Free NBA Picks: Friday, March 23, 2018, Opening Line Report and Handicapping
The NBA has always been a superstar league, and it probably always will be. If you don't have at least one of them, you aren't winning a title. But what if you are a middling franchise that has never won a championship and probably won't ever lure a superstar through free agency? I ask because the Los Angeles Clippers visit the Indiana Pacers on Friday. Might other general managers see the success these two franchises are having, relatively speaking, after trading superstars Blake Griffin and Paul George, respectively, and change their thinking? Oh, teams like the Lakers and Heat and Knicks and Warriors and whatever other marquee franchise you want to name will always chase the biggest stars. But someone like a Kawhi Leonard or Jimmy Butler isn't going to go sign with the Clippers (at least until they have sustained success and get their own building to get out of the Lakers' shadow in L.A.) or Pacers (sorry, no young, rich athlete WANTS to live in Indianapolis). I believe the Clips and Pacers both "won" those trades and will be better off in the long run because of them. Title contenders? Probably not, but perennial playoff teams - although L.A. might miss this year due to so many injuries. Sometimes, that's all certain franchises can ask for.
Clippers at Pacers ( -4, 221.5)
The Clippers snapped a four-game losing streak with a 127-120 win in Milwaukee on Wednesday - a win that likely doesn't happen if Giannis Antetokounmpo doesn't leave in the second quarter with a sprained ankle. DeAndre Jordan had 25 points and 22 rebounds. Indiana was forced to play a makeup game in New Orleans on Wednesday and lost it, 96-92. The Pacers shot just 36.6 percent and are now 1-5 this season when scoring 92 or fewer. Somehow, it's the first meeting of the season between the two, with Indiana headed to L.A. on April 1. Indiana swept the regular season series last season by an average of 15 points.
Key trends: The Clippers are 1-5 against the spread in their past six after a win. The "over/under" has gone under in six straight Pacers home games.
Early lean: Pacers and under.
Nuggets at Wizards (-2, 220)
First of a NBA TV doubleheader. Denver lost the first two of a seven-game trip but visited the tanking Bulls on Wednesday and blasted them 135-102. Nikola Jokic had 21 points, seven rebounds and five assists fittingly on "Serbian Heritage Night" at the United Center. He was the most popular player on the floor. Denver shot 61.4 percent and led by as many as 46. Gary Harris (strained knee) sat again and won't play here. The Wizards had a two-game winning streak snapped in a 98-90 loss in San Antonio on Wednesday. Bradley Beal and Kelly Oubre Jr. each had 21 points to lead the Wizards. Mike Scott and Jodie Meeks both missed the game because of illness. Denver has dropped the past three in the series, including 109-104 at home on Oct. 23. There was a hubbub about whether Jokic purposely bumped Wizards coach Scott Brooks late in the game; Jokic did get a technical.
Key trends: The Nuggets are 1-5 ATS in their past six vs. teams with a winning record. The over is 12-4-1 in the Wizards' previous 17 after a loss.
Early lean: Wizards and under.
Suns at Cavaliers (TBA)
The Suns are about to embark on another double-digit losing streak as they dropped a ninth in a row Tuesday, 115-88 vs. Detroit. Devin Booker missed his second straight game with a right hand sprain and T.J. Warren was out with left knee inflammation. No reason to rush them back. The Cavs had their most impressive win in a while Wednesday and their third straight victory overall, 132-129 over Toronto. LeBron James had a historic night with 35 points, 17 assists and zero turnovers. Since individual turnovers were first tracked in the 1977-78 season, James is the first player with at least 35 points, 15 assists, and zero turnovers in a game, regular season or playoffs. Cleveland has won six straight in this series, including 129-107 on March 13. The Cavs never trailed, and LeBron had a triple-double.
Key trends: The Cavs are 5-23 ATS in their past 28 at home vs. teams with a losing road record. The under is 7-3 in the Suns' past 10 on the road.
Early lean: This screams letdown game for the Cavs, although, man, is Phoenix bad. I'll still take the likely large number of points the Suns will get (how many depends on Booker & Warren).
Timberwolves at Knicks (+6, 224)
The Wolves ended a two-game losing streak with a 123-109 win over the Clippers on Tuesday. Karl-Anthony Towns racked up 30 points and 10 rebounds for his NBA-best 60th double-double and Andrew Wiggins scored 27 points. Minnesota is now 5-5 without Jimmy Butler. The Knicks' two-game winning streak crashed in Miami on Wednesday, 119-98. Enes Kanter scored 23 points and grabbed 13 rebounds. Minnesota ended a four-game skid in the series with a 118-108 victory on Jan. 12. Towns had 23 points, 15 rebounds and a season-high nine assists.
Key trends: The Knicks are 4-11 ATS in their past 15 at home. The over is 14-3 in the Wolves' past 17.
Early lean: Wolves and over.
Nets at Raptors (-13, 220)
The Nets had a two-game run stopped in a 111-105 home loss to the Hornets on Wednesday. Brooklyn led 82-59 at one point and 105-102 late but missed its last five shots of the game. D'Angelo Russell had 19 points. The Raptors lost for the second time in three games Wednesday, 132-129 in Cleveland. DeMar DeRozan had a 3-pointer at the buzzer to tie but missed - he might have been fouled by LeBron James. Kyle Lowry scored 24 and DeRozan had 21 for the Raptors, who tied a franchise record with 79 first-half points. C.J. Miles sat out with a flu bug. Toronto goes for the four-game season sweep and its 12th straight win in the series.
Key trends: The Nets are 1-5 ATS in the past six meetings. The under is 5-2 in the previous seven in Toronto.
Early lean: Nets and under.
Bucks at Bulls (TBA)
The Bucks lost more than a game Tuesday vs. the Clippers (127-120) as they now await how long they will be without the Greek Freak after he sprained his ankle and left in the second quarter. That team could fall out of the playoff chase if the Freak misses several games. Here's hoping not because the NBA is way more interesting with Antetokounmpo in it. Tyler Zeller returned Tuesday after missing two consecutive games with sore ribs. The Bulls are now blatantly tanking, again sitting Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn (he's actually hurt) and falling behind by 46 in a 135-102 home loss to Denver on Wednesday. I'd be surprised if LaVine or Dunn plays again this season. Chicago won the first two of this season series on the road but lost the one at home. The Bulls have dropped their past three in the series at the United Center.
Key trends: The road team has covered six straight in the series. The over is 4-1 in the previous five meetings.
Early lean: Wait on the Freak, although I like Bulls to cover without him.
Heat at Thunder (-7.5, 215.5)
The Heat won their third straight Wednesday, 119-98 over the Knicks. Kelly Olynyk had 22 points and a career-high 10 assists - he has been great recently with Hassan Whiteside and Dwyane Wade both missing multiple games. Wade is closer to returning. The Heat should break the franchise single-season record for made 3-pointers in this one. Hate to use the word choke in sports, but there's no other way to explain OKC's 100-99 loss in Boston on Friday that ended a six-game winning streak. The Thunder led by five with 13 seconds to go. Carmelo Anthony missed two crucial free throws. First meeting of the season between these teams - they haven't played since late in 2016. Last season, OKC won both by double digits.
Key trends: The Heat have failed to cover their past seven after a double-digit win. The over is 8-3 in the Thunder's previous seven vs. the East.
Early lean: Heat and over.
Jazz at Spurs (-5.5, 195)
Utah was in Dallas on Friday. The Spurs are 5-0 on a homestand that closes here; they beat the Wizards 98-90 on Wednesday behind 27 points from LaMarcus Aldridge. That secured the franchise's 21st straight winning season, although the 50-win record is going to end. Just one opponent has topped 93 points during this win streak. The Jazz go for the shocking four-game season sweep of the Spurs.
Key trends: The favorite has failed to cover the past four in the series. The under is 8-1 in the Spurs' past nine overall.
Early lean: Spurs and under.
Celtics at Trail Blazers (-7.5, 204)
Second NBA TV game. The Celtics, again without Kyrie Irving and Jaylen Brown, stole a victory from Oklahoma City on Tuesday, 100-99, rallying from five down with 13 seconds to go and winning on a Marcus Morris 3-pointer with 1.2 seconds left. The NBA, however, has said Morris should have been called for two infractions on the winning play: five seconds on his inbounds pass and then traveling upon getting the ball back. He 100 percent traveled, although easy to say on replay. Portland's 13-game winning streak ended Tuesday, 115-111 to Houston. The Blazers had also won nine straight at the Moda Center. Shockingly, neither Damian Lillard nor CJ McCollum hit a single 3-pointer. Boston beat Portland on Feb. 4, 97-96, on an Al Horford 20-foot turnaround jumper with one second left.
Key trends: The Blazers have covered their past nine vs. teams with a winning record. The under is 4-1 in the Celtics' past five.
Early lean: Surprised with early line, but oddsmakers must know Irving and Brown are out again. Go Blazers and under.
Hawks at Warriors (TBA)
Atlanta was in Sacramento on Thursday. The Warriors were without the injured Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson on Monday, then lost Draymond Green to injury during the game and not surprisingly lost in San Antonio 89-75. Curry is targeting Friday as a return, but he'll likely be the only one back if so. Golden State looks for its seventh straight win in the series; it was a 114-109 winner in Hotlanta on March 2.
Key trends: The Warriors are 2-8 ATS in their past 10. The under is 5-0 in their past five at home.
Early lean: Wait on Curry.
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