Free NBA Picks: Thursday, March 1, 2018, Opening Line Report and Handicapping
Another day, another piece of news regarding Spurs star Kawhi Leonard. Not long ago, Gregg Popovich stated publicly that he wasn't planning on Leonard returning this season. Maybe Pop doing such an unusual public proclamation was meant to spur Leonard into action. Appears to have worked if so. Leonard was at the Spurs practice facility for their team practice on Tuesday, but he did not participate. He had spent the previous three weeks in New York seeking further consultation on a right quad injury that has sidelined him for most of the season. However, he expects to begin practicing very soon with the goal of returning sometime in March (no later than the second week to give him a month of regular-season action). That would make the Western Conference playoffs just that much more interesting - surely neither Golden State nor Houston would like to see a fully healthy Spurs squad in the conference semifinals ahead of an expected West Finals showdown. In the nine games played this season, Leonard averaged 16.2 points and 4.7 rebounds (he was clearly a bit rusty) and San Antonio was 5-4.
Lakers at Heat ( -5, 216)
First meeting of season between these franchises and arguably the two top spots most free agents want to go for non-basketball reasons. They split last year, each winning at home. Los Angeles enters on a three-game winning streak following a 123-104 victory in Atlanta on Monday. Brandon Ingram totaled 21 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists; he was one of a whopping nine Lakers to score double-digit points. The Lakers haven't had that many since Jan. 7, 1987. It had happened just once previously in the past seven seasons by any NBA team. Miami won its second straight Tuesday, 102-101 over Philadelphia as Dwyane Wade hit the game-winning basket with 5.9 seconds left; he scored 15 of the Heat's final 17 points. Wayne Ellington left with a left quad contusion.
Key trends: The Lakers are 7-2 against the spread in their past nine vs. the East. The "over/under" is 4-1 in the Heat's past five.
Early lean: Lakers and over.
76ers at Cavaliers (-3.5, 220)
First of the TNT doubleheader. The Sixers lost their second in a row Tuesday, 102-101 in Miami on Wade's late bucket. J.J. Redick had an open 3-pointer to win it but was off. The 76ers led by as many as 10 in the fourth. Joel Embiid had 23 points. Cleveland beat the visiting Nets on Tuesday, 129-123. LeBron James had 31 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists for his 12th triple-double of the season; he averaged a triple-double in February of 27.0 points, 10.5 rebounds and 10.5 assists. Only three other players in NBA history have averaged at least 25 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in one month in which they played at least 10 games: Oscar Robertson (seven times), Russel Westbrook (four) and Wilt Chamberlain. Cleveland leads the season series 2-0, winning each by at least seven points. LeBron had 30 points in each game.
Key trends: The home team is 6-1 ATS in the past even meetings. The over is 7-3 in the Cavs' past 10 after a win.
Early lean: Cavs and over.
Nets at Kings (+1, 213.5)
The Nets played valiantly in the second of a back-to-back Tuesday in Cleveland but lost by six to start a four-game trip. Jarrett Allen's two free throws gave Brooklyn a 119-117 lead with 1:18 to play. D'Angelo Russell led seven Nets in double figures with 25 points. The Kings lost 116-99 in Portland on Tuesday, their fifth straight defeat. Willie Cauley-Stein had 17 points and 10 rebounds. Sacramento won in Brooklyn on Dec. 20, 104-99. The Nets only led at 3-2. The Kings go for the first season sweep in the series since 2007-08.
Key trends: The Kings have covered their past four vs. the East. The over is 5-2 in the Nets' past seven vs. teams with a losing record.
Early lean: Kings and over.
Timberwolves at Trail Blazers (-6, 218.5)
Second TNT game. The Wolves are 2-0 since losing Jimmy Butler but have played two tanking teams. They won in Sacramento on Monday, 118-100. Karl-Anthony Towns had 26 points and 17 rebounds for his NBA-high 54th double-double. Andrew Wiggins had 22 points; his scoring has risen dramatically whenever Butler has sat this season. Portland won its fourth in a row Tuesday, dumping the Kings 116-99. Damian Lillard had 26 points and 12 assists. He averaged 31.4 points in February, highest of any Blazer in any month ever. The home team is 3-0 in the season series and has won six straight overall between these two after the visitors had won four of the prior five. Lillard has averaged 23.0 points, 6.0 rebounds and 9.0 assists this season vs. Minnesota. Towns has averaged 17.3 points, 9.0 rebounds and 2.3 assists for the Wolves.
Key trends: The Wolves have covered just two of their past 12 in Portland. The over is 4-1 in the past five meetings.
Early lean: Blazers and over.
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