Free NBA Picks: Thursday, Jan. 18, 2018, Opening Line Report and Handicapping
Look, I watch ESPN probably as much if not more than most sports fans/bettors. But, I'll admit the network irritates me at times when it tries to create news out of thin air. Anything with LaVar Ball, for example. The latest comes from Cleveland, which I believe is the only team that has full-time coverage from a network reporter (pretty sure the Warriors don't). The Cavs are in a major funk and were swept in the regular-season series by the Dubs on Monday night. Naturally, ESPN then reported that several prominent Cleveland players - yet none on record - now don't believe this roster as currently constructed and without Kyrie Irving is good enough to beat the Warriors or even perhaps the Celtics in the Eastern Conference. Blah, blah, the Cavs go through this type of drama every season. Do I think they make some sort of trade before the Feb. 8 deadline? I do, as they really need defensive help, but I'm not sure it will be a major deal that requires the Cavs to give up the Nets' 2018 first-round pick, which could be key to Cleveland's post-LeBron James era if he were to leave in free agency this summer. Oddsmakers aren't falling into this trap as the Cavs are still -120 favorites at BetOnline to win the East.
76ers at Celtics ( -6, 212.5)
First of a TNT doubleheader, but a 7 p.m. ET tip instead of the usual 8. Philadelphia is off a 117-111 home win over Toronto on Monday. Joel Embiid had 34 points and 11 rebounds, but his team nearly blew a 21-point lead. JJ Redick scored 15 before leaving with a left leg injury for the Sixers, who never trailed. Redick will miss at least 10 days. The Celtics were upset at home on Tuesday, 116-113 in overtime by New Orleans as Boston's seven-game winning streak ended. It had a late five-point lead in regulation. The Celtics attempted a whopping 50 3-pointers, making 19. Irving had 27 points but six turnovers. Quite possible this is a No. 1 vs. No. 8 first-round playoff matchup; if not, this will be the teams' last meeting of 2017-18. Boston goes for the four-game sweep after rallying from a 22-point deficit last Thursday in London for a 114-103 victory. All three this year have been decided by double digits. Boston also has won seven straight at home in the series.
Key trends: The road team is 7-3 against the spread in the past 10 meetings. The "over/under" is 6-2 in the previous eight.
Early lean: Celtics and over.
Magic at Cavaliers (-10.5, 225.5)
After winning 18 of 19, the Cavs have dropped four straight and nine of 12 following Monday's 118-108 home loss to Golden State. LeBron had 32 points and Isaiah Thomas played his most minutes of the season with 32 and had 19 points, but Cleveland's home winning streak was snapped at 13. The loss dropped Cleveland's record to 1-6 this season against the top three teams in either conference (Warriors, Rockets, Wolves, Raptors and Celtics). The Magic ended a seven-game losing streak with a 108-102 home upset of Minnesota on Tuesday. Evan Fournier scored a season-high 32 points. The Magic will be without reserve guard Arron Afflalo for at least one game as he threw a punch in a dust-up with Timberwolves forward Nemanja Bjelica. Afflalo used to be good but only plays about 12 minutes a night these days. Orlando snapped a 17-game losing streak to the Cavs with a 114-93 upset in Cleveland on Oct. 21, but the Cavs won in Orlando on Jan. 6, 131-127.
Key trends: The Magic are 2-7-1 ATS in their past 10 in Cleveland. The over is 5-0 in the Cavs' past five on Thursday.
Early lean: Cavs and over.
Timberwolves at Rockets (TBA)
Second TNT game. The fate of several Houston players is up in the air here. It's possible James Harden returns from his hamstring injury - he's questionable - or he and a few others could be suspended. Following Monday's chippy loss at the Clippers in Chris Paul's first game back there, Paul, Harden, Trevor Ariza and Gerald Green allegedly went through a back corridor and stormed into the Clippers' locker room to confront Austin Rivers (who didn't even play Monday but was jawing) and Blake Griffin. The NBA can't allow that, so you could see suspensions. Or might TNT, ahem, nudge the league to simply fine the players so they can play in this potential playoff preview? Harden has missed the past seven with his injury. Minnesota had a five-game winning streak snapped in a clear trap game Tuesday in Orlando, 108-102. The Wolves were destroyed on the boards. Jimmy Butler had 28 points, but Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins combined for only 24. It's the first meeting between the Rockets and Wolves this season. Houston has won nine straight in the series at home.
Key trends: The Wolves are 5-0 ATS in their past five in Houston. The over has hit in seven straight meetings there.
Early lean: Wait on all those Rockets.
Pacers at Trail Blazers (-4.5, 214.5)
Indiana won its third straight Monday, 109-94 in Utah. Victor Oladipo scored 28 points and the Pacers shot 54 percent (15-for-26) from 3-point range and 53 from the floor overall. The Pacers are now 15-0 this season when hitting at least half their shots. Pacers center Myles Turner did not play due to a ligament sprain and muscle strain in his right elbow and won't play here. Portland stopped a three-game skid with a 118-111 win over Phoenix on Tuesday. Damian Lillard had 31 points and CJ McCollum 27. The Blazers beat the Pacers in Indianapolis on Oct. 20, 114-96. McCollum had 28 points and Lillard 18 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. Lillard is averaging 26.0 points against the Pacers for his career, his second-highest scoring average against any opponent (26.3 vs. Toronto).
Key trends: The Pacers are 1-5 ATS in the past six meetings. The over is 6-0 in Portland's previous six.
Early lean: Blazers and over.
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