Free NBA Picks: Saturday, May 5, 2018, Opening Line Report and Handicapping
I presumed that Arizona big man Deandre Ayton, who dominated the Pac-12 as a freshman this past season, would be the No. 1 pick in next month's NBA draft regardless of which team won the May 15 draft lottery. Now, I'm not so sure if Phoenix, which has the greatest chance of winning it at 25 percent, has the ping-pong balls go its way. Why? The Suns have found their next head coach, and it's Jazz assistant Igor Kokoskov, who will become the first full-time European head coach in the NBA. In fact, the a native of Serbia is the first head coach born and raised outside North America in NBA history. He has been an assistant in the league for 18 years, including with Phoenix from 2008-13. What does this have to do with Ayton? Kokoskov is considered a bit of a guru with European guards and led the Slovenian national team to last summer's EuroBasket tournament championship. That team had the Heat's Goran Dragic and also mega-prospect Luka Doncic. Some teams do like Doncic better than Ayton, and the Suns need help both at the point and at center. Kokoskov will stay with Utah until the Jazz are eliminated from the playoffs. Here are the two Game 3s in the East on Saturday as the series shift locations.
Celtics at 76ers ( -9, 206)
A 5 p.m. ET start on ESPN. Can we get an over/under of Kevin Hart sightings on TV? Dude, go away. This line absolutely baffles me. For one, the Celtics have had one of the best straight-up records this decade as an underdog this season. Second, did anyone not watch the first two games? Philadelphia was never in the first one. Yes, the 76ers looked great early in Game 2 with a 22-point first-half lead but they still lost, 108-103. It was the fifth time this season the team lost with at least a 22-point lead, including the second time against Boston (Jan. 11). That's the sign of a young club. You can't really blame one player for any loss in the NBA, but I'm going to: Ben Simmons in Game 2. Fabulous talent, future All-Star and the likely NBA Rookie of the Year. The Celtics are playing off Simmons and daring him to shoot jumpers, because he simply can't. There's a reason he didn't hit attempt a regular three-point shot all season (he had a few at end of quarters, etc.). Simmons had one more point than you and I did in Game 2, going 0-for-4 from the field. It was the first time in his young pro career that Simmons didn't make at least one shot. The last time an eventual Rookie of the Year did not make a field goal in a playoff game was Jerry Lucas in 1964.
The best rookie in this series has been Boston's Jayson Tatum, and the best point guard (Simmons' position) has been Terry Rozier. Tatum had 21 points in Game 2 and Rozier 20 points, nine assists and seven rebounds with zero turnovers in 38 minutes. He has been so spectacular that the Celtics have an envious problem when Kyrie Irving is healthy next season. Not sure you can play both Rozier and Irving at the same time as defensively that would be an issue. Maybe the Celtics trade Rozier, the No. 16 overall pick in 2015, when his value his highest. I should note that Rozier has done all his damage at home in these playoffs and struggled mightily in the three first-round games in Milwaukee. Jaylen Brown returned from his one-game injury absence in Game 2 and had 13 points off the bench in 25 minutes. He likely returns to the starting lineup Saturday. I do believe Philly wins here, but nine points?
Key trends: The Celtics are 5-1 against the spread in their past six after allowing at least 100 points in their previous game. Boston is 6-2 ATS in its past eight in Philadelphia. The "over/under" is 4-1 in the past five there.
Early lean: Celtics and over.
Raptors at Cavaliers (-4.5, 216)
This tips at 8:30 p.m. ET on ABC. Wow, the Raptors are actually on national broadcast television! Of course, this is all about LeBron James. And I could try to dissect why the East top-seeded Raptors are down 2-0 in this series with a bunch of BS, but it's all about James. I will admit the Raptors had snowed me. Best season in franchise history, home-court advantage in the playoffs against anyone but potentially Houston in the NBA Finals. I thought Toronto had a shot to get there for the first time. That's not happening now as LeBron's teams are 21-0 all-time with a 2-0 series lead and Toronto is 0-6 all-time when trailing 0-2. Cleveland's Game 1 victory was surprising considering how worn down LeBron and Co. were. Truly thought the Cavs would go through the motions in Game 2, knowing they had a split and were heading home.
Instead, the Raptors looked gassed and half-interested in the second half of Thursday's 128-110 loss. Watched that in its entirety, and James was simply in a zone after the break, making ridiculous fadeaway after fadeaway. They weren't good shots for normal humans, but he wouldn't miss. James finished with 43 points, 14 assists and eight rebounds. It's the 10 th straight time he has led his team in points and assists in a playoff game, tying Oscar Robertson's NBA record. You expect that from LeBron. What killed Toronto in Game 2 is Kevin Love with 31 points (and 11 rebounds). The Raptors don't have someone to deal with him. Jonas Valanciunas isn't mobile enough to guard Love out on the perimeter. Serge Ibaka isn't very good any more. The Dinos tried CJ Miles at the center spot opposite Love at times, and Love can simply shoot over the 6-foot-6 Miles. Dwane Casey has to make some sort of major lineup adjustment going forward, maybe small-ball. But it really doesn't matter at this point as Toronto has dropped eight straight playoff games vs. the LeBrons.
Key trends: The Raptors are 2-7 ATS in their past nine road games. The Cavs have covered nine of their past 11 conference semifinal matchups. Cleveland is 4-0 ATS in the past four at home in the series. The over is 5-1 in the past six meetings.
Early lean: Cavs and over.
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