Free NBA Picks: Friday, April 27, 2018, Opening Line Report and Handicapping
NBA free agency doesn't start until this summer, but one of the biggest free agents is now on the market. It's not a player but Coach Mike Budenholzer, formerly of the Atlanta Hawks. It's well-known that a few teams were interested in hiring Budenholzer but would have had to give the Hawks some sort of compensation. For whatever reason, the Hawks decided to simply let him go - the official line is the sides mutually agreed to part ways. Budenholzer surely didn't want to stick around for what likely will be a long rebuild in Atlanta. The 2014-15 NBA Coach of the Year already had talked with the Suns about their opening, but Budenholzer reportedly decided no thanks. He'll be linked to the Knicks and Bucks jobs. One team I wouldn't rule out: the Spurs. Budenholzer was Gregg Popovich's long-time assistant, and perhaps Pops doesn't want to coach any longer in the wake of his wife's death and that whole Kawhi Leonard mess. Here's a look at Friday's Game 6s.
Raptors at Wizards ( -2, 214.5)
A 7 p.m. ET tip on ESPNEWS - that's almost embarrassing this was relegated to that channel. The home team has won and covered all five in this series; Washington actually had the worst overall home W/L record among the 16 playoff teams during the regular season. Toronto won Game 5 on Wednesday, 108-98. The Raptors are now averaging 117.3 points per game in the three at home this series and 100.5 in the two in D.C. DeMar DeRozan had 32 points on Wednesday and Kyle Lowry 17 points and 10 assists. This series has been pretty easy to figure out: Whichever team's backcourt plays better wins.
However, arguably the biggest difference Wednesday for Toronto was Jonas Valanciunas playing in the fourth quarter for the first time this series and coming up with some key defensive plays - he finished with 14 points and 13 rebounds - and backup point guard Delon Wright making big play after big play down the stretch. He had 18 points, five rebounds and five assists. The Raptors' strength during the season was their bench, but that has been weakened by the absence of Fred VanVleet, who is dealing with a separated shoulder. He's not likely for Game 6. Meanwhile, the Wizards, who led midway through the fourth, kept jacking up forced three-pointers. They finished just 5-for-26 from deep. You don't beat any team that way.
Key trends: The Raptors are 1-7 against the spread in their past eight on the road. The Wiz are 5-1 ATS in their past six at home. The "over/under" is 4-1 in Toronto's past five after a win. The under is 10-4 in Washington's previous 14 playing on one day of rest.
Early lean: Wizards and under.
Cavaliers at Pacers (-1, 204)
It's an 8 p.m. ET start on ESPN. Look, you are never going to hear me say that LeBron James is better than Michael Jordan; remember, MJ not only never lost in his six trips to the Finals, he never allowed another team to force a Game 7. That said, LeBron is clearly making a case for No. 2 all-time. He was absolutely spectacular in Wednesday's 98-95 win over the Pacers as Cleveland became the first team to win consecutive games in this series. James blocked a Victor Oladipo layup attempt with 3.3 seconds left - I do think it was goaltending, as did all the Pacers - and then hit the buzzer-beating three-pointer for the win. He is the only player in the last 20 postseasons with a blocked shot and a go-ahead shot in the last five seconds of a game.
LeBron finished with 44 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. The Cavaliers had 89 offensive plays when LeBron was on the court, and he touched the ball on 80 of those. I know this isn't high school, but why don't teams simply double LeBron every time he gets the ball? Oladipo had a great season, but he has been terrible the past few games, shooting just 2-for-15 on Wednesday. Domantas Sabonis had a terrific game off the bench with 22 points. But Indiana goes as Oladipo goes.
Key trends: The Cavs are 1-4 ATS in their past five after a win. The Pacers have covered seven straight following a loss. The under is 6-0 in the Cavs' past six and 10-2 in 12 of Indiana's previous 12 at home.
Early lean: Pacers and under.
Thunder at Jazz (-6, 206)
It's a 10:30 p.m. ET start on ESPN. I thought OKC would force a Game 6 but had changed my tune when it was down 25 early in the third quarter Wednesday vs. Utah. Then Russell Westbrook showed us why he can be an all-time talent. Mr. Triple-Double tied his career playoff high for a quarter with 20 points in the third as the Thunder outscored the Jazz 32-7 in the final 8:30 of that quarter to tie it entering the fourth. OKC shot 11-for-15 in that run and Utah 2-for-12. Cool statistic: It his was the 2,556th time over the last 20 seasons, regular season and playoffs, that a team trailed by 25 or more points at some point in the third quarter. It became the first time that team was not trailing entering the fourth.
Westbrook finished with 45 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists. He's only the third player with a 45/15/5 line in a playoff game, joining LeBron (2012) and Wilt Chamberlain (1964). Paul George also was great with 34 points. Still, I'm worried as a Thunder backer because Carmelo Anthony (seven points) sucked again and the bench was terrible per usual. Jae Crowder led Utah with 27 points off the bench and Donovan Mitchell had 23 but was only 1-for-7 from deep. The Jazz got a bit 3-point happy, attempting 38 of them and making only 13.
Key trends: The Thunder are 1-4 ATS in their past five following an ATS win. The Jazz are 4-0 ATS in their past four at home. The under is 8-2 in the past 10 meetings in Utah.
Early lean: Thunder (I do think Jazz win but would love a Game 7) and under.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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