Free NBA Picks: Wednesday, April 26, 2017, Opening Line Report and Handicapping
by Alan Matthews - 4/25/2017
Barring a major injury to Kevin Durant or Steph Curry, the Golden State Warriors are going to be the Western Conference favorites for the foreseeable future. However, I believe the Portland Trail Blazers could take a really big step forward next year. Yes, they were swept out of the playoffs on Monday in a big way by the Warriors but have a bright future. At least 25 other teams would take Portland's starting backcourt of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum over their own. Center Jusuf Nurkic looks like he was a steal from Denver in that midseason trade. Not only that, the Blazers also got a first-round pick in 2017 in that deal. Now Portland has three first-rounders - it didn't have any last year -- in what is expected to be a great draft: their own, Memphis' pick via Denver and Cleveland's. True, none of those will be in the lottery (15th, 20th and 26th), but Portland could perhaps package them to move up and get an impact player or for a current good NBA player. With the Spurs aging and Clippers potentially being broken up, the Blazers could be the second-best team in the West very soon if things break right. Because Portland was eliminated Monday, there are just two Game 5s on Wednesday.
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Game 5: Hawks at Wizards (-5.5, 211.5)
All tied at 2. It's an early start time of 6 p.m. ET on TNT - arena might be half empty for the first quarter with people trying to get there in rush hour traffic in D.C. I honestly don't know what to make of the Wizards, and listening to the NBA experts I'm not alone. At times, I think they can beat the Cleveland Cavaliers, who would be the next opponent. The Wizards looked capable of that in winning the first two games of this series. However, then they were largely dominated in the two games in Atlanta. It was a 111-101 loss on Monday in Game 4. Bradley Beal bounced back from a horrible Game 3 with 32 points and John Wall added 22 points and 10 assists. Yet again, however, they got little scoring help. Starting center Marcin Gortat played 35 minutes and had two more points than I did (although he did pull down 18 rebounds). The Washington bench is putrid outside of Bojan Bogdanovic, and he has been largely subpar in this series.
The Hawks made it a priority to get to the rim in Game 4 and it worked. The Hawks had 40 drivers to the basket and scored 36 points off those. By comparison, the Wizards had 16 drives for only 15 points. The team that has outscored their opponent in points in the paint has won three of the four games in this series. Atlanta had seven players score in double figures Monday. Dwight Howard showed up with 16 points and 15 rebounds, while Paul Millsap was terrific as usual with 19 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. Kent Bazemore and Jose Calderon were both good off the bench. This looks like one of those series where the home team will win every game.
Key trends: The Hawks are 1-4 against the spread in their past five on the road. The home team is 4-0 ATS in the past four meetings. The "over/under" is 7-3 in Washington's past 10 at home.
Early lean: Wizards and over.
Game 5: Bulls at Celtics ( -8, 202)
Tip at 8:30 p.m. ET on TNT. All tied at 2 as the road team has won (and covered) all four in this series. It's just the fourth time that has happened under the current playoff format (since 1984). The previous three times all involved the Houston Rockets, last in 2005 when they won Games 1-2 in Dallas but dropped 3-4 at home and would lose the series. The tenor of this series completely changed last Friday morning when the Bulls dropped a bombshell that no one saw coming: Rajon Rondo had suffered a broken thumb in Game 2. I watched that entire game and I certainly saw no evidence of it. He was nearly averaging a triple-double through two games and was the biggest reason the Bulls jumped out to a 2-0 lead. Rondo might be back for Game 6. Coach Fred Hoiberg now simply has no point guard he trusts, throwing the likes of Jerian Grant, Michael Carter-Williams and Isaiah Canaan out there. The latter can at least shoot the ball and he will start this one after playing 34 minutes off the bench in the 104-95 Game 4 loss. The Bulls' net efficiency (net points per 100 possessions) with Rondo on the floor this postseason is a +14.5. Without him on the floor, it's a -9.9. With Grant on the floor it's -30.
After Game 4, Hoiberg criticized the officials for not calling Celtics star Isaiah Thomas for carrying the ball whenever he dribbles; if you watch IT, Hoiberg does have a point as Thomas appears to palm it every time, but there's simply no chance the officials do anything about it. Guys do this all the time. Meanwhile, some Boston backers were criticizing Brad Stevens after the first two games, but he made a smart change in benching big man Amir Johnson - the Celtics were getting outrebounded in a big way regardless - and going with a small starting five by replacing him with Gerald Green, who can hit 3-pointers and spread the court. Green was great in Game 4 with 18 points and seven rebounds in 23 minutes. Johnson didn't even play.
Key trends: The Bulls are 8-2 ATS in their past 10 on the road. The Celtics are 1-8 ATS in their past nine at home. The under is 6-2 in the previous eight meetings.
Early lean : Bulls and under.
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