Thursday night’s NBA slate has some compelling and important games in the playoff race. The Denver Nuggets look to keep pace in the West in a matchup against the Phoenix Suns. The Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors face off in the East as they jockey for position down the stretch.
Our betting experts are focused on those matchups plus one more on Thursday night. Check out their analysis and best bets below.
NBA Odds & Picks
|Click on a game to skip ahead|
|Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Toronto Raptors||7:30 p.m. ET|
|Chicago Bulls vs. New Orleans Pelicans||8 p.m. ET|
|Phoenix Suns vs. Denver Nuggets||10 p.m. ET|
Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Toronto Raptors
|Tipoff||7:30 p.m. ET|
|TV||NBA League Pass|
The Cavaliers have been a revelation this season. They blew past their preseason win total and have the 10th-best Adjusted Net Rating (+2.6) due in large part to their defense, which ranks fourth, while their offense is just 20th. The Cavaliers just do not have an effective attack right now, they are leaning very heavily on Darius Garland and Evan Mobley while searching for contributions from Caris LeVert and Lauri Markkanen.
The biggest edge in this matchup is Toronto’s transition offense. The Cavalier’s defense has struggled to defend transition attacks while the Raptors are adding the fifth-most points through transition play (3.6). However, this game will likely have a playoff feel, which typically leads to slower-paced games.
These two teams already are fifth and sixth slowest in terms of Pace and they take forever to set up their offenses. As a result, Toronto may not get out in transition as much as they want. Even if the Cavaliers struggle to stop Toronto, the Cavaliers should struggle to score themselves. I’m betting against points tonight.
Chicago Bulls vs. New Orleans Pelicans
|Pick||Jaxson Hayes, Over 10.5 points (-118)|
|Tipoff||8 p.m. ET|
|TV||NBA League Pass|
Brandon Anderson: Is Jaxson Hayes a power forward? It’s starting to look that way, at least for now. The Pelicans drafted Hayes as a rim-running center prospect, but they’ve unleashed their young big man as a four next to Jonas Valanciunas over the last 14 games, and the experiment is working.
New Orleans has seen its defense take a big leap with Hayes as a stretchy help defender, and we’re seeing more and more NBA teams find success with two bigs with varying skill sets out there next to one another.
Hayes has started 14 games in a row for New Orleans. He’s playing 27.4 minutes in those games and typically gets about 26 to 28 minutes, averaging 11.3 points and 6.3 rebounds. The biggest problem is still foul trouble, not uncommon for young big men.
In four of those starts, Hayes has seen limited minutes, usually with foul trouble, and he had low counting stats in all of them. But in the other 10 games where he played his expected minutes load, he averaged 13.5 PPG and went over this points line in eight of 10 (80%).
For the season, when Jaxson Hayes plays at least 25 minutes, he is scoring 14.9 PPG. That’s far above this number, and he’s hit this over in 14 of those 17 games, a whopping 82% of them. We’re projecting Hayes at 15.0 points, right around that average, and that makes this a 10 out of 10 prop and one worth playing to -150.
That also means we might consider playing a bit more aggressively. We’re projecting 15 points, and Hayes has scored at least 15 points in eight of his 17 games with 25-plus minutes. That’s a 47% hit rate for a 15-plus prop we can play at +255 at FanDuel. But we can go even further.
If Hayes does play enough to score 15 points, he’ll likely go over his 5.5 rebounding line too. He’s done that in 14 of 17 games with those minutes, and in all but one when he scores at least 15 points.
Phoenix Suns vs. Denver Nuggets
|Tipoff||10 p.m. ET|
The Suns have been impressive all season, but this recent six-game win streak has really shown how good this team can be, even without some of their key rotation players on the floor.
In their last six, the Suns have posted an incredible Offensive Rating of 128.9, which as many could probably guess leads the NBA in that stretch. They are simply dominating their opponent in every aspect of the game, shooting 54.3% from the floor, 42% from beyond the arc, and winning by an average margin of 16.8 points.
They’ve been arguably just as good on the defensive end of the floor as well during the win streak, posting the fifth-best Defensive Rating at 111.5.
Denver got back on track with a win against the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday, a win that was in large part because of its offensive attack.
Their recent problems lie on the defensive end of the floor, an area that the Nuggets simply have not been able to clean up. Denver has allowed their opponent to shoot 48% from the floor in their last 10 games, all while having the seventh-worst Defensive Rating at 117.6 during that span.
The Suns are 9-3 straight up this season when playing with no rest, and as an away underdog Phoenix is 6-3 against the spread. Getting them as an underdog is a rarity, and I think it is an area for bettors to gain an advantage.