Free NBA Picks: Saturday, April 28, 2018, Opening Line Report and Handicapping
Our first coaching hire of the offseason (at least offseason for non-playoff teams) has happened, and it's Memphis proving rather unoriginal in giving interim head coach J.B. Bickerstaff a three-year deal as the full-time guy. David Fizdale, who probably gets a job somewhere, was fired in November, and Bickerstaff took over as interim head coach. The Grizzlies were an ugly 15-48 under Bickerstaff this season, but that wasn't his fault as that team was injury-ravaged and then started tanking. I believe the Grizzlies will be back in the playoffs in 2018-19 with good health to Mike Conley - his early-season injury ruined this season -- and Marc Gasol and nailing what will be a Top 5 draft pick in June. If the lottery goes chalk, Memphis would pick No. 2 and likely go for European sensation Luka Doncic, presuming Phoenix takes Deandre Ayton at No. 1 Bickerstaff also took over the Rockets job in 2015 when the team fired head coach Kevin McHale, and that team went 37-34 under J.B. Here's a look at Saturday's two games.
Game 7: Bucks at Celtics ( -4.5, 195.5)
It's an 8 p.m. ET tip on TNT. This could be the only Game 7 of the first round depending on what happens in the three Games 6s on Friday night. They say a playoff series doesn't truly start until a road team wins a game. Well, if that happens then Boston's season will be over on Saturday. Let me just say this right now: the Celtics will be Eastern Conference favorites next season unless LeBron James goes to Philadelphia. With Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward returning from injuries to go with Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Al Horford, etc. - that team is loaded. One thing I also wouldn't rule out: Boston trading for Kawhi Leonard if Leonard wants out of San Antonio. The Celtics could build a package around Tatum (unlikely the C's give him up) or Brown and the Kings' unprotected 2019 draft pick.
The Bucks forced Game 7 with a 97-86 victory on Thursday in perhaps the final NBA game ever at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee. Giannis Antetokounmpo promised to be more aggressive after attempting just 10 shots in a Game 5 loss. The Greek Freak was, going 13-for-23 for 31 points along with 14 rebounds and four assists. Khris Middleton and Malcolm Brogdon each added 16 points. The Bucks outscored the Celtics 34-6 in transition, the most transition points for any team so far in this year's playoffs. This will be Milwaukee's first Game 7 since losing to Atlanta in the first round eight years ago. Boston led by double digits early in Game 6 but was a bit too three-point happy (10-for-36) and outrebounded for the first time in this series (48-39). Brown struggled for the second straight game, hitting just 6-for-14 for 14 points. Only four players remain from Boston's 2016-17 team that won a Game 7 against the Wizards in the conference semifinals last year.
Key trends: The Bucks are 1-4 against the spread in their past five after a win. The Celtics are 9-2 ATS in their past 11 after a loss. The "over/under" is 6-2 in the past eight meetings.
Early lean: Celtics and under.
Game 1: Pelicans at Warriors (-8.5, 223.5)
The first of the conference semifinals tips off at 10:30 p.m. ET from Oakland also on TNT. On the series line, the Dubs are -800 and Pelicans +600. A few weeks ago, I would have predicted a Warriors sweep here - just like they did to New Orleans in the first round in 2015 - in Anthony Davis' only previous playoff appearance. Now, though, the Pelicans truly look dangerous, which is shocking considering they don't have one of the most talented big men in the league in DeMarcus Cousins. Was I surprised that No. 6 New Orleans beat No. 3 Portland in the first round? Not really as the Blazers were a bit overrated, but a sweep was stunning. Davis is the best all-around player in the NBA right now - sorry, LeBron, but Davis does more on defense than you do. Davis averaged 33.0 points, 11.8 rebounds, 2.8 blocks and 1.8 steals against the Blazers. He rendered a good player, Jusuf Nurkic, essentially worthless.
We expect greatness from Davis. The real difference in the Portland series was Jrue Holiday and Rajon Rondo - Playoff Rondo! - vastly outplaying Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Did the Pels lose all that momentum having not played since last Saturday? I would legitimately give the Pelicans a chance in this series if Golden State was going to be without Steph Curry. Alas, it sounds as if he will play Saturday for the first time since March 23 due to a knee injury. He's officially listed as questionable but has been going through full practices this week. With Curry in the lineup during the season, the Warriors went 41-10 while averaging 120.4 points per 100 possessions, which would be the best offensive rating over the past 20 seasons. Golden State is 25-5 all-time vs. New Orleans in games Curry has played. The Dubs were 3-1 this season. The Pels won the last meeting, 126-120 in Oakland but no Curry then.
Key trends: The Pelicans are 4-13 ATS in their past 17 following three or more days of rest. The Warriors are 2-6 ATS in their past eight at home. The over is 8-2 in the past 10 meetings.
Early lean: Pelicans and over.
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