Free NBA Picks: Friday, Dec. 29, 2017, Opening Line Report and Handicapping
The Los Angeles Clippers haven't received much good news thus far in the 2017-18 season, but some good news arrived Friday as All-Star power forward Blake Griffin could return sooner than expected from a sprain of his left medial collateral ligament. Griffin was originally hurt on Nov. 27 and was ruled out eight weeks - so he'll beat that timetable substantially. Griffin was off to a great start, averaging 23.6 points, 7.9 rebounds and 5.1 assists. I'm not sure the Clippers are a playoff team even if Griffin somehow manages to stay healthy the rest of the season as the club already has lost point guard Patrick Beverley for the season and had offseason acquisitions and projected starters Danilo Gallinari (still out) and Milos Teodosic miss significant time with their own injuries. The Clippers might give Griffin a month to see if he and DeAndre Jordan are good enough to make this a postseason team; if not, Jordan, in the last year of his contract (he's going to opt out), likely will be traded ahead of the deadline.
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Rockets at Wizards (TBA)
First NBA TV game and Houston might not have much left in the tank as it visited Boston on Thursday without both Chris Paul and Clint Capela. Neither surely will play here, either. Washington got caught in a bit of a letdown game Wednesday in losing 113-99 in Atlanta. Bradley Beal had 20 points for Washington, which was trying for its first three-game win streak since mid-November. The Wiz are 9-10 against teams with losing records. Houston swept the Wizards last year and has won the past four in D.C. James Harden averaged 27.5 points and 12.5 assists in the 2016-17 series. John Wall 19.5 points and 10.5 assists.
Key trends: The Rockets are 1-5 against the spread in their past six in the second of a back-to-back. The "over/under" has gone under in nine of Washington's past 12 at home.
Early lean: Books will wait for official word on the Houston duo. Love Washington here if they don't play. Wizards play to level of competition.
Hawks at Raptors (-11.5, 214.5)
The Hawks upset the Wizards 113-99 on Wednesday for their first back-to-back victories of the season. Dennis Schroder scored 21 points, and Ersan Ilyasova added 20. Atlanta has cleared Dewayne Dedmon to start basketball activities, but he's still a good 10-14 days from returning. Toronto dropped its second straight Wednesday, 124-107 in the second of a back-to-back in Oklahoma City. The Raptors were crushed on the boards and shot just 11-for-38 from long range. Toronto routed Atlanta in the first meeting this season, 112-78 on the road Nov. 25. Kyle Lowry had 15 points and a career-high 13 rebounds. Seven players finished in double figures for the Raptors. The Hawks were playing the second of a back-to-back.
Key trends: The home team is 5-2 ATS in the past seven meetings. The over is 13-4 in Toronto's previous 17 vs. teams with a losing record.
Early lean: Hawks and over.
Nets at Heat (-7.5, 208)
Brooklyn dropped a third consecutive Wednesday, 128-113 in New Orleans as the Nets fell to 5-12 on the road. Miami beat the horrid Magic on Tuesday, 107-89. The Heat outscored Orlando 39-21 in the fourth. Josh Richardson scored 14 of his 20 points in that quarter. Hassan Whiteside returned from an 11-game absence with a bone bruise in his left knee and played 18 minutes. Dion Waiters, James Johnson and Justise Winslow remained sidelined for Miami. You probably don't see them here. Miami won the first meeting with Brooklyn, 101-89 in Mexico City on Dec. 9. The Heat are on a six-game winning streak in the series.
Key trends: The Nets have covered just three of the past 17 meetings. The under has hit in five straight.
Early lean: Heat and under.
Pacers at Bulls ( -2, 212.5)
The Pacers were upset at home by Dallas on Wednesday, 98-94. Leading scorer Victor Oladipo was surprise scratch with a knee injury and already has been ruled out for this one. It's not thought to be serious, however. The Bulls keep non-tanking as they beat the Knicks, 92-87 on Wednesday in the second of a back-to-back. Kris Dunn has new life in the Windy City and had 17 points, five assists, five rebounds and two steals. Indiana leads the season series 2-0, one by blowout and the last, on Dec. 6 in Indianapolis, by two points. That loss dropped Chicago to 3-20; Nikola Mirotic debuted the next time out, and the team has been completely different.
Key trends: The favorite is 5-1 ATS in the past six meetings. The under is 6-1 in Chicago's previous seven vs. teams with a winning record.
Early lean: Bulls and under.
Mavericks at Pelicans (-7.5, 210.5)
Dallas won a second straight Wednesday, 98-94 in Indiana. Harrison Barnes made the tiebreaking free throw with 37.7 seconds left. It was only the Mavs' third road win of the year. This game will be the 14,000th career start in Dirk Nowitzki's Hall of Fame career. I couldn't find the all-time starts leader, but the games leaders is Robert Parish with 1,611. The Pelicans won their third blowout in a row Wednesday, 128-113 over the Nets. Rajon Rondo had a career-high 25 assists (two points) in just 30 minutes. He became the seventh player ever with at least 25 in a game and first since Jason Kidd in 1996. New Orleans won the first meeting this year vs. Dallas, 99-94 at home on Nov. 13 -- 10 of the last 13 regular-season matchups between the teams have been decided by single digits.
Key trends: The Mavs have covered just one of their past 11 on Friday. The over has hit in seven straight Pelicans home games.
Early lean: Pelicans and over.
Bucks at Thunder (-7, 207.5)
Matchup of the reigning MVP in Russell Westbrook and a future one, maybe this season, in Giannis Antetokounmpo. I hope the Freak plays here because his Bucks were home to Minnesota on Thursday. Oklahoma City won its sixth straight Wednesday, 124-107 over Toronto. Paul George tied a team record with seven 3-pointers made on the way to 33 points, and Russell Westbrook added 30 points, 13 assists and eight rebounds. OKC won the first meeting easily vs. Milwaukee, 110-91 on Halloween. Westbrook had 12 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. Antetokounmpo had 28 points but no other Buck had even 10.
Key trends: The Bucks have covered once in their past nine on Friday. The over is 4-0 in OKC's previous four vs. the East.
Early lean: Thunder and over.
Suns at Kings (-2.5, 208.5)
Phoenix welcomed back leading scorer Devin Booker on Tuesday and beat Memphis 99-97. With 0.6 seconds left, the Suns' Dragan Bender threw a perfect lob pass on an inbounds play to Tyson Chandler, who slammed it home. The pass might have gone in had Chandler not touched it, but then it wouldn't have counted. Officials reviewed the play for offensive goaltending. Booker had 32 points. The Kings upset Cleveland on Wednesday, 109-95. Vince Carter, who is like 82 years old, had a season-high 24 points on 83.3 percent from the field, the second-highest percentage of his Hall of Fame career. It was the first time in NBA history that a 40-plus-year-old reserve scored at least 20 points in a game. These teams have split two close meetings - the Kings have taken the past two at home.
Key trends: The Suns are 1-5 ATS in their past six in Sac-Town. The under is 6-2 in the previous eight meetings.
Early lean: Kings and under.
Hornets at Warriors (TBA)
The Hornets were beaten at home Wednesday, 102-91 by Boston. They were outscored by 10 in the fourth. Dwight Howard had 12 points and 17 rebounds. The Dubs avoided a letdown game Wednesday and beat Utah 126-101. A 42-22 third quarter blew it open. Draymond Green was just shy of a second straight triple-double as he finished with 14 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in three quarters. Steph Curry missed a 10th straight but apparently is getting fairly close. Charlotte has lost the past seven in the series, including 101-87 at home on Dec. 6, the first game Curry missed with his ankle injury. Kevin Durant had a triple-double of 35 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists.
Key trends: The Hornets have covered three of their past 17 on the road. The under is 4-0 in Golden State's past four vs. the East.
Early lean: TBA presumably on the off-chance Curry plays.
Clippers at Lakers (TBA)
The Clips have won three of four following a 122-95 victory over the Kings on Tuesday. Off the bench, Montrezl Harrell had 22 points and Lou Williams 21. The Clips blew it open by outscoring the Kings by 18 in the second. Forward Wesley Johnson (foot) sat out again but could join Griffin in returning Friday. The Lakers lost a fourth straight Wednesday, 109-99 at home to a bad Memphis team. Brandon Ingram scored 23 points in his return from injury, but the Lakers shot only 37.6 from the field. Lonzo Ball remains out. The Clippers are 2-0 vs. the Lakers this year (averaging 114 ppg) and have taken five straight overall in the series and 20 of the past 22.
Key trends: The Clips are 4-1 ATS in the past five meetings. The under is 10-3 in the previous 13.
Early lean: TBA waiting on Griffin.
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