NBA Odds, News & Notes: Houston Rockets Blasting Off

The Houston Rockets are on a tear that's upending the West play-in picture. Do the Warriors actually have something to be worried about? We break down the NBA news that matters to bettors this week.

Mar 28, 2024 • 15:59 ET • 4 min read
Jalen Green NBA
Photo By - USA TODAY Sports

Today’s top NBA news story is one of squabbling billionaires. Do not be distracted by the contract dispute between current Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor and prospective Timberwolves owners Marc Lore and Alex Rodriguez. It will have no on-court or NBA odds impact. Not now, not this postseason, and not even this offseason.

While Taylor’s name may be on their paychecks these days, also realize that no current NBA player has ever received a physical check. So, even that attempt at garnering their interest in this probable courtroom drama will miss its mark.

Absolutely laugh at the squabbling billionaires. But do not think it matters in any terms we worry about. 

Houston is the problem

What does matter in terms we worry about is the drama at the bottom of the Western Conference postseason standings. The Houston Rockets have won 10 straight and 12 of their last 13, including going 4-1 outright as underdogs this month. More impressively, they are 12-1 against the spread in that stretch, as well.

This surge has put pressure on the Golden State Warriors, now clinging to a one-game lead on the Rockets for the 10th spot in the West. In truth, though, that is a two-game lead, since the Warriors have already won two of their three meetings this season.

The third comes in Houston on April 4.

Let’s be clear. The Rockets probably will not make the Play-In Tournament. FanDuel gives them +410 odds. But presume Houston can win on April 4. Then it just needs to pick up one more game on Golden State by season’s end.

There’s the other issue. Of the Rockets’ nine other games, six are against winning teams. Of the Warriors’ nine other games, only four are against winning teams.

Golden State should make the Play-In Tournament, but if not, then …

“This is the way the Warriors end
This is the way the Warriors end
This is the way the Warriors end
Not with a bang but a whimper”

— T.S. Eliot, probably.

Tonight's NBA best bets

Boston Celtics vs. Atlanta Hawks

The NBA slated only two games tonight opposite March Madness and the Sweet Sixteen. Both NBA games are East-West matchups, further diminishing their intrigue.

The Boston Celtics probably know few will really watch tonight. And this is a team that is coasting to the playoffs, anyway. This spread has climbed because the Atlanta Hawks are on the second night of a back-to-back, but is that worth six points?

Earlier this week, Boston was a 10.5-point favorite at Atlanta. This climbing as high as -16.5 now is an overreaction to the Hawks’ schedule, an overreaction probably based on an expected Celtics’ revenge factor. Boston should not be worrying about vengeance against Atlanta.

It should treat the Hawks like Don Draper treated Michael Ginsberg.

Best bet: Hawks +16.5 (-110 at BetMGM)

With such a reduced NBA slate, let’s not try to shoehorn in a bet on Bucks-Pelicans. Both teams have been playing so well of late, that should simply be an entertaining game, one to keep an eye on, particularly if UConn blows out San Diego State as expected and Arizona shows no trouble with Clemson.

Instead, let’s consult our NBA player props expert:

NBA trends: Sky-Rocketing

Should the Warriors be a bit worried about Houston? Yes. As the great Canadian hockey player Shoresy once said, “This team will never lose again.”

Until the Rockets lose, betting on them to do so would be a mistake.

Since March 1, they have the league’s No. 2 offensive rating, trailing only the Celtics, and the No. 4 defensive rating. Houston’s net rating of +11.1 ranks No. 3 this month.

Meanwhile, Golden State’s net rating is No. 15, a whimpering +0.9.

Raising the ceiling: They aren’t even healthy yet

Last week’s Futures Update focused on the New York Knicks, touting their brief showcase of defense in OG Anunoby’s three-game return before elbow worries sidelined him anew. That may have been underselling what Tom Thibodeau is putting together.

The Knicks have played 12 games this month. Anunoby played in three of them. Mitchell Robinson has played 12 minutes. Julius Randle has not seen a minute since January. Even Jalen Brunson missed a game.

New York still has the No. 2 net rating in the month, trailing only the Celtics.

If the Knicks can find full strength before the second round of the playoffs, they could make things stressful for Boston. New York can still be found at +1,200 (BetRivers) to win the East, and if you do not have that ticket in hand yet, you should ask yourself why not. There is every expectation this team will find health.

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NBA futures update: Flying to Denver

This argument was made two weeks ago, and it came a 3-pointer away from being immediately validated despite the Timberwolves not having a true center against the Denver Nuggets in that March 19 loss. But the premise has not changed as Minnesota heads to Denver this Friday:

If the Minnesota Timberwolves can win one of two remaining games against the Nuggets, then they will own every tiebreaker over Denver and the Oklahoma City Thunder.

After Wednesday night’s chaos — those Rockets upsetting the Thunder in overtime; the Phoenix Suns winning in Denver — the three Northwest Division contenders are tied in the loss column.

Yet Minnesota has the lowest odds of the group to win the Division, as high as +600 at BetRivers, while the Nuggets trade between -250 and -300. The most likely outcome of those two Timberwolves’ games in Denver is a split, at which point Minnesota will own those tiebreakers.

The Nuggets have the easiest schedule of the trio; the Thunder decidedly have the hardest, facing each of the East’s top-three, as well as the Mavs, Suns, and Kings, while they all scrap to avoid the Play-In Tournament.

The Timberwolves’ remaining schedule is middling, four games against winning teams not named Denver, four against lesser foes.

All of which is to say, if you are at all intrigued by a Minnesota moneyline on Friday night, instead take the futures odds of the Timberwolves winning the Northwest Division. A single win in Denver would tilt those aggressively.

Moneyline underdogs picks

Odds are not yet out on these games, but a few spots to keep an eye on …

Pelicans vs Celtics (Saturday, March 30): Yours truly is holding a Celtics win total Under 63.5 purchased during the All-Star Break. The logic then holds up now: What is Boston playing for? If it closes the season no better than 6-4, that ticket will cash. Should the Celtics lose four games? Of course not. They have won 20 games since Feb. 1, losing just four in that entire stretch. But the Pelicans are playing like a Top-5 team in the league (No. 4 net rating since March 1, No. 4 point differential on the season) and will be at home. There may be enough of a motivation edge to push that natural talent over the top and prolong this win total’s hopes

Bulls vs Timberwolves (Sunday, March 31): If Minnesota tops Denver on Friday, then this will be the definition of an obvious letdown spot. Every ounce of logic would say the Chicago Bulls will be outmatched in this game, but the Timberwolves are still prone to checking out for entire halves of overlooked games. Against DeMar DeRozan and Coby White, that may be too much of a cushion.

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