Free NBA Picks: Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018, Opening Line Report and Handicapping
This past offseason, NBA commissioner Adam Silver made a few changes in the wake of teams resting stars during nationally-televised games last season. For one, the 2017-18 season started a week early to cut down on back-to-backs and three-in-four-nights scenarios. Second, Silver can now fine teams at least $100K for resting healthy players in high-profile games. Finally, the NBA also protected 22 "marquee" national TV games in which participating teams would not be involved in a back-to-back or five-games-in-seven-nights scenarios. In addition, no team will have traveled more than 3,500 miles in the seven days before the game. I don't know for sure which 22 games those all are, but I do know they include any Saturday ABC national telecasts, and we have our first two of those this Saturday (usually not a matinee game too). So it will be very interesting to see if any stars sit these out or if one comes up with a mystery injury.
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Thunder at Cavaliers ( -3.5, 219)
First ABC game with a 3:30 p.m. ET tip and the first meeting of the season between reigning NBA MVP Russell Westbrook and four-time winner LeBron James, one of the leading candidates this season. It's also James' first look at good buddy and new Thunder player Carmelo Anthony, whom many believed was heading to Cleveland in a trade at one point this offseason. The Cavs were also chasing Paul George. Inconsistent OKC is streaking in the right direction again as it won a third straight Wednesday, 114-90 over the Lakers. Anthony had maybe his best game of the season with 27 points on 10-for-15 shooting. Steven Adams had 21 points and 10 rebounds. Cleveland ended a four-game losing streak but didn't look very good doing it Thursday in a 104-103 home win over a terrible Magic team. The Cavs blew a 23-point lead and needed two late Isaiah Thomas free throws - and a waived off Aaron Gordon buzzer-beater - to escape further embarrassment. Derrick Rose played for the first time since early November due to ankle issues and had nine points in 13 minutes. These teams split last year, each winning at home.
Key trends: The Cavs have covered five straight at home in the series. The "over/under" has gone under in four Thunder games in a row.
Early lean: Cavs and over.
Bulls at Hawks (-1, 213.5)
A 5 p.m. ET tip from two teams trying to tank - the Hawks are doing a much better job. Chicago's three-game winning streak was snapped in an entertaining 119-112 home loss to the Warriors on Wednesday. The Bulls played great in every quarter but the third, in which they were outscored 32-12. Point guard Kris Dunn fell on his face following a dunk attempt in the fourth quarter and has been diagnosed with a concussion on top of some chipped and dislocated teeth (you can dislocate teeth?). So he'll be out a while. The Hawks are on their second two-game winning streak of the season (never three) following a 94-93 home win over the Pelicans on Wednesday. Kent Bazemore hit the winning jumper with 2.1 seconds left as the Hawks rallied from 19 down. Chicago won the first meeting with Atlanta this season, 91-86 on Oct. 26 but has dropped five straight in Georgia.
Key trends: The Bulls are 0-5 ATS in their past five in Atlanta. The under is 8-3 in the Hawks' past 11 overall.
Early lean: Bulls and over.
Heat at Hornets (-5.5, 205.5)
Miami was in Brooklyn on Friday likely without starting guard Tyler Johnson again. Charlotte has won two straight and slaughtered the visiting Wizards on Wednesday, 133-109. The Hornets scored a franchise-record 77 first-half points on 65 percent shooting with two four-point plays. It was the first game back from an illness for Coach Steve Clifford. The team was 9-21 without him. The Heat are 2-0 vs. the Hornets this year, winning each by six points or fewer.
Key trends: The Heat are 4-0 ATS in the past four meetings. The under is 9-2 in the previous 11.
Early lean: Hornets and under.
Grizzlies at Pelicans (TBA)
Memphis hosted Sacramento on Friday with Marc Gasol expected to return from illness, but a few other Grizzlies were listed as out or questionable. Doesn't mean Gasol will play both ends of a back-to-back, though. New Orleans won its first two games of a three-game trip in overtime and might have run out of gas in Atlanta on Wednesday in the second of a back-to-back, blowing a 19-point lead and losing 94-93 on a last-second shot. Anthony Davis looked tired, as after back-to-back 45-plus point games he was held to eight on 2-for-8 shooting. New Orleans finished with a season-low 33 points over the final two quarters. The Grizzlies are 2-0 vs. the Pelicans this season, last winning in Memphis on Jan. 10, 105-102. Davis missed that one.
Key trends: The Grizzlies are 6-2 ATS in the past eight meetings. The under is 4-0 in the previous four.
Early lean: Wait on Gasol.
Bucks at 76ers (-4, 215)
Milwaukee was a minor upset victim Wednesday at home vs. the Heat, losing 106-101. Khris Middleton had 25 points to lead Milwaukee, which lost to Miami for the second time in four days. Giannis Antetokounmpo added 22 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. Philadelphia won for the sixth time in seven games Thursday, 89-80 over the Kyrie Irving-less Celtics to avoid the season sweep. Joel Embiid had 26 points and a career-high-tying 16 rebounds. It's the first meeting of the season between these teams. They split four last year, each winning both on the road. Antetokounmpo averaged 21.0 points, 9.0 rebounds and 4.5 assists.
Key trends: The road team is 4-0 ATS in the past four meetings. The under is 4-0 in Milwaukee's past four on the road.
Early lean: 76ers and under.
Warriors at Rockets (+3.5, 234)
Second ABC game and the last meeting of the regular season between the West's two best teams. Golden State is looking to complete a 5-0 road trip as it comes off a 119-112 win in Chicago on Wednesday. Klay Thompson scored 38 points, and Stephen Curry added 30 as the Dubs tied a franchise record with their 14th straight road victory. Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala sat out due to injuries, and rookie Jordan Bell left with an ankle injury. Houston beat Minnesota on Thursday, 116-98 in James Harden's return from injury. He struggled, though, shooting 3-for-15 for 10 points in 26 minutes. Trevor Ariza and Gerald Green served the first of a two-game suspension. These teams have split two high-scoring games this season, each winning on the road (no Harden in Warriors' win on Jan. 4). The Rockets have dropped seven in a row in the series at home.
Key trends: The Warriors have covered for straight in Houston. The under is 4-1 in the past five there.
Early lean: Warriors and under that mammoth total.
Raptors at Timberwolves (-3.5, 216)
Usually this would be the game of the night and probably on national TV, but it's buried on Saturday. Toronto hosted San Antonio on Friday. Minnesota dropped a second straight Thursday, 116-98 in Houston. Jimmy Butler led the Wolves with 23 points, and Karl-Anthony Towns added 22 points, 16 rebounds and five blocks. The Wolves were outscored by 27 at the 3-point arc. It's the first meeting of the season between these teams. The split last year, each winning at home. Minnesota has beaten the Raptors twice in a row at the Target Center after winning just once in the previous 13 years.
Key trends: The Wolves are 6-0 ATS in their past six at home. The over is 5-0 in the previous five meetings.
Early lean: Wolves and over.
Clippers at Jazz (TBA)
Utah hosted the Knicks on Friday with Rudy Gobert expected to return from his long injury absence about a week ahead of time. Not clear if the Jazz will let him play in a back-to-back right away. The Clippers won a sixth straight Wednesday, 109-104 over Denver. Blake Griffin had 20 points and 12 rebounds, Montrezl Harrell added 18 points and Lou Williams had 17. DeAndre Jordan (sprained left ankle) missed his third straight game and is probably out here. Austin Rivers (ankle) for sure is again. The Clips and Jazz have split two meetings this season, both routs in L.A.
Key trends: The Clippers are 5-2 ATS in the past seven meetings in Utah, and the over is 5-2 in those.
Early lean: Wait on Gobert/Jordan.
Mavericks at Trail Blazers (-6, 209)
The Mavs dropped a second straight Tuesday, 105-102 in Denver but nearly rallied from a 23-point deficit. Rookie Dennis Smith Jr. had 25 points, but Dirk Nowitzki just six. J.J. Barea sat out with a strained groin. Portland beat the visiting Pacers on Thursday, 100-86. Damian Lillard scored 26 points and Jusuf Nurkic had 19 points and a season-high 17 rebounds. It's the first meeting between these teams in 2017-18. They split four last year, the road team going 4-0. Lillard averaged 28.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.0 assists. Former Blazer Wesley Matthews averaged 18.3 points for Dallas.
Key trends: The underdog is 6-1 ATS in the past seven meetings. The over is 6-1 in Portland's previous seven overall.
Early lean: Blazers and over.
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