I understand that TNT has a contract to have the national rights to the NBA on Thursday nights, but you would think the network would take the two Thursdays of the NCAA Tournament off in exchange for some other special night or something. But what do I know?
Miami Heat at Chicago Bulls, 8 p.m.
The line: Bulls -1 (190.5)
How they enter: The Heat have followed back-to-back home losses last week to powers San Antonio and Orlando with back-to-back wins (1-0-1 ATS). But they weren’t all that impressive, as the Heat scored just 77 points in beating a Charlotte team that stinks on the road, followed by a 10-point win at New Jersey, where everyone wins. Chicago has rebounded from a 10-game slide – its longest in one season since 2001 – to win games at Philly and against Houston.
Scouting report: This is likely the final meeting of the year between these two, and, thus, it could be the final time Chicago native Dwyane Wade plays at the United Center in a Heat uniform. Of course, the Bulls are expected to make a huge push for the free-agent-to-be. Wade hasn’t been very dominant against the Bulls this season, averaging 22.3 points and 6.0 assists in three games but shooting just less than 40 percent from the field. Miami is 2-1 (and ATS) vs. Chicago this year. Wade, by the way, took a knee to his right quad Monday against New Jersey and was a bit limited in his explosiveness after that (not that it showed in his stats as he finished with 27 points and 12 assists). But because the Heat haven’t played since then, he should be fine for Thursday. The Heat didn’t have forward Udonis Haslem on Monday, as he sat out with a sprained right ankle he injured Saturday against Charlotte. He is questionable for the Bulls. Chicago has had Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose back in the past two games after Noah missed 10 straight and Rose three in a row (those two missed the last game with Miami, a 108-95 road loss). Thus, you can see why the Bulls have won two in a row. Noah’s minutes will increase to about 15 tonight as he comes along slowly. However, second-leading scorer Luol Deng might be done for the season with a strained right calf. Deng also missed the last meeting with the Heat.
Key trends: Chicago had allowed 12 straight opponents to reach triple-digit points but has held the past three under that number. In fact, none of the past three opponents has shot better than 41.3 percent from the field.
The Bulls are 5-0 ATS in their past five after failing to cover in their previous seven.
The Heat have covered just once in the past six trips to Chicago. The ‘under’ is 4-0 in the past four in the Windy City.
The pick: For once the Bulls possibly aren’t the more banged up team than the opponent (Miami’s Quentin Richardson and Jermaine O’Neal both have knee issues but will play). Take Chicago and the ‘under’.
Dallas Mavericks at Portland Trail Blazers, 10:30 p.m.
The line: Blazers -3 (192)
How they enter: Ever since the Knicks went into Big D and punked the Mavericks to end Dallas’ 13-game winning streak, the Mavs have been uneven, going just 2-2 (1-3 ATS) and allowing at least 102 points in three of the four games. The Mavs do enter off a 10-point win over the Clippers on Tuesday behind Jason Kidd’s season-high 26 points in a game in which Dirk Nowitzki was ejected for arguing a call (no suspension or anything). Portland has to be the most well-rested team in the NBA, as Thursday’s game will be just its fifth in 13 days. The Blazers have been off since losing by six at Phoenix on Sunday. That ended Portland’s five-game winning streak (2-3 ATS in that run).
Scouting report: This will be the third of four meetings, with the first two taking place in Dallas. The Blazers won both of those, as dogs, by a combined six points. You may remember the most recent matchup on Jan. 30 because that was the game Portland’s Andre Miller put up a career-high 52 points. But that was back when Dallas was scuffling and before acquiring Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood from Washington. Speaking of Haywood, he wasn’t happy to come off the bench Monday against the Clippers. But he had been averaging just 5.0 points and 5.5 rebounds in the previous four games and then had 12 and 10 against L.A. Coach Rick Carlisle said he his starting center might rotate each night between Haywood and Erick Dampier. Haywood still got more minutes than Dampier on Monday. Portland can’t seem to find the basket lately, shooting 32.1 percent against Washington, the lowest field goal percentage in a victory in team history, followed by 36.4 percent in the loss at Phoenix. That’s the worst two-game combined shooting percentage since Nate McMillan took over as Blazers’ coach. Star Brandon Roy was 12-for-43 (27.9 percent) in those two games for his worst two-game stretch of the season. Apparently the Wizards and Suns both used zone defenses to throw the Blazers off, so let’s see if Dallas does the same. Portland didn’t have key reserve Rudy Fernandez against the Suns because of a thigh injury, and he is questionable for the Mavs.
Key trends: The Mavericks are 5-1 ATS in their past six road games.
Portland is 0-4 ATS in its past four at home vs. a team with a winning road record.
The underdog has covered five of the past six in this series.
The ‘under’ has hit in 70 percent of the past 20 in this series.
The pick: Which Dallas team will show up? Good question. But the Mavs are one of the NBA’s best road teams. Take them and the ‘under’.