Free NBA Picks: Friday, Dec. 15, 2017, Opening Line Report and Handicapping
At times this season in this space, I will address a BetOnline special prop the site has had up all year: Which team LeBron James plays his first game with in the 2018-19 regular season. There are odds on every team in the NBA, but obviously he's only going to a contender where some of his buddies play. The latest rumor is that James could sign with the Houston Rockets, who are +250 that prop right now. Going to Houston would make sense as Chris Paul is LeBron's guy and I'm sure James and James Harden are friendly too. How crazy would the West be with those Rockets and the Golden State Warriors duking it out? With all due respect to Kyrie Irving or Dwayne Wade, Harden would be the best player LeBron has ever played with as Harden is the early MVP favorite this year. Some experts didn't think the Harden/Paul pairing would work, but the Rockets are playing fantastic basketball. They still don't have enough to beat Golden State, though. Houston likely would have to find a taker for Ryan Anderson and the two years and $41.7 million left on his deal after this season to have enough max room to entice LeBron.
Heat at Hornets ( -5, 204)
Miami's two-game winning streak ended Wednesday at home vs. Portland, 102-95. The Heat were outscored by 16 in the fourth. Reserve Wayne Ellington sank seven 3-pointers and scored a season-high 24 points for Miami. Hassan Whiteside was out again (knee), while Justise Winslow left the game in the first half with a left knee strain and Tyler Johnson sat due to a migraine. Charlotte lost by 12 in Houston on Wednesday despite 26 points, 18 rebounds and three blocks by Dwight Howard against one of his former teams. Charlotte lost in Miami on Dec. 1, 105-100. Josh Richardson scored a career-high 27 points for the winners. The Heat went on a late 9-0 run to pull away. The Hornets were 5-for-20 from 3-point range, while the Heat were 14 for 35.
Key trends: The favorite is 5-1 against the spread in the past six meetings. The "over/under" has gone under in eight of the past 10.
Early lean: Hornets and under.
Pistons at Pacers (-5, 209.5)
Nothing worse than a road back-to-back, and Detroit was in Atlanta on Thursday. Indiana had its four-game winning streak snapped Wednesday, 100-95 at home vs. Oklahoma City in Paul George's return. The Pacers were down 11 with five minutes left and got within two but never tied it. Victor Oladipo led Indiana with 19 points. On the bright side, the franchise learned it would host the 2021 All-Star Game. The Pistons and Pacers have split two meetings, each winning at home by at least seven.
Key trends: The Pistons are 0-6 ATS in their past six in Indiana. The under is 4-1 in the Pacers' past five on Friday.
Early lean: Pacers and under.
Trail Blazers at Magic (TBA)
The Blazers ended a five-game losing streak and rallied from a 16-point second-half deficit to win 102-95 in Miami on Wednesday. Damian Lillard scored seven of his 18 points in the final 3:16. CJ McCollum scored 28 points. Jusuf Nurkic was out again for the Blazers. The Magic dropped their third straight Wednesday, 106-95 vs. the Clippers. Jonathon Simmons scored 20 points for the Magic, who have lost 14 of 17. Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier and Arron Afflalo were all out injured. Portland defeated visiting Orlando, 99-94 on Nov. 15. Lillard led the Trail Blazers with 26 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists while Fournier had 22 points to lead six Magic players in double figures. The Blazers have won three of the past four overall in the series.
Key trends: The Magic are 0-5 ATS in their past five. The under is 4-1 in the past five meetings.
Early lean: Wait on all those Orlando guys (and Nurkic).
Thunder at 76ers (-3, 211.5)
First ESPN game. This one should be fun as we get our first look at Russell Westbrook and Ben Simmons facing off. They are a lot alike (triple-doubles!) but also very different. OKC won in George's return to Indiana on Wednesday, 100-95 as Westbrook had his ninth triple-double of the season -- 10 points, 17 rebounds and 12 assists. George was just 3-for-14 from the field. Philly ended a four-game slide with a 118-112 OT win in Minnesota on Tuesday. Joel Embiid had 28 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists after missing the previous two games. Simmons struggled with seven points, eight assists and seven turnovers.
Key trends: The Thunder are 0-6 ATS in their past six after a win. The under is 5-2 in Philly's past seven overall.
Early lean: Sixers and under.
Clippers at Wizards (-9, 211)
The Clippers started a four-game road trip with a third straight win, 106-95 at the short-handed Magic on Wednesday. Lou Williams had 31 points, and DeAndre Jordan 16 points and 20 boards. Danilo Gallinari was out with an injury and Austin Rivers left with a possible concussion. The Wizards welcomed John Wall back Wednesday and ended a two-game losing streak with a 93-87 win over putrid Memphis. Wall had 13 points and four assists in 28 minutes. Markieff Morris sat out with a sore hip. L.A. won its 10 th straight at home vs. Washington last Saturday, 113-112, on a last-second Williams 3-pointer. The Wizards got hosed a bit by the referees when they got off a final shot.
Key trends: The home team is 5-2 ATS in the past seven meetings. The over is 4-0 in the previous four.
Early lean: Wizards and over.
Jazz at Celtics (-6.5, 198.5)
Alas, no Gordon Hayward vs. his former team for the first time. Of course, the former Jazz All-Star signed with Boston this offseason but broke his ankle in opening night. Utah dropped its fourth straight Wednesday, 103-100 in Chicago. Rising rookie Donovan Mitchell led Utah with 32 points on 15-for-26 shooting, while Rodney Hood returned from a seven-game absence and chipped in with 15 points. Boston beat Denver 124-118 on Wednesday as Kyrie Irving returned from a brief injury absence with 33 points and seven assists. The 124 points were a season-high for Boston, which shot a season-high 60 percent from the field. The Celtics swept the Jazz last year.
Key trends: The Jazz have failed to cover their past eight in Boston. The over is 8-2 in the Celtics' past 10 following a win.
Early lean: Celtics and over.
Nets at Raptors (-11.5, 219)
Brooklyn hosted the Knicks on Thursday with Allen Crabbe questionable. The Raptors ended a four-game trip at 3-1 with a 115-109 win in Phoenix on Wednesday. DeMar DeRozan tied a season high with 37 points. Serge Ibaka had 21 points and 13 rebounds, and Jonas Valanciunas added 20 points and 11 rebounds for the Raptors, whose 18-8 start is the second-best in franchise history. It's the first meeting between these teams. Toronto has won the past eight, including four in a row at home.
Key trends: The favorite is 4-1 ATS in the past five meetings. The over is 5-2 in the Raptors' past seven.
Early lean: Raptors and over.
Hawks at Grizzlies (TBA)
Atlanta was home to Detroit on Thursday. The Grizzlies have fallen off the planet without injured point guard Mike Conley. They have one victory in their past 17 following a 93-87 loss in Washington on Wednesday. Andrew Harrison led Memphis with 20 points, while JaMychal Green had 15 points and 15 rebounds. Tyreke Evans, who has been playing great starting for Conley (but the bench sucks without Evans), was out with right hip soreness. These teams split last year, each winning on the road. Memphis has dropped three straight at home vs. Atlanta.
Key trends: The Grizzlies are 2-10 ATS in their past 12 at home. The under is 6-1 in the past seven meetings.
Early lean: Grizzlies get rare win.
Bulls at Bucks (-9, 203.5)
Chicago is on the most unlikely four-game winning streak of the season after a 103-100 win over Utah on Wednesday. Nikola Mirotic has gone nuts since his return from injury and had 29 points - this is a good problem for the Bulls to have as Mirotic is building up trade value. The Bucks' three-game winning streak ended Wednesday, 115-108 in New Orleans. Giannis Antetokounmpo had 32 points and nine rebounds. First meeting of the season between the neighbors. The Bucks won the 2016-17 season series over the Bulls, 3-1. Milwaukee won each game by an average of 19.
Key trends: The road team is 4-1 ATS in the past five meetings. The under is 7-3 in the previous 10 in Beer Town.
Early lean: Bucks and under.
Pelicans at Nuggets (TBA)
The Pelicans beat the Bucks on Wednesday, 115-108. DeMarcus Cousins had 26 points and 13 rebounds, while Anthony Davis returned from injury and had 25 points and 10 rebounds. The Pels were 13-for-25 from long range. The Nuggets lost by six in Boston on Wednesday to conclude a six-game trip. Gary Harris led the Nuggets with a career-high 36 points and six assists. Jamal Murray added 28 points and 10 assists. Nikola Jokic sat a seventh straight game (ankle). New Orleans and Denver have split two high-scoring games thus far, the road losing side in each finishing with 114 points.
Key trends: The underdog is 7-3 in the past 10 meetings. The over is 7-3 in those.
Early lean: Wait on Jokic.
Spurs at Rockets (-6.5, 212)
Second ESPN game and first meeting of the season between these powerhouses. Kawhi Leonard against Harden? Yes please. San Antonio won three of the four meetings last season and has won its past three in Houston. The Spurs lost in Leonard's season debut Tuesday, 95-89 in Dallas. He had 13 points in 16 minutes as the team is keeping him on a minutes restriction for a little while. The Rockets won their 11th in a row Wednesday, 108-96 over Charlotte. Chris Paul scored a season-high 31 points and Harden added 21. Luc Mbah a Moute injured his left shoulder just before halftime and didn't return.
Key trends: The Spurs are 5-1 ATS in their past six in Houston. The under is 6-1 in the past seven there.
Early lean: Rockets and over.
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