Top Sportsbooks have released their NBA odds for today’s action. Two games, in particular, interest me as worth investing in: Detroit vs. Orlando and Oklahoma City vs. Utah. For reasons that I will explain, for your NBA picks you should play the spread for the first game and the total for the second.
My NBA Picks
NBA Pick: Magic -6.5 (-108) at Heritage Sports (visit our Heritage Sports Review)
NBA Pick: Thunder vs. Jazz Over 239.5 (-108) at Heritage Sports
Detroit Pistons vs. Orlando Magic
Thursday, February 23, 2023 – 07:00 PM EST at Amway Center
What will decide which team covers in this game is execution on ball screens. Both teams run ball-screen actions at a rather high rate—Detroit runs the pick-and-roll for the ball-handler play type with the third-highest frequency and Orlando does so with the seventh-highest frequency. Orlando automatically benefits from having its key initiators in its ball-screen game. Specifically, guard Cole Anthony is listed as 'probable' for tonight's game.
Missing Cade Cunningham
Conversely, Detroit misses injured key guard Cade Cunningham, who was a high-usage piece in Detroit's ball-screen game and generally the team's most important distributor. His passing ability was responsible for much of the ball movement in the half-court. Without him on the court, Detroit's offense lacks guys who reliably make passes to facilitate scoring opportunities. As a result, the Pistons rank 29th in assists per possession.
Orlando's Ball-Screen Defense
Even if Cunningham were healthy, Orlando's ball-screen defense is difficult to navigate, for which reason the Magic allow the third-fewest points per game against the pick-and-roll for the ball-handler play type.
The Magic have versatile defenders who can switch on screens, keeping a defender in front of an opposing ball-handler along the perimeter. They like to have center and crucial rim protector Wendell Carter in drop coverage to protect the paint while his lengthy teammates, including Orlando's two 6-10 starting forwards, help out inside and use active hands to narrow kick-out lanes.
Protecting the Paint
Defensively, the Magic prioritize defending the area inside the arc. If they do not sit in man, their length makes their zone defense frustrating for offenses seeking to penetrate inside or pass or otherwise get the ball inside the arc.
Detroit certainly wants to do this—the Pistons need to score inside the arc because they are a poor shooting team. They rank 20th in three-point percentage. So a Magic defense that does the sixth-best job of limiting opposing field goal attempts within five feet of the basket will frustrate them.
Detroit's Ball-Screen Defense
The Pistons don't play much defense in general, but their weaknesses on defense are especially visible against ball-screen actions. When they have their center in drop coverage, Piston guards struggle to fight through the screen.
Their weakness in screen navigation forces the big to step up and puts the defense behind him in rotation. When Piston bigs don't step up, they tend to concede driving lanes to the opposing ball-handler.
Orlando is relatively active within five feet of the basket because it contains guards who love to drive inside. Most prominently, Markelle Fultz is healthy and improving his scoring average while mostly attacking the spaces inside the arc.
He will be among the Magic players to thrive against a young Piston defense featuring out-of-place and, perhaps as frequently, confused defenders, who struggle to communicate on switches, if their engagement is not altogether lackadaisical and disinterested.
Whereas the Pistons will be helplessly uncreative, lackluster, and frustrated against the Magic defense, Orlando's offensive pieces will be comfortable doing what they most want to do.
Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Utah Jazz
Thursday, February 23, 2023 - 09:00 PM EST at Vivint Arena
Decline in Utah's Rim Protection
Utah used to be one of the best teams at protecting the basket because it enjoyed the services of perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate Rudy Gobert. Since the center departed from Utah, it was obvious that their rim protection would decline in quality.
But it was uncertain just how steep the decline would be. Whereas last year the Jazz allowed the fifth-fewest field goals per game within five feet of the basket, this year they concede the seventh-most per game.
It's not that the Thunder are a bad shooting team—they rank a respectable 11th in three-point percentage. But the skill set of their most involved offensive pieces is maximized inside the arc.
In particular, leading scorer Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is excellent off the dribble and uses his ball-handling prowess to average more drives than any other NBA player. He helps explain why the Thunder attempt the second-most field goals within five feet of the basket, where they will challenge Utah's much younger and degraded rim protection unit.
Utah's Offensive Outlook
The Jazz will look to counter the Thunder's offensive thrust by shooting. While they have guys like Jordan Clarkson who are inclined to score inside via the dribble drive, they benefit from the operating room afforded by Jazz floor-spacers, such as power forward Lauri Markkanen and his 41.3-percent three-point conversion rate. Markkanen helps explain why the Jazz make the fifth-most threes per game.
Utah's inclination to rely on the three-point shooting is valuable against a Thunder defense that struggles to limit opposing three-point attempts and to contest them. To be exact, OKC ranks 22nd at limiting opposing field goals and allows the eighth-highest frequency of open three-point attempts and the 11th-highest frequency of wide-open three-point attempts.
Residents of FL, remember that there's a guide available for Florida betting sites, this way you can find the best book out there to make your bets with.
*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.