NBA Wednesday best bets: How will Philly's offense fare without Simmons?
We got our first taste of the NBA season Tuesday night - and went 2-0 on our picks along the way - but the real action starts Wednesday when 22 of the remaining 26 teams open up their campaign. Here are our best bets for a jam-packed slate:
The Rockets were an absolute disaster last season, finishing with the league's worst record (17-55) and a 27-44-1 mark against the spread. Still, are we sure they're this much worse than the Timberwolves, who won just six more games in 2020-21?
Houston should be much more dynamic offensively after adding impact rookies Jalen Green and Alperen Sengun, while a healthy Christian Wood is always a difference-maker for this group. Meanwhile, Minnesota had an uneventful offseason and may have even gotten worse, depending on your view of Patrick Beverley versus Ricky Rubio (hint: it's largely irrelevant).
We're yet to see if these Rockets can play even passable defense, but neither team deserves to be favored by 6.5 points over anyone, especially not in the season opener.
Pick: Rockets +6.5
Both of these teams have major questions offensively in the absence of one of their key stars. And, at least for the 76ers, we still don't quite know the answers.
Philadelphia suspended disgruntled star Ben Simmons but doesn't have a clear replacement for him at point guard, especially after Shake Milton's preseason injury. The likely fill-in is Tyrese Maxey, who played 58% of his minutes as a wing last season and has a mere 19.9% assist rate in his young career. This offense can survive sans a Simmons-level passer, but it's still going to look a step behind without a competent distributor.
Conversely, the Pelicans will be without Zion Williamson, the catalyst for their high-scoring attack last season. He averaged 27 points per game behind a sky-high 29.8% usage rate. New Orleans has a bevy of capable scoring guards but could run into trouble against Philly's elite perimeter defenders. This total should be a few points lower, at least.
Pick: Under 224
This total is the highest of the 11 games Wednesday, in large part because of the Trail Blazers' horrendous defense the past two seasons. Are we sure we should expect the same in this one?
Portland was a defensive stiff last campaign under Terry Stotts, whose drop pick-and-roll coverage was intended to funnel teams into mid-range spots but instead allowed opposing clubs to dictate whatever they wanted offensively. Expect new coach Chauncey Billups to have more success with an aggressive approach that should benefit from a retooled lineup, with Cody Zeller and Larry Nance Jr. playing key defensive roles.
Conversely, the Kings' defensive backcourt is a nightmare for opponents with De'Aaron Fox, Tyrese Haliburton, and rookie Davion Mitchell, who might already be one of the NBA's best on-ball defenders. The key to slowing Blazers star Damian Lillard is denying him any space to operate, an approach that suits Sacramento's personnel well.
Pick: Under 234.5