The Pick: Timberwolves 101-90
Most gamblers will tell you that it is better to leave a hot team one game early than one game late. They would also advise against putting too much faith in non-elite teams. Targeting a 5-8 road team who played last night against a team that has won four of its last five home games, not to mention one that is in the midst of a three-week period where they play one road game, probably doesn’t allow you to pass the final exam when it comes to the school of handicapping.
But knowing that those trends are in play is part of the battle. Knowing them is how you gain value. Bookmakers will look at things like schedule, rest and recent track record when it comes to creating a spread, which sometimes results in one big component being undervalued: talent.
This game opened with Minnesota as a two-point favorite with an over/under of 200. Simple math will tell you that Vegas projected this game as a 101-99 Timberwolves win. However, the Celtics have only scored 99 points and covered a two-point spread in 28 percent of games this season. On the flip side, Minnesota has amassed at least 101 points and covered a two-point spread in 11 of their 12 victories.
Oddly enough, one of those instances was exactly one month ago, when the Timberwolves beat these very Celtics by 18 on the second night of a back-to-back.
As long as we are on the topic, let’s evaluate that meeting. Minnesota, who leads the league in steals, was able to turnover Boston with consistency (21 turnovers and only 14 assists). A novice may scoff at that, saying it is unreliable and that a repeat performance is a long shot. Is it though? Boston ranks dead last in the league in assists and assist-to-turnover ratio, so even if the turnover rate drops a bit, it isn’t crazy to think that the Wolves can create havoc when Boston has the ball.
If you’re going to point at data that is unlikely to be duplicated from that first game, it would seem to favor Minnesota. Avery Bradley scored 27 points in 36 minutes while Kevin Martin shot 33 percent from the field and 14.3 percent from distance. Sure, you could point to Jeff Green’s two-point performance as a fluke, but relying on your fifth-most efficient player to lead the team in scoring is going to result in major offensive issues.
When it comes down to it, this game will be decided by which team can score with the most consistency and get extra possessions or eliminate the opponent to one possession by rebounding. The visitors have two of the top 16 scorers in the league and two players who average 19.9 percent more rebounds than the top three Celtics glass cleaners.
Fun Fact: The Timberwolves are one of four teams that have two players averaging at least 33 minutes that rank in the top 28 in John Hollinger’s “Value Added” metric. The other three teams have a combined record of 53-22.