Free NBA Picks: Thursday, March 15, 2018, Opening Line Report and Handicapping
With the NCAA Tournament starting in full Thursday, you can probably guess which schools currently have the most players on NBA rosters (stats from the beginning of the season so an occasional number could change slightly if a guy sent to the G-League or released, etc.). No. 1 is the first-round factory that John Calipari has built at Kentucky with 27 current NBA players. I'm sure a few more Wildcats will be first-rounders this summer, although likely none in the Top 10, which is rare under Calipari. Duke is second with 20 and has two 2018 lottery picks for sure in Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. (Gary Trent Jr. is likely a first-rounder if he comes out; and Grayson Allen might be.) Kansas and North Carolina have 16 each, with UCLA 15 and Arizona 12. This year's KU team might not have a 2018 first-rounder. Ditto the Bruins. The No. 1 overall pick is probably going to be Arizona freshman center Deandre Ayton.
Raptors at Pacers ( +5, 214.5)
The Raptors won their ninth straight Tuesday, 116-102 in Brooklyn, to reach 50 victories for a third year in a row. Jonas Valanciunas had 26 points and 14 rebounds in his team's franchise record-tying seventh consecutive road win. The Pacers won a third straight Tuesday, a 101-98 upset in Philadelphia. Myles Turner scored 25 points, including two clutch free throws with 21.5 seconds remaining. Domantas Sabonis left with just under two minutes left in the third quarter due to an ankle injury. X-rays were negative, but he could sit a few games. These teams have split two meetings this season, each winning at home. They haven't played since Dec. 1.
Key trends: The Raptors are 0-4 against the spread in their past four at Indiana. The "over/under" has gone under in seven straight at the Pacers in this series.
Early lean: Pacers and under.
Hornets at Hawks (+5.5, 216.5)
The Hornets started a five-game trip with a 119-115 loss in New Orleans on Tuesday. Dwight Howard had 22 points, 11 rebounds and three blocked shots for Charlotte, while Kemba Walker added 22 points. The Hornets were just 7-for-26 from deep. The Hawks dropped a fourth in a row Tuesday, 119-107 to the Thunder. Game was tied at 103 before OKC took over. Taurean Prince led the Hawks with 25 points. Charlotte has won all three meetings vs. Atlanta this season by double digits.
Key trends: The Hornets are 6-1 ATS in the past seven meetings. The under is 10-2 in the previous 12.
Early lean: Hornets and under.
76ers at Knicks (+8, 218.5)
The Sixers have alternated wins and losses over their past six and are off a three-point upset home loss to Indiana on Tuesday. Joel Embiid had 29 points and 12 rebounds, and Ben Simmons finished with 10 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists for the 76ers, who had won 13 straight home games. The Knicks dropped an eighth in a row Tuesday, 110-97 vs. Dallas. It's almost comical how much the Knicks have given up. I can't see a scenario where I'd recommend them the rest of the season. Philadelphia leads New York 2-0 and can win the season series for the first time since the 2008-09 season.
Key trends: The Sixers have covered six straight meetings. The under is 5-1 in those.
Early lean: 76ers and under.
Clippers at Rockets (-11.5, 227.5)
NBA TV game. The Clippers won a third straight Tuesday, 112-106 in Chicago. DeAndre Jordan dominated with 29 points and 18 rebounds, and Lou Williams scored 26. L.A. had 41 free-throw attempts to 15 by Chicago. The Rockets won their second in a row Monday, 109-93 over San Antonio. James Harden returned after missing a game and had 28 points. Ryan Anderson missed his eighth straight game with a sore left hip. L.A. actually leads the season series 2-1 but lost the last one by 13 at home on Feb. 28.
Key trends: The underdog is 9-4 ATS in the past 13 meetings. The under is 4-1 in the previous five.
Early lean: Rockets and under.
Bulls at Grizzlies (TBA)
Might be the last chance the Grizzlies have to win all season, and I'm not even kidding. They enter on an 18-game losing streak, one shy of the franchise record set in Vancouver. It was 121-103 at home to Milwaukee on Monday. Most of the losses have been by double digits. Memphis also has dropped seven in a row at home. The Bulls scratched rookie Lauri Markkanen with back spasms on Tuesday and then went out and lost the Clippers by six. Noah Vonleh started for Markkanen, who is questionable for this one. Chicago beat Memphis on March 7, 119-110 with three Bulls scoring at least 21 points.
Key trends: The Bulls are 1-8 ATS in their past nine road games. The under is 6-2 in the Grizzlies' past eight.
Early lean: Should be first time Bulls are road favorites all season (TBA likely for Markkanen) … take Memphis.
Pelicans at Spurs (-4.5, 219)
The Pelicans stopped a two-game losing streak with a 119-115 win over Charlotte on Tuesday. Anthony Davis had 31 points, 14 rebounds and five blocked shots. New Orleans shot 50 percent (52 of 104), with seven players scoring 11 or more. The Spurs snapped a three-game losing streak with a 36-point home blowout of Orlando on Tuesday. LaMarcus Aldridge returned from Monday night off and had 24 points. San Antonio used its 24th different starting lineup this season. There was some talk that Kawhi Leonard would return Thursday, but that's not happening. New Orleans is 2-0 vs. San Antonio this season. Anthony Davis is averaging 27.5 points and 13.0 rebounds.
Key trends: The Pelicans have covered the past four meetings. The under is 5-0 in the Spurs' past five.
Early lean: Pelicans and under.
Pistons at Nuggets (-8, 218.5)
The Pistons barely showed up in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, losing 110-79. They were down 21 after one, and it was over. Andre Drummond had 13 points and 11 rebounds for the Pistons, who have lost 11 of 14. Reggie Bullock did not play after injuring his back and right knee in a car crash on Sunday. The Nuggets' two-game winning streak ended in a 112-103 loss at the Lakers on Tuesday. Wilson Chandler had 26 points and 10 rebounds for Denver, which led by 13 late in the third. Detroit lost to Denver on Dec. 14, 103-84. Jamal Murray led the Nuggets with 28 points.
Key trends: The Pistons are 3-13 ATS in their past 16 on the road. The over is 7-1 in the Nuggets' past eight at home.
Early lean: Nuggets and over.
Suns at Jazz (-13, 210.5)
The Suns lost their sixth in a row Tuesday, 129-107 to Cleveland. T.J. Warren and Josh Jackson scored 19 apiece for Phoenix, the first team in the NBA to lose 50 games. The Suns were 6-for-31 from deep. The Jazz won their seventh straight Tuesday, a no-doubter vs. Detroit. Rudy Gobert had 22 points and 12 rebounds, one of six Jazz players who scored in double figures. Utah has lost just four times since Gobert returned to the lineup from a knee injury on Jan. 19. One team has scored 97 points in all three between these teams in 2017-18, with Utah leading 2-1. It has won seven straight at home vs. Phoenix.
Key trends: The Suns have covered just three of their past 11 in Utah. The under is 8-1 in the Jazz's past nine after a win.
Early lean: Jazz and under.
Cavaliers at Trail Blazers (-3.5, 221)
The Cavs snapped a two-game skid with an easy win in Phoenix on Tuesday. LeBron James had 28 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists. It was his second triple-double in 10 days and No. 14 this season. Larry Nance Jr. didn't play in the second half due to hamstring tightness and could miss a game or two. The Blazers won their 10th in a row Monday, 115-99 over Miami. Damian Lillard had 32 points and 10 assists. Portland lost in Cleveland on Jan. 2, 127-110. LeBron led the Cavaliers with 24 points, six rebounds and eight assists while Lillard had 25 points and six assists in the loss. James has averaged 27.7 points, 9.0 rebounds and 7.3 assists in 26 career games against the Trail Blazers.
Key trends: The Cavs have failed to cover seven straight on Thursday. The under is 4-1 in Portland's past five vs. the East.
Early lean: Blazers and over.
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