect to find teammates behind the arc who are open because the defense has collapsed inside.

Houston’s Perimeter Defense 

I like the Thunder offense to do well because it can reliably thrive behind the arc against this Houston defense. Perimeter defense has been a significant issue for the Rockets’ defense.

One method that offenses have employed with great success against Houston’s defense is the slip screen. The Pacers on December 26 provide an example of this success.

OKC will use, for example, Chet Holmgren to slip screens. But also teams that don’t slip screens often can still thrive against Houston’s perimeter defense. The Rockets allow the sixth-highest frequency of open three-point attempts per game because their perimeter defense is poor in general.

Houston’s Offense

On offense, the Rockets primarily want to score at the basket.

They average the second-most field goals within five feet of the hoop. Being able to succeed close to the basket is crucial to them.

Against the teams that rank top-four at limiting opposing field goal percentage within five feet of the basket, the Rockets have one win so far in six tries.

OKC’s Rim Protection

The Thunder actually rank number one at limiting opposing field goal percentage within five feet of the basket. Holmgren here is key: he is mobile, allowing him to defend by himself along the perimeter and to stick with opposing ball-handlers, but he is also a solid rim protector. He uses his long arms to block a lot of shots.

The First Meeting

Now, the one win that Houston has earned against teams that rank top-four at limiting opposing field goal percentage within five feet of the basket actually came against the Thunder. But that win was anomalous. The Rockets happened to have an incredible performance behind the arc, whereas the Thunder shot poorly from deep.

This sort of thing happens in basketball – inferior teams get hot from deep. The fact that Houston was fortunate once – in that it could use a hot performance to conceal its struggle to score inside – makes it seem all the less likely that it will happen again.

The Rockets, who only scored 110 points in that game, will fail to reach 100 points in this game. The Thunder will blow them out.

NBA Pick: Thunder -6 (-110) at BetOnline

San Antonio Spurs vs. Utah Jazz

Sunday, February 25, 2024 – 08:00 ET at Delta Center

The First Meeting

I find it unlikely that the Spurs hang within ten tonight, because of what happened in their first meeting: despite that meeting taking place in San Antonio, the Spurs lost by twelve.

What is particularly incredible about the fact that they lost by twelve is that they happened to benefit from an unusually hot performance from behind the arc. They made 16 three-pointers for a 45.7 three-point conversion rate.

Home vs. Away

San Antonio cannot be expected to have the same degree of success on offense tonight, because it is playing on the road. As measured by three-pointers made, the Spurs suffer the biggest home/away disparity out of any NBA team – whereas they make 13.6 threes per game at home, they make 11.4 on the road.

The Right Opponent for Utah 

Playing in Utah, San Antonio is just the team to fail to take advantage of the defensive weakness of the Jazz, which is guarding the three-point line. Conversely, Utah makes it hard for opposing offenses to be efficient around the basket.

San Antonio’s Perimeter Defense

Playing on the road also spells bad news for the Spurs’ perimeter defense. On the road, San Antonio allows the seventh-most made threes per game.

Utah loves to shoot threes – the Jazz attempt the ninth-most three-pointers per game – so they will be glad to face San Antonio’s vulnerable perimeter defense.

NBA Pick: Jazz -7 (-110) at BetOnline

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*The line and/or odds on picks in this article might have moved since the content was commissioned. For updated line movements, visit BMR’s free betting odds product.