Free NBA Picks: Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017, Opening Line Report and Handicapping
There doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to when the various Doc's-affiliated sportsbooks put up NBA MVP futures, but you generally can find them once a week or so. I mention this because the last time I saw the futures, the slight betting favorite was Houston's James Harden over Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo. They might be the two most unique players in the NBA, and they also happen to rank 1-2 in scoring. The two can only meet twice this season - maybe the Rockets can reach the NBA Finals, but the Bucks aren't quite good enough to win the East yet - and one of those times is Saturday night. Neither guy can be guarded; Harden has that unstoppable Eurostep, while the Freak simply is one. I pray they try to guard each other at times. It's also a pretty darn good matchup of two of the better point guards in the NBA in new Buck Eric Bledsoe and the Rockets' Chris Paul. The former looked like the future at the position with the Clippers until they traded for Paul before the 2011-12 season. Bledsoe backed up Paul for two years before heading to Phoenix. I'll be watching Bucks-Rockets on Saturday night instead of the Camellia Bowl, I can tell you that!
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Trail Blazers at Hornets (TBA)
Portland was in Orlando on Friday with Jusuf Nurkic upgraded to questionable. Charlotte hosted Miami - so advantage Hornets that they didn't have to travel. Portland has won 12 of the past 16 in this series, but the four losses were all in Charlotte, including last year. Damian Lillard averaged 24.0 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.0 assists against the Hornets last season. Former Trail Blazer Nicolas Batum averaged 17.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 6.5 assists against Portland.
Key trends: The home team is 4-0 against the spread in the past four meetings. The "over/under" is 20-8 in Charlotte's past 28 in the second of a back-to-back.
Early lean: Hornets whether Nurkic plays or not.
Jazz at Cavaliers (-8.5, 209)
Utah was in Boston on Friday - Joe Johnson was set to play for the first time since Oct. 30 due to a wrist injury -- so this is about the toughest Eastern Conference back-to-back possible. The Cavs won a third straight Thursday, 121-112 over the Lakers. LeBron James finished with 25 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists to move into a tie with Larry Bird for sixth place on the career triple-doubles list with 59. Forward Tristan Thompson was a late scratch after he experienced soreness in his left calf while warming up. He had just returned Tuesday from a long injury absence. Utah and Cleveland split last season's series - the Cavs have won their past five at home against the Jazz. Rudy Gobert averaged 15.5 points, 16.5 rebounds and shot 75.0 percent from the field in the two games. LeBron averaged 31.0 points, 8.0 rebounds and 3.0 steals on 57.5 percent shooting.
Key trends: The home team is 5-1-1 ATS in the past seven meetings. The under is 5-2 in those.
Early lean: Cavs and under.
Thunder at Knicks (TBA)
NBA TV game. OKC could be running on fumes here as it had an emotional game in Indianapolis on Wednesday in Paul George's first game back there and then played the youthful 76ers in Philly on Friday night. Of course, this is the return of Carmelo Anthony to New York. That might have been my lead up top normally, but Anthony just isn't that good any longer. I think he'll be warmly welcomed as Melo didn't want to leave New York but was pushed out. The Knicks may not have Kristaps Porzingis as he left Thursday's 111-104 win over Brooklyn with a knee soreness - but at least it's not serious. You know the Unicorn wants to face Anthony! The Knicks haven't defeated the Thunder in a season series since the 2005-06 and won't this year as OKC beat New York 105-84 in the season opener. Anthony had 22 points against his former team. Porzingis led all Knicks scorers with 31 points and grabbed 12 rebounds.
Key trends: The Knicks are 7-1 ATS in their past eight vs. the West. The under is 6-2 in New York's previous eight at home.
Early lean: Wait on the Unicorn.
Clippers at Heat (-6.5, 206)
The Clippers were in Washington on Friday. Miami was in Charlotte. Many NBA experts thought Blake Griffin would leave L.A. this offseason in free agency and sign with Miami. He would have saved millions on taxes alone. Perhaps Griffin should have considering he can't stay healthy in L.A. The Clippers lost at home to Miami on Nov. 5, 104-101. The Heat blew a 25-point second-half lead but then hit a few late free throws to avoid disaster. Griffin missed a 3-point attempt with 3 seconds left and Josh Richardson hit two final three throws for Miami. Hassan Whiteside led the Heat with 21 points and 17 rebounds, but he's out injured now. Griffin had 23 points. L.A. has won its past three in Miami.
Key trends: The Clippers are 1-5 ATS in their past six in the second of a back-to-back. The under is 6-0 in the past six meetings.
Early lean: Heat and under.
Bucks at Rockets (-10.5, 219.5)
Milwaukee hosted Chicago on Friday and Houston was home to San Antonio. So let's hope neither the Freak nor Harden has to play heavy minutes or gets injured. Neither head coach is the type to rest his superstar in the second of a back-to-back. These teams split last year, each winning handily at home less than a week apart. Harden averaged 32.0 points and 10.0 assists but 6.5 turnovers. Antetokounmpo averaged 31.5 points, 9.0 rebound and 3.5 blocks. Houston has won the past four at home in the series.
Key trends: The home team is 5-0 ATS in the past five meetings. The under is 6-0 in Houston's past six in the second of a back-to-back.
Early lean: Bucks and under.
Suns at Timberwolves (-11, 217.5)
Phoenix dropped its fifth in a row Wednesday, 115-109 vs. Toronto. Troy Daniels led the Suns with a season-high 32 points on 11-for-16 shooting, including 7 of 10 on 3-pointers. Center Tyson Chandler was away for personal reasons. The Suns aren't good regardless but are terrible without injured guard Devin Booker (groin injury). Minnesota blew out the Kings on Thursday, 119-96 behind 30 points and 14 rebounds from Karl-Anthony Towns. He leads the NBA in double-doubles with 23. The Wolves and Suns have split two high-scoring meetings this season. Minnesota has won the past five at home vs. Phoenix.
Key trends: The Suns have covered just one of their past six in Minnesota. The over is 6-1 in the past seven there.
Early lean: Wolves and over.
Mavericks at Spurs (TBA)
San Antonio was in Houston on Friday. I highly doubt that Kawhi Leonard plays both ends of a back-to-back as he just made his season debut Tuesday. This is one of those scenarios where the NBA is asking teams to rest their stars at home instead of on the road since obviously home fans have 41 chances to see them. I doubt Gregg Popovich cares what the NBA wants. I'm sure Kawhi won't be the only guy sitting out one of the games. Dallas lost at Golden State on Thursday, 112-97. Dirk Nowitzki had 18 points and nine rebounds. Believe it or not, this is already the final meeting of the season for the Mavericks and Spurs. San Antonio leads 2-1 but lost 95-89 at home Tuesday.
Key trends: The Mavs are 6-1 ATS in the past seven meetings. The under is 8-2 in Dallas' past 10 vs. the West.
Early lean: Wait on Pop's DNP-CDs.
Celtics at Grizzlies (TBA)
Memphis was home to Atlanta on Friday with Tyreke Evans questionable (right hip), and Boston hosted Utah. Both teams could thus rest a key player or two here - i.e. Marc Gasol for Memphis and Kyrie Irving for Boston. The Celtics and Grizzlies played one week apart last season and Boston won both, averaging 112.5 points per game.
Key trends: The home team is 5-1 ATS in the past six meetings. The over is 7-2 in Boston's past nine on the road.
Early lean: Wait on the possible guys sitting out.
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