Free NBA Picks: Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018, Opening Line Report and Handicapping
Bovada released updated NBA Rookie of the Year odds this week, and there was some interesting movement. Ben Simmons had been a whopping -2000 favorite the last time that site posted odds, but now he's down to -650. Frankly, I think guys should only be eligible to win ROY in the year they were drafted, but I'm guessing the NBA doesn't care about my opinion. Of course, the Clippers' Blake Griffin missed his entire "rookie" season due to injury and then won ROY in his second. Simmons is a future superstar without question in averaging 16.6 points, 8.6 rebounds and 7.5 assists despite the fact he has no jumper to speak of and can't shoot free throws. Closing on him a bit is Utah's Donovan Mitchell at +400. The Jazz traded up to No. 13 to take Mitchell out of Louisville, and he has been the draft's biggest steal thus far along with the Lakers' Kyle Kuzma (taken 27th and +2000 on this prop). I don't want to say Mitchell is helping the Jazz fans to forget about losing Gordon Hayward, but he might be better than Hayward sooner rather than later. Earlier this season, Mitchell became the first rookie to score 40+ points in a game since Griffin in 2011. Mitchell finished the month of December with seven 25-plus point outings. No rookie had that many in December since Hall of Famer David Robinson in 1989-90.
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Warriors at Rockets (TBA)
Second of a back-to-back for both as Houston was in Orlando on Wednesday and Golden State in Dallas with Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala and Zaza Pachulia all questionable. It's the first TNT game and, man, I was looking forward to watching this but almost all the luster is gone with James Harden out at least two weeks and probably a bit longer with a Grade 2 hamstring strain. A long end of recovery from a Grade 2 strain can be up to six weeks. I actually wonder if sites like Bovada will hold off on putting out updated MVP odds until Harden returns because he was clearly the favorite in leading the NBA in scoring (32.3 ppg) and ranking third in assists (9.1 apg). He was also first in 3-pointers and free throws made. Before sitting out Wednesday in Orlando, Harden had missed just one game due to injury over the past four seasons.
Usual sixth man Eric Gordon will take over in the starting lineup. Houston still should be pretty darn good with Harden out, as entering Wednesday the team was outscoring opponents by 21.5 points per 100 possessions when Chris Paul was on the court this year and Harden resting on the bench. This injury means we might not see the full-strength Rockets face the full-strength Warriors until the playoffs. They play again in Houston on Jan. 20 and then that's it for the regular season. Now, one would think the Warriors would take both games and win the season series and hold a potential tiebreaker for the West's top seed. Houston opened the season in Oakland and pulled off a 122-121 surprise. Kevin Durant made a shot at the buzzer, which was waved off. Green left in the second half with a minor injury. Houston has still lost 11 of the past 13 meetings as well as six in a row at home.
Key trends: The Warriors are 5-1 against the spread in their past six in Houston. The "over/under" has gone under in six of the past eight meetings.
Early lean: I think this means something to the Warriors from opening night and to put the Rockets in their place, all the Dubs' key guys play (barring injury Wednesday) and they win by double digits.
Thunder at Clippers ( +2.5, 209)
Second TNT game and those are the only two games on the schedule. The Thunder were at the Lakers on Wednesday but at least didn't have to travel or even change hotels. OKC could be poised to rest Paul George here in the second of a back-to-back as he's dealing with some knee issues. Russell Westbrook never sits out the second of a B2B, however. The team will be without one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA in guard Andre Roberson for at least the next three games with left knee tendinitis. Thunder starters are outscoring opponents by 11.3 points per 100 possessions this year when Roberson is with the other four starters on the court. With Alex Abrines in just Roberson's place, that group is being outscored by 7.7 points per 100 possessions.
The Clippers won their fourth straight Tuesday, 113-105 over Memphis. Lou Williams had 33 points off the bench - he's absolutely on fire these days. Williams has scored at least 30 off the bench eight times this season, tied for the second-most in NBA history. Ricky Pierce (1989-90) holds the record with 17. Austin Rivers sat out with a sore Achilles' tendon. Oklahoma City beat the visiting Clippers in the first meeting this season, 120-111 on Nov. 10. George had 42 points with nine rebounds and seven assists, and Westbrook had 22 points and eight assists. Steven Adams was out with a calf injury. Williams scored 35 points for the Clippers, and Blake Griffin had 17 points on 5-for-19 shooting.
Key trends: The home team has covered four straight in the series. The over is 5-2 in the previous seven.
Early lean: Clippers and over.
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