Free NBA Picks: Friday, Dec. 22, 2017, Opening Line Report and Handicapping
I was in the camp that Chris Paul was vastly overrated but might be slightly changing my mind. Great player, no question, one of the best point guards of his generation. But he reportedly is a total a**hole as a teammate (then again, so was MJ), and how good can someone be when you have never led a team to even the conference finals!?! In fact, Paul has played 76 career playoff games, the most by any player ever without a conference finals appearance. (One of his Clippers teams should have gotten there but absolutely gagged in the 2015 West semis vs. Houston). I believe, barring injury, that will change next May. Paul's Rockets are arguably the NBA's best team right now and should finish no worse than second in the West, meaning they would avoid the Golden State Warriors until the West Finals.
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I was expecting things to be a bit personal for Paul on Friday night as his Rockets host his former Clippers team for the first time since this summer's big trade. That ended up being a total heist for Houston, although the Clippers couldn't have known that Patrick Beverley would suffer a season-ending injury. Paul got off a few shots at Coach Doc Rivers (and son Austin) on his way out of town, so it was set to be clearly the marquee matchup of the night. Alas, not only did Houston's 14-game winning streak end Wednesday, but Paul got hurt and now he's not playing Friday. Bummer.
Knicks at Pistons (TBA)
New York hosted Boston on Thursday. Kristaps Porzingis expected to play after missing the previous two with a knee injury, but I'd be stunned if he plays both ends of a back-to-back. Detroit's three-game winning streak ended in a 110-93 loss in Dallas on Wednesday. In the middle two quarters, the Pistons were outscored by 26 points. Andre Drummond battled foul trouble. The Pistons snapped a four-game losing streak to New York with their 111-107 win on Oct. 21. Tobias Harris led the Pistons with a season-high 31, while Porzingis had 33 for the Knicks.
Key trends: The home team is 7-1 against the spread in the past eight meetings. The "over/under" has gone under in eight of the past 11 in Detroit.
Early lean: Wait on Zinger.
Pelicans at Magic (TBA)
New Orleans dropped a second straight Tuesday, 116-106 in Washington. Anthony Davis scored 37 points, and DeMarcus Cousins finished with 26 points and 13 rebounds. After New Orleans tied it at 61 early in the third quarter, Washington pulled away with a 24-5 run. The injury-riddled Magic lost a sixth in a row Wednesday in Chicago, 112-94. Leading scorers Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon were among those out again. The Magic have won five of the past six in this series, including 115-99 in the Big Easy on Oct. 30. Fournier, Jonathon Simmons and Nikola Vucevic each had 20 for Orlando. Davis scored a game-high 39 points and added 10 rebounds to lead the Pelicans.
Key trends: The Magic are 1-7 ATS in their past eight. The over is 9-0 in the Pelicans' past nine after a loss.
Early lean: Wait on the Magic guys.
Wizards at Nets (TBA)
Washington concluded a four-game homestand at 3-1 following a 116-106 win over New Orleans on Tuesday. Bradley Beal scored 14 of his 26 points in the third quarter when the Wiz blew it open by outscoring the Pels 32-15. Beal did tweak his ankle, so monitor that. Marcin Gortat had 10 points, 14 rebounds and three blocked shots. Otto Porter sat out for the second straight game with a bruised right hip. Brooklyn dropped a fourth straight Wednesday, 104-99 vs. the Kings. The Nets shot just 38.6 percent. Brooklyn won the first meeting vs. Washington, 103-98 on Dec. 12 at home after being swept last year. Allen Crabbe's 3-pointer with 43.8 seconds left put the Nets up 100-98. John Wall was out for the Wiz.
Key trends: The favorite is 8-3 ATS in the past 11 meetings. The over is 4-1 in the previous five in Brooklyn.
Early lean: Wait on Beal.
Mavericks at Heat (TBA)
Dallas ended a three-game losing streak with a 110-93 win over Detroit on Wednesday. Rookie Dennis Smith Jr. returned after a six-game absence with 15 points and five assists. The Mavs took control with a 43-point second quarter in which they were 15-for-19 from the field. Miami got a surprising 90-89 win in Boston on Wednesday. Former Celtic Kelly Olynyk had a career-high 32 points. It was the second consecutive game in which the Heat were missing six players due to injuries. Dallas and Miami split the 2016-17 season series, with the home team holding serve. The Mavs have dropped past two in South Florida.
Key trends: The Mavericks have failed to cover eight straight on Friday. The under is 6-0 in the past six meetings.
Early lean: Wait on all the Heat guys.
Clippers at Rockets (TBA)
First ESPN game. The Clippers' three-game losing streak ended in a 108-95 win over Phoenix on Wednesday. L.A. never trailed despite starting some guys named C.J. Williams and Jamil Wilson. Due to injuries. We have now learned that injury-plagued forward Danilo Gallinari will be out another six weeks at least with a partial tear of his left glute muscle. Houston was a 15-point home favorite vs. the Lakers on Wednesday and lost 122-116 despite 51 points from James Harden. Paul left early in the fourth quarter with his issue and had just eight points. He's not playing Friday but is being called day-to-day. Clint Capela missed the game with a bruised left foot and is expected to sit at least one more out. The Rockets won three of four last year vs. the Clips, taking the season series for the first time since 2010-11. Harden averaged 23.3 ppg and his team averaged 119.3 ppg.
Key trends: The Clippers are 1-4 ATS in their past five in Houston. The over is 5-2 in the previous seven there.
Early lean: Rockets will win regardless.
Hornets at Bucks (-5.5, 210)
Charlotte lost to visiting Toronto on Wednesday, 129-111, despite a career-high 32 points from reserve Jeremy Lamb. The Hornets led by four after one but were outscored 41-21 in the second. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist suffered a right shoulder strain on a collision at the basket in the third quarter and did not return. Milwaukee beat Cleveland on Wednesday, 119-116, to end a three-game losing streak. Giannis Antetokounmpo led the Bucks with 27 points. Eric Bledsoe, who wasn't a Buck in the first two games vs. the Cavs this year, both Milwaukee losses, added 26 points. The Hornets and Bucks have split two games this year, each winning at home. Charlotte has dropped its past two in Beer Town.
Key trends: The favorite is 6-1 ATS in the past seven meetings. The over has hit in 11 of Milwaukee's past 13 overall.
Early lean: Bucks and over.
Hawks at Thunder (-10, 203.5)
Atlanta lost 105-95 at home to Indiana on Wednesday as it tried to win consecutive games for the first time this season. The five Hawks starters totaled just 49 points led by Kent Bazemore's 13. OKC crushed Utah on Wednesday, 107-79. After being outscored in the third quarter in 14 of their previous 16 games, the Thunder outscored the Jazz 34-23. Russell Westbrook had 24 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists and four steals. Steven Adams returned from a two-game absence and had 11 points and nine rebounds. These teams split two very close games in 2016, each winning on the road.
Key trends: The Thunder are 0-7 ATS in their past seven vs. teams with a losing record. The under is 4-1 in OKC's previous five at home.
Early lean: Hawks and under.
Nuggets at Trail Blazers (TBA)
Denver dropped a second straight Wednesday, 112-104 at home to Minnesota. The Nuggets were outscored by 12 in the fourth. Jamal Murray led Denver with 30 points, while Nikola Jokic had 22 points, six rebounds and a career-high 10 turnovers. Leading scorer Gary Harris sat with a minor injury. Portland was edged 93-91 at home by San Antonio on Wednesday. The Blazers are the only NBA team with a winning overall record but a losing mark at home and have dropped their past five there. The Trail Blazers have won 15 of their last 17 games against the Nuggets. On Nov. 13, it was 99-82. Jusuf Nurkic is averaging 25.0 points (63 percent shooting), 10.0 rebounds and 1.50 blocks in two games against the Nuggets since being acquired by Portland from Denver last season.
Key trends: The favorite is 4-1 in the past five meetings. The over is 8-2 in the previous 10.
Early lean: Wait on Harris.
Lakers at Warriors (TBA)
Second ESPN game. The Lakers stunned the Rockets in Houston on Wednesday, 122-116 to stop a three-game losing streak. Kyle Kuzma continues to be the steal of the 2017 draft as he scored a career-high 38 points. Lonzo Ball had 16 points and nine rebounds. Golden State won its 10th straight Wednesday, 97-84 over Memphis. Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant combined for 51 points with Steph Curry and Draymond Green out again. Curry already has been ruled out for the big Christmas game vs. Cleveland. Also out for the Warriors were Andre Iguodala (flu-like symptoms), Shaun Livingston (sore right knee) and Zaza Pachulia (left shoulder soreness). L.A. has played about as well as possible this year against the Warriors in losing twice in overtime. Those were both at home, however, including Monday night. The Dubs have taken the past nine in Oakland.
Key trends: The home team is 7-1 ATS in the past eight meetings. The over is 4-0 in L.A.'s past four overall.
Early lean: Wait on those non-Curry Warriors.
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