Free NBA Picks: Saturday, Dec. 23, 2017, Opening Line Report and Handicapping
It's fairly easy to spot a trap game in the NFL because teams only play once a week, and when they come off facing an arch-rival in an emotional and physical contest you should always bet against them the next game. That's why at Doc's this week, I have recommended wagering against the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 16. It's not quite as easy to find potential trap games in the NBA with the night-to-night grind of an 82-game schedule, but I think there are a few on Saturday's busy schedule because some teams will be looking ahead to big-time matchups on Christmas. If there's one day of the regular season other than the opener where players get jacked up to play, it's on Dec. 25, the showcase day of the year. So I'm recommending wagering against any team that's playing Saturday then again on Christmas. There are more teams playing the second of a back-to-back on Saturday than usual with the NBA going dark on Christmas Eve.
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76ers at Raptors (TBA)
Philadelphia falls into the above category as it plays on Christmas for the first time in a generation. These teams played Thursday in Philly, and the 76ers lost for the eighth time in their past nine, 114-109. DeMar DeRozan had a career-high 45 points. Embiid sat out (team is 1-7 without him this year) and isn't expected here but is on Christmas. Meanwhile, Toronto won its 10th straight home game against Philadelphia on Oct. 21, a 128-94 blowout. DeRozan had 30 points in the Raptors' biggest-ever margin of victory in the series. Embiid sat that one out too. Ben Simmons had 18 points and 10 rebounds.
Key trends: The 76ers are 2-9 against the spread in the past 11 meetings. The "over/under" is 7-1 in the previous eight.
Early lean: Raptors will blow out Philly if indeed Embiid sits again.
Bucks at Hornets (Pick'em, 212)
It's the second of a home-and-home between these two as they were in Milwaukee on Friday night. It's also the final meeting of the season between them already. Charlotte beat the visiting Bucks on Nov. 1, 126-121. Kemba Walker had 26 points, and rookie Malik Monk scored 18 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter. That's the highlight of Monk's season as he barely plays these days. Giannis Antetokounmpo dealt with some foul trouble and was held to 14 points. Khris Middleton had 43.
Key trends: The Bucks are 6-1 ATS in their past seven in Charlotte. The under is 4-0 in the Hornets' past four at home.
Early lean: Whichever team loses Friday (rare to sweep these).
Nets at Pacers ( -9.5, 217)
Brooklyn hosted Washington on Friday. Indiana won in Atlanta on Wednesday, 105-95. Victor Oladipo had 23 points and his team had a season-low nine turnovers. The Pacers have won five straight and seven of the last eight home meetings against the Nets. Indiana's 140 points at home in the season opener against Brooklyn are the most the Pacers have scored against the Nets in the history of the series.
Key trends: The Nets are 0-5 ATS in the past five meetings. The over is 4-0 in the Pacers' past four on Saturday.
Early lean: Pacers and over.
Magic at Wizards (TBA)
Washington was in Brooklyn on Friday and could be looking ahead to a playoff rematch in Boston on Dec. 25. Orlando was home to New Orleans with leading scorers Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier expected out again. The Magic and Wizards split four meetings last season. Orlando has dropped 10 of its past 11 trips to D.C.
Key trends: The Magic are 2-5 ATS in the past seven meetings. The under is 9-2 in Washington's past 11 at home.
Early lean: Wait on all the Magic injured guys and whether the Wiz let Bradley Beal/and or John Wall play both ends of the back-to-back.
Mavericks at Hawks (TBA)
These are two of the NBA's biggest tankers and currently hold down last place in their respective conferences. The Mavs were in Miami on Friday, while Atlanta was in Oklahoma City. The Mavericks and Hawks opened the season against one another in Big D and Atlanta won 117-111. Dennis Schroder had 28 points in his team's eighth straight win in the series. Dallas rookie Dennis Smith Jr. had 16 points and 10 assists to become the youngest player in NBA history (19 years, 327 days) to record a point-assist double-double in his debut.
Key trends: The Mavs are 1-7 ATS in the past eight meetings. The under is 9-3 in the Hawks' past 12 in the second of a back-to-back.
Early lean: Hawks and under regardless.
Bulls at Celtics (TBA)
No question Boston might not be focused on this one with Washington in town on Dec. 25. Those two had a heated seven-game Eastern Conference semifinals series, although most Celtics from that team are now elsewhere. The Bulls' unlikely seven-game winning streak ended Thursday in Cleveland, 115-112. Rookie Lauri Markkanen had his best game in weeks with 25 points. The Celtics dropped a second straight Thursday, 102-93 at the Knicks. Kyrie Irving scored 32 points for the Celtics, who played without Jaylen Brown because of left Achilles tendon soreness. He's questionable for this one. Chicago routed Boston on Dec. 11, 108-85. Nikola Mirotic had 24 points and Bobby Portis 23. Irving was out injured.
Key trends: The Bulls are 1-4 ATS in the past five meetings. The over is 13-6 in the Celtics' past 19.
Early lean: Wait on Brown -- I like Bulls if getting double digits.
Pelicans at Heat (TBA)
Injury-ravaged Miami hosted Dallas on Friday, while New Orleans was in Orlando. Honestly, many coaches almost prefer their teams play the night before traveling to Miami, because if not the players will be hitting South Beach. Last season, these teams split with each winning at home. Miami is 12-5 all-time at home in this series.
Key trends: The Heat are 12-4 ATS in their past 16 in the second of a back-to-back. The under is 6-1 in Miami's past seven vs. the West.
Early lean: Wait on a few Heat injured guys.
Clippers at Grizzlies (-6, 197)
Things have changed quite a bit for these former playoff rivals. Now both are lottery-bound. The injury-ravaged Clips were in Houston on Friday and probably run out of the gym. Not sure they'll have much left in the tank. Memphis dropped a third in a row Thursday in Phoenix, 97-95. Tyreke Evans led Memphis with 23 points, and Marc Gasol added 13 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and three blocked shots. Evans' 26-footer at the buzzer missed. The Grizzlies beat the Clippers in the first meeting this year, 113-104 on Nov. 4. Mike Conley was still healthy then and had 22 points. Blake Griffin was too and had 30.
Key trends: The Clippers are 6-14 ATS in the past 20 meetings. The under is 5-1 in Memphis' past six.
Early lean: Grizzlies and under.
Thunder at Jazz (TBA)
OKC, on the second of a back-to-back after hosting Atlanta, is one of those Christmas teams as reigning NBA MVP Russell Westbrook gets his first shot at current MVP favorite James Harden of Houston this season on the holiday. Utah surprised visiting San Antonio on Thursday, 100-89, to end a three-game skid. Rodney Hood had 11 of his 29 points in the fourth. Good-looking rookie Donovan Mitchell was out with a minor injury. It's the final meeting between these teams this season. Utah won the first one very early and the Thunder the past two at home. All have been low scoring.
Key trends: The home team is 4-1 ATS in the past five meetings. The under has hit in seven straight meetings in Utah.
Early lean: Jazz and under regardless.
Nuggets at Warriors (TBA)
I'm sure the Dubs are looking ahead to Cleveland a bit on Christmas, although it has lost some luster with no Steph Curry. Golden State is also playing its second game in 24 hours after hosting the Lakers on Friday. Draymond Green was to return from injury in that one, although the team might not let him play both ends of a back-to-back. Denver was in Portland on Friday with leading scorer Gary Harris in question. The Warriors have won five straight at home in the series and also won in Denver on Nov. 4, 127-108. None of Denver's starters reached double figures in scoring. Curry was healthy then and had 22 points.
Key trends: The Nugs are 4-0 ATS in their past four in Oakland. The over is 4-0 in Denver's past four in the second of a back-to-back.
Early lean: Nuggets will get Dubs peeking ahead.
Timberwolves at Suns (+8, 213.5)
Minnesota plays in the late game on Christmas at the Lakers. The Wolves won a second straight Wednesday, 112-104 in Denver. Karl-Anthony Towns had 25 points and 10 rebounds, and Jimmy Butler had 25 points. Minnesota trailed by as many as 14 late in the third quarter. The Suns won for the third time in four games Thursday, 97-95 over Memphis. Troy Daniels hit the winning 3-pointer with 17.6 seconds left. T.J. Warren led the Suns with 27 points. Last meeting of the season between the Wolves and Suns. Phoenix leads 2-1 and won at home on Nov. 11, 118-110. Warren and Devin Booker (currently injured) scored 35 points apiece and combined for 17 points during a game-ending 21-7 run.
Key trends: The Wolves are 1-5 ATS in their past six at Phoenix. The under is 7-1 in the previous eight there.
Early lean: Suns and under.
Trail Blazers at Lakers (TBA)
Portland hosted Denver on Friday without Damian Lillard (hamstring) and L.A. was at Golden State. As noted above, L.A. has a holiday showcase upcoming vs. Minnesota. The Blazers beat the visiting Lakers in the first meeting, 113-110 on Nov. 2. Lillard hit a 3-pointer with 0.7 seconds left in Portland's 13th straight victory in the series. He had 32 points. Lonzo Ball had his worst game thus far with no points (only two shots), four assists and three rebounds in 28 minutes.
Key trends: The road team is 4-0 ATS in the past four meetings. The under is 5-0 in the previous five in L.A.
Early lean: Lakers if Lillard is out, as it appears he will be for a bit.
Spurs at Kings (+8.5, 195.5)
Surprised the Spurs aren't playing Dec. 25, but as good as they have been forever, they aren't much of a TV draw I suppose. The Spurs lost 100-89 in Utah on Thursday without Pau Gasol, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green. The former two aren't hurt, just resting, so should play here. The Kings completed a four-game trip at 2-2 following a 104-99 win in Brooklyn on Wednesday. The Kings had been 0-5 this season on the second night of a back-to-back. Zach Randolph became the 20th player in NBA history with 18,000 points and 10,000 rebounds, while rookie De'Aaron Fox sat with a bruised thigh. First meeting of the season between these teams. San Antonio swept last year, meaning Sacramento is looking for its first win ever against the Spurs in the year-old Golden 1 Center. The Kings haven't won a home game in the series since 2014 and have dropped 10 straight overall vs. San Antonio.
Key trends: The Spurs have covered just one of the past five meetings. The under is 5-1 in the Kings' past six.
Early lean: Kings and under.
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