The NBA is back! After the All-Star Game, it’s related festivities and the much-needed break have come and gone, NBA teams were back on the court for the first time Thursday night.
Many of the marquee teams and players in the league showed out on the first night back, yet plenty will make their return during a packed Friday slate.
Here are my four favorite bets on the board for Friday:
Oklahoma City Thunder (+7.5) vs. Phoenix Suns
If this game was going to feature the new-look Suns, including a lineup complete with Kevin Durant, the big prize from a haywire NBA trade deadline, this line would make plenty of sense.
With the news that Durant’s debut is not expected until after this weekend, this is far too many points to be offered between two fairly even teams.
Phoenix sits just 2.5 games ahead of OKC in the Western Conference standings with the stretch run about to start. The Suns would expect to climb those standings once Durant returns, yet his delayed debut makes that trickier. Not only is Phoenix without a would-be star, the Suns need to survive without the pieces they traded for Durant until he enters the lineup.
Subtracting Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson and adding, for now, nothing? That puts Phoenix in a hole, at least big enough for the plucky Thunder to compete here.
Mikal Bridges (Brooklyn Nets) over 19.5 points vs. Chicago Bulls
Given Bridges’ recent change in status, traded to Brooklyn as the centerpiece of the trade that sent Kevin Durant to Phoenix, it may take some time for books to properly asses his new role. That could create some value for bettors and certainly does here.
In his last nine games, Bridges is averaging 24.7 points per game. He’s nearly hitting this prop number with shot attempts, posting 17.5 field goal attempts per game over than span.
That chunk of time dates back to his days with the Suns, but now that he’s a more focal point of the Brooklyn offense, there’s even more reason to like his chances here. In three games as a Net, Bridges has scored 23 points against Philly, seven points in a short appearance due to a blowout loss to the Knicks, and 45 points against Miami.
I’m not going to expect him to explode for a big number like that again, but topping 19.5 feels like the smart bet given his usage and shooting in Brooklyn.
Sacramento Kings (+6.5) vs. LA Clippers
Media outlets seemed excited to announce Russell Westbrook’s decision to sign with the Clippers, as though this would have a positive impact on LA’s fortunes in the playoffs. It has been a long time since we’ve seen Westbrook contribute in a positive way to a winning team. That last happened during Westbrook’s single season as a Houston Rocket, which ended with a playoff loss in the Orlando COVID-bubble.
Since then, Westbrook has been on three teams in three years and seen his points per game, field goal attempts, field goal percentage, and free throw rates drop.
It’s both clear that his prime is behind him and he fails to elevate the teams he plays on at this point in his career. Beyond that, it might take time for his role to take shape with the Clippers. I’d rather grab the points and a Sacramento team hellbent on making the playoffs.
RJ Barrett (New York Knicks) under 0.5 steals vs Washington Wizards
Steals props are an odd market. Few players grab more than 0.5 steals per game, meaning most props start at that number. For most players, the over has some juice, indicating the variance of the stat.
For a player like Barrett, not known for his defense, that makes a lot of sense. He’s less likely to hop in a passing lane than simply get a steal from being in the right place at the right time.
More often than not this year, that hasn’t happened for Barrett. He’s gone without a steal in six of his last nine games. The same is true of 18 of his last 26 games. He hasn’t had multiple steals in a game since December 11.
It’s a little unnerving that one errant pass by Washington can spoil this bet, though based on Barrett’s defensive tendencies, that’s a risk I’m willing to take.