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Pelicans, Sixers Poised as Second-Half Surprises

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The New Orleans Pelicans opened the current NBA campaign in uninspired fashion. With top draft pick Zion Williamson sidelined by injury, the Pelicans stumbled out of the gate, with their dismal 6-22 straight-up start marked by a 13-game SU losing streak. But with Williamson finally making his debut, and the team playing far more respectable defense, the Pelicans are poised to be one of the surprise stories during the unofficial second half of the NBA season.

The Pelicans return from the NBA All-Star Break trailing the Memphis Grizzlies by 5.5 games in the hunt for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, and pegged as a distant +25000 bet on the NBA championship odds. Despite having a mountain to climb, a return to the postseason for the first time in two years is not out of the question.

Since putting an end to their epic slide just before Christmas, the Pelicans have gone 17-10 SU in their past 27 games, and look forward to the easiest schedule in the NBA down the stretch including six combined dates with the bottom-feeding Golden State Warriors, Minnesota Timberwolves, Atlanta Hawks, and Cleveland Cavaliers. That is likely to give New Orleans ample opportunity to pad their recent numbers on the betting lines, where they have gone 18-7-2 ATS during their recent resurgence, while winning outright in seven of 13 outings as an underdog.

One of the biggest obstacles to the Pelicans’ playoff aspirations is likely to be the team they are trying to catch, the Memphis Grizzlies. Like New Orleans, the Grizzlies opened the season on a brutal run, going 6-16 SU through their first 22 contests, but come out of the break as one of the hottest teams in the NBA.

Memphis has built its resurgence on a solid mix of veterans and youth, led by Ja Morant. The 20-year-old point guard has fulfilled his promise after being selected second overall in the 2019 NBA Draft, leading the team with 17.6 points and 7.1 assists per game, and comes out of the break as a -350 favorite to claim NBA Rookie of the Year honors.

Second-year forward Jaren Jackson Jr. has also taken the next step, draining 17.1 points per game, while veteran big man Jonas Valanciunas has provided much-needed leadership and a team-best 10.5 rebounds per game. The Grizzlies lag as a distant +6000 bet to win the Southwest Division despite trailing first-place Houston by just six games.

The team must also dramatically improve their results on the road, where they sport a middling 12-13 SU record and play 10 of their next 14 games. Memphis also faces a daunting schedule down the stretch, highlighted by a combined four games against Toronto and the Los Angeles Lakers.

 

Sixers Set to Make Some Gains in Second Half of Year?

 

Over in the Eastern Conference, the team poised to make the biggest gains down the stretch is the Philadelphia 76ers. Set among the favorites on the NBA futures entering the season, the Sixers have endured somewhat of a Jekyll & Hyde campaign. Philadelphia comes out of the break sporting a league-leading 25-2 SU record on home hardwood, but has been simply awful on the road, going 9-19 SU including losses in each of their past five away contests.

Still sporting decent +1600 odds to claim this year’s NBA title, the 76ers sit second to New Orleans in strength of schedule, and should particularly benefit from a favorable road schedule that features upcoming dates with Cleveland, Golden State, Sacramento, Charlotte, and Minnesota. However, Joel Embiid’s ongoing struggles with injuries remain a concern, as does the Sixers’ dismal performance against the spread, with the club going 8-14 ATS in their past 22 games.

 

*Odds as of February 25, 2020

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