Free NBA Picks: Saturday, April 7, 2018, Opening Line Report and Handicapping
Unless LeBron James decides to leave Cleveland and join Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons with rising powerhouse Philadelphia, the preseason favorite to win the Eastern Conference next season likely will be the Boston Celtics assuming good health. They are going to be loaded for years. The C's have had anything but good health this year, though, losing big free-agent acquisition Gordon Hayward on opening night and now Kyrie Irving will not return for the playoffs after all following knee surgery. Sans Irving, the Celtics will not win the East, perhaps not even a round in the postseason depending on their first-round matchup. When Irving had a procedure on his knee March 24, he was given a timetable of 3-6 weeks for returning. However, an infection was found and he will have another procedure done Saturday, which rules out a postseason return. He should fully recover in 4-5 months, plenty of time for the start of the 2018-19 season. Irving averaged 24.4 points, 5.1 assists and 3.8 rebounds this season and actually learned to play a little defense. The team has always said Hayward wasn't going to make some glorious playoff return, and I think you can rule that out completely now. Boston has risen from +2000 to win the NBA title to +6000. Your time is coming, Celtics fans.
Nuggets at Clippers (TBA)
The most important game of the day has a 3:30 p.m. ET tip from Staples Center on NBA TV. If I'm reading right, the Clippers would be eliminated with a loss but it also depends on what happens in a couple of games Friday. Denver wouldn't be with a loss but would be in deep doo-doo. The Nuggets won their fourth straight Thursday, a huge 100-96 victory over Minnesota - one of those teams the Nugs and Clips are battling. Jamal Murray had 22 points, and Nikola Jokic 16 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists. Gary Harris sat out his ninth straight game. If he can stand, he needs to play. The Clippers showed little fight in losing 117-95 in Utah on Thursday. Danilo Gallinari missed his fourth game in the last six with a sore right hand, and he's likely done. The Clippers lead the season series 2-0, rallying from down five early in the fourth quarter at home and down 19 in the third in Denver.
Key trends: The home team is 6-1 against the spread in the past seven meetings. The "over/under" is 6-1 in the Clippers' past seven after a loss.
Early lean: Honestly not sure why this is TBA. On the chance Harris plays?
Bucks at Knicks (TBA)
New York hosted Miami on Friday with Enes Kanter likely out and Michael Beasley questionable. The Bucks were clearly caught in a trap game Thursday off a nice win over Boston on Tuesday as Milwaukee lost by eight at home to Brooklyn. Khris Middleton scored 31 points, while Giannis Antetokounmpo had 19 points and 10 rebounds. The Bucks were 5-for-20 from deep. Milwaukee goes for the four-game season sweep of New York and has taken five straight in the series overall.
Key trends: The Bucks are 2-5 ATS in the past seven meetings. The under is 5-2 in those.
Early lean: Wait on which Knicks play (likely none who matter).
Nets at Bulls (TBA)
Chicago was in Boston on Friday and probably rests everyone you have heard of in this game for tanking reasons. Absolutely, positively helps the Bulls big time to lose here to have a shot to get back "ahead" of Brooklyn closer to the bottom of the standings by the end of the season. No chance to do that with a win. Of course, the Nets don't hold their first-round pick so it doesn't matter for them. The teams play again Monday in Brooklyn. Chicago has won the past three at home in the series but lost in Brooklyn in the first meeting on Feb. 26, 104-87. The Nets are off a 119-111 upset win in Milwaukee on Thursday. They made 19 3-pointers. Forward DeMarre Carroll (left hip) was out.
Key trends: The Bulls are 1-5 ATS in their past six in the second of a B2B. The under is 5-0 in the past five meetings.
Early lean: Nets and under.
Thunder at Rockets (-6, 218.5)
ABC prime-time game. Really means squat for Houston, though. Oklahoma City lost at home to Golden State on Tuesday, 111-107. Russell Westbrook had 44 points and 16 rebounds, but struggling Paul George was just 5-for-19 from the field. Westbrook, by the way, needs 41 rebounds over the final three games to average a triple-double again. Yet you don't hear much about it. The Rockets edged the Blazers on Thursday, 96-94. Chris Paull hit an off-balance layup with 0.8 seconds left and finished with 27 points. Ryan Anderson sat out with a sprained left ankle and Eric Gordon missed the game because of a foot injury. No reason for them to play again this regular season. These teams have split two meetings this season in OKC; the Rockets have won the past six at home.
Key trends: The road team is 5-1 ATS in the past six meetings. The under is 6-1 in OKC's past seven overall.
Early lean: Thunder and under.
Pelicans at Warriors (-7, 223)
New Orleans was in Phoenix on Friday. Always fun to watch athletic freaks Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis on the same floor. Assuming Durant plays, that is. The Warriors had a three-game winning streak slammed shut with a 20-point home loss to Indiana on Thursday. The Warriors were swept by an Eastern Conference team for the first time since Charlotte did it in 2013-14. Durant played well (27 points, seven assists) but no one else showed up. Golden State goes for the four-game season sweep and has won 10 straight at home and overall in the series.
Key trends: The home team is 4-1 ATS in the past five meetings. The over is 7-2 in the previous nine.
Early lean: Warriors and over.
Trail Blazers at Spurs (TBA)
Portland lost a second straight Thursday, 96-94 as Damian Lillard sat out with a sprained ankle. I'd be moderately surprised if he plays here. The Blazers rallied from a 24-point hole to tie it late vs. the Rockets. CJ McCollum led the Trail Blazers with 16 points, and Jusuf Nurkic had 14 points and 11 rebounds. The Spurs dropped their second straight close game in L.A. on Wednesday, 122-112 in OT to the Lakers - OK, the final score wasn't close but it obviously was tied at the end of regulation. San Antonio still has to care the final three games as it tries for the West's fourth seed. Portland is largely locked into No. 3. These teams have split two meetings in Portland, decided by a total of three points. McCollum made a game-winning floater with 5.9 seconds remaining to give the Trail Blazers a 111-110 victory over the Spurs on Jan. 7.
Key trends: The Blazers are 3-7 ATS in the past 10 in San Antonio. The over is 5-1 in the past six there.
Early lean: Wait on Lillard.
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