George Karl must have been smiling when he saw the out-of-town scores Monday night. The Denver Nuggets coach would have seen the New York Knicks lose again after watching his team dismantle the hapless Toronto Raptors.
Yes, a rejuvenated Karl likes what he sees from his new-look Nuggets following last month’s blockbuster trade that sent Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups, among others, to the Knicks in exchange for a group of promising young players.
Before the trade, the seventh-year Nuggets bench boss had become exasperated with his club. The ongoing Anthony trade speculation was an unwanted distraction, and he had grown tired of his team’s style of play.
Now that the roster has been reshaped, Karl's outlook has changed considerably.
“I think you're seeing a team that can not only be a good offensive team, it might become a special defensive team,” Karl told the Denver Post in early March. “We have size, we have speed, we have one-on-one defenders. Our transition defense is the best it's ever been since I've been here."
Since trading away their two biggest stars, the Nuggets — who acquired point guard Raymond Felton, forwards Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler and rookie center Timofey Mozgov — have posted a 10-4 record. More importantly, the Nuggets have gone a league-best 13-1 against the spread during the stretch.
In doing so, Denver has moved from seventh to fifth in the Western Conference standings, a full three games ahead of the eighth-place Memphis Grizzlies. They’ve also improved in a number of statistical categories, particularly on the defensive end.
In the 57 games prior to the trade, Denver allowed an average of 105.2 points per game. In the 14 games since, the Nuggets are holding opponents to just 94.7 points per game — an improvement of more than 10 points. The Nuggets have also held four of their last 14 opponents in the 70s or 80s, a feat they accomplished just six times prior to the Feb. 21 trade.
The improved defense can explain why 10 of Denver’s last 14 games have gone under the posted total by an average of 14.1 points per game. Five games have gone under by 12 or more points. For now, at least until oddsmakers adjust, there seems to be strong value in betting the under in Nuggets games.
As for Denver's torrid ATS run, there's no reason to think it can't continue. Karl has said his team is playing arguably its best basketball of the season even as guards Arron Afflalo (hamstring) and Felton (ankle) nurse injuries. Six different players have led the team in scoring over the last 14 games, which suggests these new Nuggets are a balanced bunch. Before, teams hoping to stop the Nuggets could do so simply by slowing down Anthony.
Also, the Nuggets play five of their final 11 games against playoff teams, including three road games at the Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas Mavericks and Oklahoma City Thunder, where they’ll likely be underdogs. The Nuggets have five outright wins as underdogs since the trade, including a convincing 89-75 win over the Boston Celtics as 4.5-point dogs on Feb. 24. All four of their losses have been by six points or less, yet another indication that the team is coming together at just the right time.
Here are a few other teams that are turning in impressive ATS numbers as of late:
CHICAGO BULLS: No matter how high oddsmakers set the lines, the public continues to bet the Bulls.
To this point, they’ve been rewarded for their persistence.
The Bulls have covered the spread in 15 of their last 20 games as they try to keep pace with Boston for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. In three of their